Monday, 4 August 2014

World War I - Remembrances of My Family

I am aware of only one person's story of WWI in my family, and that was my maternal Great Granddad.

My mum adored her Granddad. She was devastated when he died in her late teens after complications for a heart surgery which he desperately needed. During the last year or two, since it has just been mum and I, I have learnt much not only about the beloved Granddad, but also the wonderful man he so obviously was.

He worked throughout his life as a policeman, at The Port of London Authority. Fortunately we have a bag full of documents about him- his work, medals for service and letters from colleagues on his retirement, professing the pleasure it had been for them to know and work alongside him.

This man was John Henry Douglas. He was born in 1891 in Whitechapel, London, and passed away in 1962 in Winchmore Hill. He was one of seven siblings; 4 boys and 3 girls. One of his brothers, Alfred William Douglas died in The Great War; of his wounds at 21 years of age in 1916 on the Somme. We have a photograph of his resting place:-

''In loving memory of 2nd Lt. A.W. Douglas
14th Royal Warwick Regiment
who died Sept.3rd 1916 of his wounds.
Aged 21 years.''

This cross is somewhere in France.  No doubt now it has been replaced with a proper headstone, as they all were over the years.

Thankfully my mum's Granddad survived WWI, as did his other 2 brothers. But he did not come out unscathed. My mum tells me that she remembers sitting on his lap, and looking at his face. On both of his cheeks there were scars, and she used to put her little finger up to him and touch those strange looking places on his face. She asked him why he had those marks there, and he replied that a bullet had entered through one side of his face, and had gone straight out the other. She doesn't remember anything else of that conversation, but as I sit thinking about it now, surely his teeth must have been damaged? It doesn't bear thinking about. John Douglas went on to have a good life- he married a woman he adored, had 3 of the most gentlemanly men you could ever wish to meet (one was my Granddad whom I adored, just as my mum did hers), and in his retirement was able to live with one of his son's, wife and daughter (my mum), when his dear wife died from cancer.

My Great Granddad with his wife and 3 sons- my Granddad is bottom right. 

What I always seem to end up thinking about, when I remember of  all those who lost their lives in any war, is how did those left behind carry on? A mother loses all four of her boys, all of her children gone. Or the soldier who continues to put one foot in front of the other, after seeing and experiencing so much horror, and losing many friends and relatives. I simply don't know. I also often wonder how people of my generation would cope with just a tiny part of what people coped with during a conflict; at home or in battle. I fear that we would not have the courage or tenacity to get through. I hope that I'm wrong. I also hope that I never have the opportunity to find out.

Naomi x