They said it would be over by Christmas. But its horror was prolonged for four years, devouring a generation in suffering and slaughter.
Anyway, I decided that today, on such a glorious summer day, I would make time for quiet reflection. Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important. This short blog is my priority, fuelled by a desire to mull and consider as the world re-absorbs the magnitude of the outbreak of World War One. My focus is on two lost souls I am entwined with who perished in the hideous conflict, as the flaming winds of this gruesome war wreaked havoc, presiding over sacrifice loss and pain.
The First World War is this year’s crucible for re-examining ourselves. Major events in history can feel like a disconnected typeset, words on a yellowing page of a dusty history book. But as we set aside time to contemplate the tumultuous events of a century ago we should pinpoint somewhere in our soul a connection. I have two very good reasons to spend today remembering this sad and somber occasion
I live in house, where Elijah and Esther Annie Damsell trod the original floorboards: who’s son, (born in the room I sleep) was lost to the Great War. The Damsels’ boy, Frank, was a Private and he died on the 29th October 1918, only 20, having returned from the hell a month after the end of the conflict , unable to recover from his wounds sustained in battle. A Gloucestershire lad perhaps harbouring ideals that once commanded great loyalty, perhaps taken for granted. It’s the older men who declare war, however, it is youth that must fight and die. The nation owe a debt of gratitude to the soldiers that have paid the ultimate price for a cause, Chesterton called the heroic language used at the time “abstract words such as glory, honour, courage, are hallow and obscene.”
Closer to my own family blood line there was also a tragic loss. This evening as I light a candle with the nation at 10 o’clock, it will be an opportunity to remember and pay tribute to my Great Uncle Emrys Davies. Born in the mining village of Tirphil, in the heart of the South Wales coalfield, Emrys enlisted soon after the outbreak of the war. He was accustomed to the physical hardships of manual labour as he endured the depths of a coalmine shaft. I guess the decision to enlist in a patriotic military adventure, seemed ironically more palatable. He became a Gunner – W/3110 Royal Field Artillery 466th Bty, 6th Bde. “W” prefix indicates his original enlistment in the RFA destined for the 38th (Welsh) Division: these were the 119th to 121st Brigades RFA plus 122nd (Howitzer) Brigade, and 38th Divisional Ammunition Column.
His medal index cards states he served in France from 24 December 1915, and this is near enough for the date the Divisional artillery went over to fight. His broad narrative is now familiar. These man would have endured the most brutal form of warfare. I guess he suffered a series of terrible physical and emotional experiences. He would have been 30 when he died of his wounds on November 19th 1917. He rests in the St. Sever Cemetery Extension, Rouen.
So the Great War was a war to end all wars. Today, it is hard to understand the patriotic spirit that fueled both of these men. Ernest Hemingway once said “They wrote in the old days that it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country. But in modern war, there is nothing sweet nor fitting in your dying. You will die like a dog for no good reason.”
I’d like to think both men felt it was a just to volunteer to fight, a noble resistance against the evil repression. Who can ever evaluate the enormity of the human cost to their respective families? Their gentle integrity should never be forgotten. Google must not forget their names. A generation of men hell-bent on a divine mission to achieve noble things must be etched on the digital wall of remembrance. Two men from so many, who believed the war was right. We should not forget the mangled corpses nor the ‘horrors’ so ‘beastly”. These should never become a footnote.
Because where we live and who we are, will always sustain a connection and expose man’s ultimate inhumanity to man. Wars are a deep-seated but absolute part of human nature. Wars reflect man’s basest instincts, untamed by rationality. As we witness the carnage and butchery of civilians in Gaza, we can only reflect on a thought: Only the dead have seen the end of war.