Today is Rememberance Day or Armistice Day as it was first known, although it wont be marked properly until Sunday, it is today that is the anniversary of that day in 1918, the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th month of the fourth year of the Great War.
Three of my great grandfathers were involved in that terrible war, two were in the Royal Navy, one was in the Royal Artillery Corps in the army. I have recently been doing some research into my ancestors, and have found that the great-grandfather who was in the Royal Artillery Corp was in Lahore, India in 1914 when the war broke out, he was then posted to the Western Front in France. In 1915 he was dispatched to the Middle East to fight Turkey, he fought in Mesopotamia and got as far as Tikrit, the future home of a one Saddam Hussein. In his official paperwork, the names of towns once obscure and now once again renowned stare out at me, Basra, Baghdad, Fallujah and of course Tikrit.
He was then posted to Egypt and was part of the first Christian army to conquer Jerusalem from the infidel since 1090. Then toward the end of the war he was once again back at the Western Front, facing the last gasp offensive of the German Imperial Army. Then it was over.
It is strange to think about. What did he see? What was it like? He saw India in the days of the Raj, how amazing would that be? He saw the Middle East before the oil, and marched into Jerusalem before Israel existed and before the locals were driven out. He saw the carnage of the Western Front, something I do not envy him. Then he went home to Ireland, a nation collapsing into civil war, and so he fought for the Free State against the IRA.
My father barely remembers Jack, his grandfather, he does remember when he was small, sitting on his lap, but not much else, and yet he sat on the lap of a great man, a brave man, a travelled man. But Ireland being Ireland, the things he did were not spoken of, they were forgotten until we began to go through old army records.
The Great War tested many men like my great grandfather, who passed the testing, and did good and noble things, but even though we have the tales of heroism, the great monuments and the revered days, the one thing that stands out about that war is the great sadness attached to it.
This was the war that ended Europe.
This was the war that took over ten million of our men, many of whom could have done great things for our civilisation, ten millions who would have had children, tended land, colonised empty space in Australasia and the Americas. These men would have loved the millions of spinsters left single, they would have invented things and developed other things, they would have lived.
Instead they died for nothing, and with them, died our civilisation. All the bad that we now have to contend with is a result of our loss in that terrible time. Before that war we were confident, we were happy and hopeful. There were always problems, but just take a look at the few film reels from Vienna or St Petersburg or London or Berlin or New York and you see hard-working people, smiling and active, you see proud buildings carved of stone, lining the pleasant streets, you will see a civilisation at its height.
Now one can only sense despair, anger, confusion. If one was to look at a film of the streets of the very same cities today, one would see something very different from the prewar days, the main difference would be the hoards of swarthy Africans and Arabs, women wrapped in chadors and burqas, filthy streets lines with ugly crumbling concrete structures, it is a civilisation that is dead.
So Let us remember that day, let us remember that war, and let us remember all that we have lost.