People who had relatives who fought in the first world war, what stories did they tell you?

Discussions on all aspects of the First World War not covered in the other sections. Hosted by Terry Duncan.
Sanjay852
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People who had relatives who fought in the first world war, what stories did they tell you?

Post by Sanjay852 » 03 Sep 2020 07:27

My great aunt was an Army nurse, stationed at Evacuation Hospitals behind the front lines, and, with nine years of nursing experience, older than the average nurse. Nurses in those situations worked in pairs. She never spoke about it, at least not that I know of. After she died in the early 1960’s, a friend of hers wrote my dad to tell him how steadfast and competent she was caring for badly wounded men in a canvas-covered shell hole, up to her knees in mud. Other than her wartime experience, (she never married) she spent her career caring for tuberculosis patients, and managing the nurses in a city sanitarium.

LineDoggie
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Re: People who had relatives who fought in the first world war, what stories did they tell you?

Post by LineDoggie » 04 Sep 2020 01:15

Grandpa told us of his brother Frank getting stitched by a spandau a month before it ended and father duffy coming to tell him as they were in separate companies

He spoke of the Gas and horrible food they had to eat. and how cold it was in Dec 1917 during the long march of the 165th Never spoke of anything he did always what others did
"There are two kinds of people who are staying on this beach: those who are dead and those who are going to die. Now let’s get the hell out of here".
Col. George Taylor, 16th Infantry Regiment, Omaha Beach

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Sheldrake
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Re: People who had relatives who fought in the first world war, what stories did they tell you?

Post by Sheldrake » 04 Sep 2020 01:51

Sanjay852 wrote:
03 Sep 2020 07:27
My great aunt was an Army nurse, stationed at Evacuation Hospitals behind the front lines, and, with nine years of nursing experience, older than the average nurse. Nurses in those situations worked in pairs. She never spoke about it, at least not that I know of. After she died in the early 1960’s, a friend of hers wrote my dad to tell him how steadfast and competent she was caring for badly wounded men in a canvas-covered shell hole, up to her knees in mud. Other than her wartime experience, (she never married) she spent her career caring for tuberculosis patients, and managing the nurses in a city sanitarium.
Do you know what unit she served in? Was your great aunt Indian or British? There are far fewer stories from Indian servicemen and women than from British, and there would be great deal of interest in anything from the point of view of an Indian nurse. Though all testimony first hand or second hand is valuable and interesting.

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Hans1906
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Re: People who had relatives who fought in the first world war, what stories did they tell you?

Post by Hans1906 » 04 Sep 2020 17:32

Sanjay852,

two great grandfathers on my mother's side were active soldiers on the german side, 1914-1918

I have a few photos from both of them, Uropa Franz together with family, probably taken in the year 1916.
Another photo of Heinrich-Christian, sitting in a chair, in full dress, so very proud about his uniform.

Sorry at this time, I do not have the photos at hand, later...

The man with his family, in the uniform, my great grandfather Franz, he looked like an old man, behind his beloved
wife and the children...
Uropa Heinrich-Christian in his chair was a well-read man, and he and has surely guessed what is in store for him...

Two strange old photos, I like to share later here in the forum.
Heinrich-Christian passed away in the late 1940s, Franz was still alive in the 1960s, when I was a little boy.

In my vision back then a very old man, very "grumpy", no nice word ever, his face was "frozen".
No emotions, Franz was always cold, sitting close to the small oven in the living room, for the rest of his life.

I will share a few photos later...

Hans1906

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jluetjen
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Re: People who had relatives who fought in the first world war, what stories did they tell you?

Post by jluetjen » 07 Sep 2020 21:40

I had a few relatives -- but alas they had all passed away before I was born. All that I have is a couple of post-card pictures and a few non-descriptive lines of generic greetings -- which is what has led me on a bit of a historical quest to learn what happened to them and what they experienced. So far I've been able to do this for 3 of the 5. Of those 3, 2 of them died during WW1 and the 3rd died soon after WWII.

Much of what I've learned about their experiences has been shared on this forum and you can find them by browsing my posts.

That being said, this quest has also led me to reconnect with ~5th (?) cousins back in Germany which has added a long disconnected branch back into my family tree.

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Re: People who had relatives who fought in the first world war, what stories did they tell you?

