Phil: This isn’t the post I meant to write today, you’ll have to wait for next week for that one. While we have written a book together, we don’t normally pre-plan our blog posts. This means that on Tuesdays, I have a pleasant surprise when I read whatever Candice has written. This week was particularly thought-provoking.
Our families have very different experiences of wartime. My maternal great-grandfather, John Bridges, fought in World War 1. I’m proud to have the miniature versions of his medals, these being the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal respectively. From these I can tell that he served from the very start of the war. Other than this I know little of his story as like most men from his generation they didn’t talk about their experience as the memories were so terrible they prefered not to re-live them.
In WW2, my paternal grandfather was an engineer working on high precision implements and so spared from the fighting. On the other side, my grandfather escaped from Poland to fly Spitfires for the RAF along with many of his countrymen. Amusingly, a few years ago, the British National Party ran an anti-immigration campaign using a photo of a Spitfire as the main image. They didn’t realise it was from a Polish squadron…
My father was born during the war but after evacuation had ceased. He later went on to be a volunteer in the Royal Observer Corps watching out for Russian aircraft and latterly atomic bombs. After this, he volunteered with the Air Training Corps. National Service missed him by a few years though.
So, with such a military background, surely I aspired to join the forces as a youth?
Not a bit of it. Quite the opposite in fact. Maybe it was a visit to the vast military graveyards in France when I was 12 or simply an overactive imagination, I have always viewed war as a case of “there but for the grace of God go I”. Born in 70 years earlier than I’d probably been shipped off to the killing fields of Ypres or the Somme. 45 years or so and it could have been Normandy.
Putting myself in the position of anyone involved in these conflicts is incredibly painful. Sitting in a cold and muddy trench, sharing my limited food with rats and knowing that at some time in the future I’d be forced to climb out and run towards a well dug-in enemy is pretty much my idea of hell. Add in the constant artillery bombardment and it’s a scene unimaginably awful. When the whistle goes and it’s time to go “over the top”, the chances are you’ll endure a long and painful death, not the quick lights out portrayed by Hollywood.
For this reason, I’ve never been able to read the diaries and reminiscences of those who did have to do this. They are me from a different age.
It’s also the reason I’m first in the queue to buy a poppy every year.