“My Father never spoke about it.” In common with most sons and daughters of those who fought in World War 1 it was not a topic that was open for conversation.
The sheer horror of living through that experience had to be buried in the depth of the mind, to be disturbed as little as possible.
Only once do I remember him speaking and that was at a regimental reunion. The Commanding Officer was there, at least most of him. He had lost his left arm and his left eye had a black patch over it. As a small boy the patch fascinated me but I didn’t have the courage to ask him what was behind it!
The reunion took place in a garden and some of the men had difficulty in using their crutches. It was before the days of plentiful wheelchairs. They gathered in small groups but I was not included. I expect they congregated with those they had been with in the trenches. It was a sunny day and there was plenty of food and drink. It seemed to be a good reunion but I do not think it was ever repeated.
My Father spent three months in the Somme. The average life-span of a 2nd Lieutenant there was six weeks. He was one of the fortunate ones. He was posted to the Italian front and spent the remainder of the war based in Fume in the Adriatic.
My uncle Willie was not so fortunate. He was killed in action at Beaumont Hamel.
He was mother’s eldest brother. His life-size photograph of his head and shoulders I guess was a product of the war office. It hung in our living room as if to deny the fact that he was no longer with us. I expect similar photographs graced the walls of German families evoking similar emotions. A mute testimony to the folly of war.
That was in Scotland. In Ireland the soldiers did not fare so well. They found their homeland was a different place when they returned. Some continued to fight in whatever party they favoured. Others faded into obscurity as they had been ‘contaminated’ by fighting for the British. Those who were killed in action were never spoken about outside the family circle and not till recently were they properly recognised and mourned for their bravery.
It is this latter group, numbering many thousands, that are being remembered in many towns and villages around the country. In some cases, it is a wall with all their names cut into the stone. In other places a war memorial is erected with names engraved and headed with a cross. Crosses are the one thing in common between the graves of the opposing armies. The cross has become the international symbol of sacrifice – penal sacrifice. It also symbolises peace on a cosmic scale between God and his creation. This peace comes “…through Christ reconciling to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians chapter 1 verse 20).
It creates not just an armistice, a truce, but true freedom and peace within. The guilt is gone. The anger confessed. The enemy within is repented of. All taken by Christ on himself who “forgives our wickedness and will remember our sins no more” (Hebrews Chapter 8 verse 12).