Post by monk2002uk » 08 Sep 2020 06:38

My maternal grandfather served in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. He travelled to Europe with the 17th Reinforcements, arriving in England at the end of the Battle of the Somme. He started out as an infantryman; his first battle was the attack on Messines in June 1917. After the war, he spoke about the guns being wheel-to-wheel for the preparatory bombardment. My grandfather was hit by shrapnel in the left shoulder and was evacuated back to England, where he took several weeks to recover. He would never allow any of us to see the wound.

Before returning to the front, he spotted a request for trainees to become machine gunners in the New Zealand Machine Gun Corps. This seemed like a free 6 weeks off before he went back into battle so he enrolled. The training was in Grantham; he became an NCO in charge of an MG section. He saw out the rest of the war in this role, before serving in the Army of Occupation for about a year afterwards. There is a photo of my grandfather standing in front of the Cologne Cathedral in 1919. He married my grandmother on returning home to New Zealand.

When talking about his experiences, my grandfather always spoke in the third person as if it was someone else. I could tell, even as a ten year old sitting as his feet in their lounge, that the experiences must have been very difficult for him to talk that way. What I didn't realise then is that very few veterans talked about the war at all, so he was very different in that respect. He talked about the technical aspects of firing the Vickers machine gun - laying indirect fire barrages, etc. He mentioned examples of direct fire too, such as a German infantry attack through a cemetery and his section laid fire that was designed to ricochet off the headstones. My grandfather also mentioned that he lost two sets of MG crews during periods of leave back to England.

He kept several mementos, including a battle map, German bayonet, etc. The most poignant thing I remember was the photograph of a German soldier and his wife. I recall particularly the look on my grandfather's face as he described the soldier giving him the photo as the man lay dying in a trench. My grandfather did not understand German but he understood the significance of the gesture.

He recited the trench humour and jokes with great hilarity; my grandfather had a wonderful dry sense of humour anyway. And he taught me many of the songs that the men used to sing.

Listening to my grandfather and observing the effects of the war were key drivers in my learning more about WW1, especially the impact on ordinary men who enrolled or were conscripted and had to do extraordinary things. The learnings continue...

Robert

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Sheldrake
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Re: People who had relatives who fought in the first world war, what stories did they tell you?

Post by Sheldrake » 08 Sep 2020 12:18

My grandfathers did not talk about the first world war. Servicemen didn't. There was a big gulf between their experiences and those of their families. One of the veterans recorded by the IWM in the 1970s said, you couldn't talk to civilians they wouldn't understand. I think its in Peter Jackson's they shall grow not old.

My paternal grandfather served in the first world war, but did not serve overseas. He was a countryman, an excellent shot and brilliant with animals. He did not talk about war but made me a wooden SMLE when I was about eight years old. He also showed me how to trap pheasants.

My mother's father was a stretcher bearer on the Somme in 1916. He was too short to join the army and served in what were known as bantam battalions 18 Lancashire Fusiliers. He didn't tell me, I found out forty years after his death. He kept his reminiscences for the Legion club.

One of my mother's uncles visited our house in the 1960s. The aunts pointed at their heads and made screw loose gestures. My mother said he hadn't been the same since the great war. He told me - aged about 12 that he had served at Loos, the Somme and Ypres and said a few things about the horror. I wish I had asked him more.

In 1981or 1982 my wife's great aunt Gwen visited from South Africa. She was in her eighties and was on her honeymoon. She had just married for the first time. Her husband Harry had been with the army in 1914 at the battle of Tanga, famous as one of the most incompetent operations in military history, where the British Indian troops attacking the outnumbered Germans were driven back by aggressive African bees. He didn't say much about it - his honeymoon must have exhausted him...

War stories from grandfather need to be regarded carefully. Memory is a funny thing, its a reconstruction of events to turn some fragments of thoughts, images and sounds into a narrative. Memory isn't immune from other cultural influences and sometimes other people's stories. Old soldier's have a reputation for telling tales hat grow with the telling. Richard Holmes commented on this in the brilliant "Tommies". By the 1960s many memories had been influenced by a the popular version of the Great War. It was all mud and rats the size of cats with every sergeant major a bastard.
Last edited by Sheldrake on 08 Sep 2020 12:38, edited 2 times in total.

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Sheldrake
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Re: People who had relatives who fought in the first world war, what stories did they tell you?

Post by Sheldrake » 08 Sep 2020 12:28

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