I’m still researching it further, but from what I’ve gleaned so far, he joined up in 1914 as one of the ‘Pals Battallions’ which were formed in Liverpool. As I understand it, these were formed because Lord Kitchener believed that the key to winning the war was sheer force of numbers, and so it was made possible for people to sign up with their friends and work colleagues, and serve alongside them. This was a very successful idea, as within several months over 3000 people signed up, and it appears that my great-grandfather was among them.
It’s obviously rather lame – though probably predictable – that knowing one of my ancestors served in WWI has made it feel slightly closer to home, but I think that’s probably for two reasons, really; firstly, reading about him and trying to track down further details of my great-grandfather has meant I’ve learned new things about events of his life (and indeed lifetime), which has made me more aware of them, and brought them to life for me.
Secondly, and less personally, I think it’s often the case that we learn more or feel more about major events by looking at it on a personal or human level; for me, one of the reasons why Anne Frank’s Diary Of A Young Girl is so powerful a document is because it speaks so clearly of emotions and feelings which we can all understand and relate to – fear and loneliness to name but two – and then, when you consider that her experience, and worse, was one which was shared by millions of people, it’s like a punch to the gut.
So, in the past few months, I’ve perhaps felt a greater empathy for those people who are brave enough to fight for their country, and a greater realisation of how we owe them a debt we can never truly repay. In tandem with this, unfortunately, I feel a growing sense of anger that all too many politicians seem to see war as little more than a way to gain approval points or political prestige – many of the improvements in the country set up after WWII (such as the NHS and education) are constantly being whittled away, and it seems all too clear that all of the ‘WMD’ nonsense before the invasion of Iraq was simply that – nonsense – to justify going to war. I find myself wishing that the bravery of those who are willing to fight in wars was in even partly matched by honesty on the part of the political masters who put them in harm’s way.
I respect anyone who’s willing to fight for their country, as it’s something I’m not so certain I could do. In remembrance of those who have fallen, and as a parting shot at those who seem all too willing to incite conflict, I’d like to leave you with a quote from Rudyard Kipling, specifically his Epitaphs Of The War:
‘If any question why we died,
Tell them, because our fathers lied.’
If you, or those you care about, have served in the forces, or are currently serving, I’d like to express my admiration and thanks – the comfort and safety of my daily life, I am all too aware, was bought at a high cost.