The 11th Hour. The 11th Day. The 11th Month.
Evidently a contrived moment at which to end a war whose conclusion was as complex and mystifying as its commencement. But it was a moment of inspiration to exploit it. It is memorable. And it is poignant. It resonates with the sense of a world on the brink – though for the thousands in the trenches, it had already gone far beyond. But had the war continued, who knows where it would have led?
And yet, just two decades later, the unfinished business of WWI (or rather, the legacy of the many resentments it provoked) would led to even greater carnage. It was emphatically not the war to end all wars.
But Sunday marked the centenary of the Armistice and so was was quite the milestone. It entirely merited the pause for sober reflection and commemoration that many called us to. It got me thinking about my own family, inevitably. Who of us can even begin to conceive of macro-events without first perhaps considering their personal or parochial impact? We have an ongoing family tree project, and so I simply looked up those who died between 1914 and 1918. These were the ones I could find. It is entirely possible that there are others because the project is by no means exhaustive.
Bear in mind that Britain finally declared on Germany on 4th August 1914 (clockwise from top left):
- 31st Aug 1914: Capt Gerald Maurice Ponsonby (Royal Enniskillen Fusilliers): at Mons, Belgium, aged 37 – my 1st cousin, 3 times removed. Killed in the first weeks
- 11 Feb 1915: Capt Eustace Lyle Gibbs (North Somerset Yeomanry): at Ypres, Belgium, aged 30 – my 2nd cousin, 4 times removed.
- 17 Dec 1915 – Capt Rupert Harold Gretton (Bedfordshire Regiment): at Ypres, Belgium, aged 34 – my great, great uncle.
- 8 Sept 1915 – Capt Ashley William Neville Ponsonby (Ox & Bucks): at Ypres, Belgium, aged 33 – my great, great uncle.
- 9 Aug 1915 – Capt Gerald Legge (South Stafford Regiment): at Gallipoli, Turkey, aged 33 – my great, great uncle.
3 uncles, 2 cousins. Whom I’d never meet. But we have some diaries from various family members and they refer to one or two of them personally. Devastating.
It has helped me to think about each one in turn. All captains, all roughly the same age, all but one falling on Flanders’ fields. None with children (perhaps thankfully) but all with broken hearts and pain.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
from Robert Laurence Binyon’s For the Fallen
To that end, I thoroughly recommend Peter Jackson’s remarkable reworking of contemporary WW1 footage to produce They Shall Not Grow Old. I’ve not seen it in its entirety yet, but it makes it all SO real and relatable.
Never again… please…