Tonight I spent the best part of an hour in the dark, except for one lighted candle, thinking about what the First World War would have meant to my relatives alive at the time. They lived such different lives…
For my maternal great-grandfather, WW1 would have been much less important than the fires of revolution brewing in Russia. He died on 25th October 1917, defending the Winter Palace in St Petersberg in the first wave of the Russian Revolution. Ironically, his cousin the Emperor was away reviewing troops… his daughter, my Grandmother, was looking after my Grandfather, who had a heart condition, on their country estate, escaping both the war and the Revolution. It wasn’t until 1925 that the revolutionaries worked down the list of aristocrats far enough to get to my Grandmother – Grandfather had died, leaving 5 children under the age of 6 – thus shifting us all to the UK.
For my paternal Grandmother, the war brought liberation, from her small-town Irish country origins. She ended up in the major children’s hospital in London, as Matron – and then had to go back home after the war. She must have been stifled ten-fold, because my father – illegitimate – was born just a few years later; she was literally thrown out of the Catholic household into the snow, pregnant, without a coat. I am proud to wear the ring she bought herself on my wedding-ring finger; she described it as her “get lost!” ring, to scare away unwanted suitors : )
I also spent a lot of time thinking about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict raging at the moment, and mourning the lives lost of the innocents involved. At least the boys and men killed in WW1 signed up for it, however futile their deaths; but the children killed as they slept in schools this week were pure collateral damage. Appalling. Perhaps we haven’t moved on very much at all.
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