Sunday, 5 June 2011

World War 1 grandfather

My grandfather was an important person in my life. He was a larger than life character who completely overshadowed his wife. His life was really shaped by his experiences of being in the last year of the first world war. Born in 1898 he signed up in 1917 to the Lancashire Fusiliers and found himself very quickly in the thick of it. In an interview for his local paper in 1990 he is pictured with his row of medals - he lived to 94 - where he described the hell of Ypres. He talked about having skin like soaked bread from sitting in mud for three days at a time. He said you could push your finger in the flesh of your leg and it would leave a dent which would not fill up. He had many near misses with his uniform ripped by shrapnel but emerged  unscathed. The diet they survived on had life long impact. Plum jam for instance - never would he touch it. It was   blackcurrant jam for the next 75 years!

Grandad met people in the trenches he would probably never rub shoulders with again as an administrator in the civil service. One, a sweep called Smithy, probably provided him a lesson in managing his finances. Grandad was a very careful man. This man used to gamble away all his earnings within 30 minutes of being paid.  
Very late in his life Grandad found a brief outlet for his stories when, with the help of his daughter, he got involved with a Great War Society. His family had long ago grown weary of the subject - mud and rain featured in them particularly - but here were people keen to hear everything. He loved it!

Of course no recreations of trenches like they have in places like the Imperial War Museum, or visits to the "original trenches" at Ypres itself or films of the battles - I have done them all - can quite convey his experiences can it?


  1. Addendum from my uncle-

    Dad certainly could never forget the war and developed a marvellous skill for turning a conversation on any other subject into talking about the War, even though we repeatedly said "Don't mention the war"! Two stories of interest are that in retreating under enemy fire his pince-nez snagged on a bush. He was too scared to stop and rescue them, simply tore them off and ran for dear life.
    The second one concerns a village in France totally destroyed by shell fire from both sides, apart from one corner wall of a cottage on which was a fixed silver-mounted crucifix. Thinking that this was a good omen for protection he retrieved it and carried it with him ever after, convinced it was a lucky charm. Even so he never bothered much with church thereafter though he could, after a fashion, play certain hymn tunes on the organ. Twenty-five years on in a public house tearoom near Rhyll there was an astonishing chance encounter with his organ-playing mentor, Miss Smith, on a touring holiday. So he told her about the war !

  2. It must have been horrendous and how sad that people no longer wanted to hear his stories about mud and rain. It's like they say about the Holocaust, keep telling the stories lest we forget. I'd like to think we learnt a lesson and it'll never happen again but I fear it happens to this day in some form or another.

  3. Your blog is full of energy, gest and passion although you try to dismiss his old stories I can see you were very proud of your Grandad and loved him very much. Thank you for sharing with us.