This week my daughter asked to go to the village remembrance service. It felt particularly important to go this year as we have been learning so much about the First world war and how it effected the lives of ordinary families in this the Centenary year.
I knew nothing about the First world war until a few years ago. The national curriculum didn't cover it! Even when I went on an exchange visit to Albert at the age of sixteen a visit to Compiegne was wasted on me. What relevance was it to a sixteen year old girl who had no interest in wars?
Perhaps it's because I'm older now, although I don't think that's it. My interest began shortly after I began to home educate my son. Trips to the imperial war museums in Manchester and London,(which I imagined would be boring) fascinated me. They showed me that there was another side to war of killing and hate. There was the human side,the bit you got to see when you pulled away the veneer of 'glory and patriotism' and realised that ordinary people were the victim of political decisions which tore families apart, and that in spite of the fear and shortages there were those beacons of light who shone with compassion and bravery,not because they did anything 'momentous' like cross the enemy lines ,but because they served in the voluntary services,offered shelter, visited wounded soldiers and wrote letters home for them and carried out random acts of kindness.We can all do that.
Of the books I've read recently about the First world war there are some that stand out Teenage Tommy is the auto biography of a soldier who enlisted at fourteen, prior to the War . and spent the entire duration of the war caring for the horses.It's a lesson in history.I didn't know for example that villagers in Suffolk used to catch the sparrows nesting in hay stacks by banging pots and pans. The sparrows would rise from the haystack and be trapped in nets and were then eaten on toast. Another thing I learned was that whilst the Cavalry spent their time in peacetime shining their metal buckles and buttons they were ordered to let them rust as soon as the war started so they wouldn't sparkle in the sun!
The Care and Management of Lies is a very different book. It's a fictional story about how letters filled with love and compassion lifted the spirits of the troops in the trenches. It also offered a warm hearted look at how rural life was affected when all the young and able men went off to war but there was a sad side to it too.
Private Peaceful is another book that made it's mark. I read it to my son a few years ago . I wasn't sure if it would be too much for him to handle. He understood the atrocity of war but his autism enabled him to deal with it factually rather than emotionally. War Horse was another influence, as was the poetry of Wilfred Owen and the other war poets.It was only recently that I learned that Rudyard Kipling wrote some anti war poetry,his own son Jack was killed in the First World war and his story is told in My Boy Jack
I also went to a presentation of literature and poetry of The First World War written by women and hosted by our local library . I loved the story of the lady who travelled from Britain to the trenches just to check that her son was 'OK'. It just shows what ordinary human beings can do when they set their minds to it!
We've been watching The Passing Bells this week, a fictional story of two young men,one English,the other German who went to war. I think it was that which prompted my daughter to go to church today. I'm glad we did .Today I heard a new song " The keeper," the folk song about a young Game keeper who went to war and never returned.
We need to keep remembering that fighting and war are never a solution. We are stronger working together than apart.