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Remembrance

The second world war is very real to me. My parents were both around 16 or 17 years old when it started, and I grew up hearing stories about it. How it was a blazingly beautiful day on the day that war was declared, and how neither of them would ever forget clustering around the radio to hear the announcement, and how the announcement was almost immediately followed by air raid sirens. My father was living in Teddington, one of London's suburbs, and my mum and grandmother were in a small village in Essex. My father was too young to join up, but was in the Home Guard, which was not quite as silly as it sounds when you talk about old men and boys wearing tin hats and carrying buckets of sand to help put out fires from incendiary bombs. My mum wanted to join up, but ended up working with the children evacuated from London. My dad became a wireless operator and remembered his Morse Code all the rest of his life.

My grandfathers fought in World War I. I have letters from my mum's dad to my granny from the front. They don't say much, because they couldn't, but help fill in a picture of a young man desperate to keep a stiff upper lip and present a brave face to his young, rather silly, wife. They hadn't been married long, and I think Granny was already pregnant with my Aunt Joan when he went away. I never met my mother's father; he died of a heart attack when my mum was sixteen, just before WW2 broke out.

My mum used to tell me about Armistice Days when she was a child. She said they were always terribly sad and solemn. The whole village where she grew up was affected - so many young men who didn't come home, or who came back, like my grandfather, shattered and changed. My grandfather was very quiet and reclusive, and couldn't bear loud noises; we realize now that he must have been shell-shocked. One of his letters has a poem about wearing poppies - it sounds as if there was some controversy about it, and I'd love to know more.

They are all dead now, except my Aunt Joan, but she is enclosed in the mind-prison of dementia. "Lest we forget" is very real, now, too. There can't be many WW2 veterans left, and I know there are only two, possibly only one, WW1 vets left in Canada. What shall we do when all those minds fall silent? All those witnesses to history, gone? It is up to us to keep their memories alive.

Lest We Forget.

Comments

( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
therck
Nov. 11th, 2008 06:48 pm (UTC)
The Wikipedia article on Remembrance Day talks a little about poppies, down near the bottom. I've no idea what level of accuracy is there or which aspects might be controversial.
therck
Nov. 11th, 2008 06:51 pm (UTC)
Looking again-- Was he talking about red poppies versus white poppies?
intertext
Nov. 11th, 2008 07:10 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the links. I'll have to see if I can find the letter again. My recollection that it was about red ones - I think it was from very shortly after the end of the war, not as late as 1930. I didn't know that about the white ones, though - interesting!
amanen
Nov. 11th, 2008 08:47 pm (UTC)
I sometimes worry that, the further we get from WWII, and the more it fades from memory, the more likely it is that a big war could happen again. I really, really hope that something the magnitude of WWII never happens again, but I can't help but worry.

Yesterday at school, we had a Vietnam veteran (who used to be a teacher at the school) come in and speak at an assembly. He got very choked up about it, and said how if you've seen war, you can't ever forget it. Hopefully those of us who haven't won't forget either, though.

Well, this is rather convoluted and rambling. I think I'll stop.
asakiyume
Nov. 11th, 2008 10:12 pm (UTC)
That's incredibly moving about the vet... just reading that sentence made *me* feel choked up...
chickenfeet2003
Nov. 11th, 2008 09:17 pm (UTC)
I don't think there is any danger of losing the "voices" of those who fought in WW1, at least on the British side. People like Martin Middlebrook and Lyn MacDonald did a really good job, and only just in time, of documenting the memories of hundreds of veterans. If you want to know how those who were there remembered "black Friday" or the Hamburg fire storm raids., it's all at your local library or book store.
intertext
Nov. 11th, 2008 09:42 pm (UTC)
Yes, of course that's true. And there's all the amazing WW1 poetry. But hearing a story directly from someone you are talking to is a little different. Reading my grandfather's letters in paper that he touched is more immediate than reading them in a book, and hearing someone talk about their experiences is still more so. I think what I'm getting at is that when someone is alive who has lived through events in history, there's a "hot link" to the past- in some ways it's not "the past" when it's still someone's lifetime; when that link no longer exists, we can still "hear" the voices or read about them, but the past becomes truly another country, slightly unreal, no closer to our own lives than Shakespeare's time or Homer's.

Edited at 2008-11-11 09:46 pm (UTC)
asakiyume
Nov. 11th, 2008 10:14 pm (UTC)
The sacrifices and the losses are so huge... thanks for sharing your story...
lidocafe
Nov. 12th, 2008 05:52 am (UTC)
I never think of the Home Guard as silly. There's nothing silly about trying to put out thousands of fires at once, or about enduring months of bombing for that matter.

I'm surprised you haven't heard of the white poppy, since it's such a British thing. Others have taken it up, of course. In this article, it makes me wonder about the freedom WWII veterans supposedly fought for:

http://www.cbc.ca/canada/edmonton/story/2006/11/08/white-poppy.html?ref=rss
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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