Through Remembrance Day and the work of charities, the horrors of conflict are kept alive so that modern generations know the sacrifice that our ancestors made for our freedom. Those of us who are old enough all have a family story of how it affected them. We’ve all got a story to share and this is Chrissie’s War, Lest We Forget…
The Olden Days
When I was a little girl many years ago, I would love to go to my grandmas and listen to her telling me about stories of the olden days. Sadly she was on the brink of full blown Alzheimer’s Disease, so my memories of her life were somewhat muddled.
However, I would love to go into the cupboard at the side of her fireplace where she kept mementos of her husband. That was my granddad that I never knew, and they were such treasures to me.
Mementos of a grandad I never knew
There was my granddad’s cap, he was a private in World War One, and went to war like a great many of his patriotic fellow men did. The sad thing was that he had no need to go as he was a coal miner and as such was exempt. Like a great many men, with no experience of war and thinking that it would end within six months, he was swept along on a tide of euphoria and patriotism, as the men of his time did.
Anyway, back to the cap. I believe he was in the King’s Own Scottish Highlanders. It was a small plaid cap with ribbons on it, which I loved to wear as though it brought me nearer to the man who I never knew.
There was a hand grenade, obviously not working, which I loved to pick up and feel in my small hands. While I held the cold metal I wondered what death it or others like it could bring.
Then there were his medals. What exactly they are and what he was awarded them for I’m not sure, but none the less, there they were.
Something that fascinated me was the fork and spoon. They weren’t separate, but joined together at the bottom with a smooth piece of metal, no doubt so that they didn’t get separated or lost when they were in the trenches. Oh my mind did wander, imagining what sights these items of cutlery had seen.
My grandma also had a large coloured picture of my granddad, which was coloured by hand in pastel colours, as photos were in those days. It was a lovely image, he was dressed in his uniform, and very handsome he looked too with his moustache, as such a lot of men had in those days.
Something else that fascinated me was the black edged telegram that she got, telling her that her dear husband had been killed at war. I used to look at it with a great sense of awe, even as young as I was, realising the true meaning of what the news must have brought to my grandma.
There was also a picture of a soldier on a tomb with an angel guarding it, which I still have somewhere. It’s very beautiful and a very sad this token of a man I never knew.
We have his cap and medals, but the other things were taken by other members of the family to be lost forever to me, as people have died and these things are now nowhere to be seen.
There’s no doubt about it that the First World War (and all the others before and after it) fundamentally affected the individual lives of everyone who lived then and came afterwards. It certainly affected us and our family.
It would seem that he was shot on the battlefield and left there to die by his fellow soldiers. It was said that if they had carried him back he would have survived, but I suppose it was every man for themselves. He also had had a spell in hospital in Cardiff, I’m not sure why or when, but I remember seeing a sepia photo of him in the hospital as part of a group. My own grandma was left a widow with seven children to bring up – my granddad was about 41 when he was shot by a German soldier. My mum was about eighteen months old when he was killed, so never knew her father.
A life changed, and not for the better
One thing that my mother and grandma told me was how their life changed, and not for the better, when he died. He was buried in a soldiers grave in our local cemetery which I often visited. It was tended by the War Commission for a great many years, until, I suppose with cutbacks they stopped doing war graves. My grandma was buried on top of him in her 86th year, and I would like to think they were together at last.
Things were very hard for my grandma bringing her children up alone. There was no benefits system or welfare to help her in those days, so, like all of the other war widows she had to help herself. I believe she had a small pension as a war widow, but very little, so somehow she had to fend for herself.
My fondest memories of her were a smiling, twinkly eyed woman full of fun, which my mum said was true as they often had plenty to laugh at. But there was also plenty to cry at, as things were very hard in those days.
She used to take washing in and go out wallpapering to make ends meet. Not forgetting that in those days they had little education, with young women usually going into service often far away from the towns they were brought up in. She had few skills and had to use her talents where she could. Indeed, my mum learned how to wallpaper from her and I believe she used to go along with her to help.
With very little to go round and a struggle to feed and clothe her children, my mum said she was often very worried, and the oldest of her children was just 13 when my grandad died.
The eldest daughter, my aunty, took it very badly when he died because as the eldest she was very close to her dad. Really, she never seemed to get over it and wouldn’t hear a word said against him, even though as they did in those days, he would get drunk, and could be quite violent to my grandma. Although apparently when he hadn’t had a drink there wasn’t a better man walking.
The apple of her mum’s eye
As a result of my mum being left the baby of the family, she became the apple of my grandma’s eye and was very close to her, if not spoilt as I remember her telling me. My grandma clung to my mother as she grew up and became very dependent on her. Later, when she developed Alzheimer’s disease my mum had to do everything for her as she grew old.
I remember my ‘gram’ as I called her, being a loving kind woman, who through the ravages of time went away from me in her mind. Indeed, doctors told my mum that they were sure that being left a widow at such a young age with a young family to bring up had contributed to her condition, as the worry and stress had taken its toll on her mind. She was always a worrier and you have to wonder how all the countless widows that were left in World War One coped with so little money. As my mum said, times were very hard in those days, there was nothing like the benefits system and the money that people get today. I do know it affected my mum and grandma for the whole of their life, and in turn me and my brother.
I was born towards the end of World War Two, so I grew up with rationing. That’s a whole different story for another day. But in the year of the centenary of it ending, this has been the story of how World War 1 affected our family. Lest we forget x
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