Whilst we cannot change the past, and let’s be perfectly honest it isn’t going anywhere, "What is done, is done," to quote my grandmother. I find it ironic that as we head towards the Centenary year of the outbreak of the First World War, “the war to end all wars” that interest and momentum is slowing gathering pace.
I am not making light of the subject, far from it. My Grandfather’s first cousin was responsible for introducing me to her and my Grandfather’s Cousin, William James West who died in France from injuries he received in 1918. He was just 20 years old.
I have no living relatives that remember him, but what I do have is a photograph of him, dressed proudly in his uniform. I also have a photograph of his mother wearing a locket which clearly identifies the very picture you can see here. I know his parents were proud and I know that the proudness lived on in the his cousins and I can share with you here, that I am proud of William’s selfless act as he gave his life in what he believed was absolutely right.
Last year I spent some time in Australia, visiting family and friends and having a holiday. I visited with my Cousin and her daughter the Australian War Memorial. To my Cousin’s daughter, who I shall refer to as G, the Great War is a “million years ago”, she has no concept of the war, and why should she, at around 10. Childhood is a time for peace, play and development.
We stood for a time at a clever display which obviously was synthetically made, but was showing the conditions of the trenches and the soldiers. G was standing next to me and I explained to her the background to the scene we were looking at. We then moved around the corner and stood by a stone structure, in the shape of the typical War Graves Commission gravestone. Upon that stone it revealed the number of men killed from Britain, Australia and various bits of the Commonwealth at Gallipoli. We stood for a moment just looking at the stone. A small voice, did they all die? I answered her.
I then reached for my iPhone and scanned through the photographs until I came to the picture of William West. G had never heard of William or seen the photograph previously. I quickly worked out the relationship between William and G and this was followed by a sombre silence. All of sudden the voice next to me said, “He looked nice”. To which I responded he did. She then asked, a question that brought a smile to my lips and emphasis the perception of age, “Did you know him”.
I responded that no I did not know him personally, but I knew at least two people that had known him; and that I was a link between the past and the present. With that we moved on, to see the overwhelming outside wall that listed the Australians killed during various wars. We found the spot which revealed the name of G’s Great Uncle that died in Burma during the Second World War and as G knows her Great Grandma I announced to G that now she was a link between the past and the present. My comment resulted in smile that melted my heart and I felt that G understood after all.
What is sobering is that the total number of military and civilian casualties during the First World War was 37 million. You can see a breakdown of the figures at Wikipedia.
So coming back to the Centenary. With the increased interest in genealogy, aided by shows such as Who Do You Think You Are, shown on around the world, I feel sure that there will be an increased awareness within the non-genealogical community. There have been some great projects set up to enable us to share details of our ancestors whose lives were affected by the Great War.
Europeana 1914-1918 is collecting material from across Europe. Visit the webpage http://www.europeana1914-1918.eu/en#sthash.aU57Vzzw.dpuf.
Once at the webpage you can created an account and share pictures, letters, postcards and souvenirs items. In fact anything that relates to the First World War. Also there is a chance to share a story or details about those affected by adding it to the Online Story Collection.
By visiting the Explore page you can see examples of other submissions. You never know, you may find a family connection or two!
But Europe is not alone in hosting such a project. There are similar examples across the rest of the globe, Australia, New Zealand, France, Belgium and the United States. To see the various projects and many, many links to some great information visit http://www.greatwar.co.uk/events/2014-2018-ww1-centenary-events.htm#projects.
Furthermore, there are a series of podcasts that can be listened to via the First World War Centenary page.
Have you been inspired to perhaps research a fallen family member? Are you planning to submit any details to the various projects? Do leave a comment.
Until next time.