Today marks 100 years since the start of World War One. Below is a photo of Luis seeking out the name ‘Summersby W.T’, his great great great uncle who gave his life in the great war, on Victory Arch in Waterloo station when we visited London this summer.
WW1 is a subject close to my heart. You see, my great great grandmother lost her 4 brothers over the course of the war. 4 brothers lost in 4 years. I grew up hearing the story every November on remembrance Sunday. How my great great great grandmother collapsed at the bringing home of the unknown soldier to London, knowing it could be one of her four sons all of whom perished in France.
My degree dissertation was about WW1 memorials and I took Luis around the battlefields in France as part of my research. As a 14 month old he toddled around rows and rows of brilliant white headstones. The graves of boys sometimes as little as 16 years older than him. He didn’t understand of course, being a baby himself, but I could not stop thinking about the huge loss of life. 100 years ago young men enlisted in their hundreds to go to war and fight ‘the enemy’, mums waved off sons, brothers waved off brothers, wives waved off their husbands, and children waved off their Dads. Many never came back and it gets me every time I think about it.
|One of the many Commonwealth cemetery’s on the Somme taken in 2007.|
You see, I have two sons, and I cant imagine it being 1914, 1939, 2001 or even 2014 and having to kiss them goodbye to go off and fight in a war.
Explaining the politics behind WW1 is easy for me, I studied it in great length, and I can give an equal sided potted history of it – as I can for WW2 and as I almost can for Anglo-Irish relations (im still reading up!). I can even explain the politics behind Gaza to my children in a factual and equal sided way and one that is age appropriate for them. But putting a human face on any of those events is hard for me, gut wrenching even, as I imagine it is for many people, it is somewhat worse now I am a mum and wife myself. I look at the faces of my children and try and think of them going off to fight, or even being with them and having their lives put in danger because of politics, and I just want to cry.
|the preserved trenches at Vimy Ridge|
After watching the news a few nights ago with the kids -bedtime is non existent at the moment- which obviously raised lots of ‘whats happening in the world’ type questions, I showed Luis (who is 8) this video which has been doing the rounds online . I questioned him about how he felt after watching it, who he thought was right, and who he thought was wrong. We then read this article on a Jewish family blog. I questioned him again and his answers changed. We talked about how in any battle there are always two sides, and how while you may strongly believe one side is right and just that you should always remember there are people on the other side feeling exactly the same but for the opposite cause.
I am proud that my ancestor fought in World War One, yes, but at the same time I am sorry that he lost his life for a short lived peace. That’s the problem with war, it rarely brings long lasting peace, or it brings peace with huge ramifications for the future. I tell my children how much I love them, I hold on to them, and I tell them about this amazing world we live in, about the people that live in it, and how essentially be it English, Irish, German, Israeli, Palestinian – the human aspect is the same, we are mothers, fathers, brothers,sons, sisters and daughters.
|Luis and I at the Menin Gate. There’s that vintage backpack again!|
I hope that as they grow up they try and focus more on the human aspect, and not so much the political. I hope they will look at history to understand how it shapes our today, and what we can learn from it.
Today I packed my two sons off to Soccer camp, its just another day, they have no idea what happened 100 years ago today, or that last night in Gaza children just like them died. Tonight if we watch the news together again I will show Luis the pictures of him at the battlefields, I will answer the new round of questions I’m sure he will have, and I will cuddle him extra tight.