Watched 'My Boy Jack' last night, and was surprised how impressed I was. Obviously there were considerable limits on their depictions of the battles themselves, but the scenery and locations for the rest of the set were wonderful. Some very subtle performances too. Good stuff for a Remembrance Sunday evening.
Seeing the few surviving soldiers on the news over the last few nights reminded me of my grandfather, Walter Peatman, who was always known by everyone as 'Pop'. He was in his 40s when my dad was born, and Dad was in his thirties when I came along. So although it's now a very long time ago, my grandfather was in the trenches in the first World War.
He was actually in the Canadian army, as he emigrated to Canada in 1906 at the tender ago of 19. His father had been killed in a farming accident, and he left school at 9 to help the family get by. At 19 he set off to Canada, settling in Saskatchewan to seek a better life and presumably to send money home. When war broke out, he patrolled the border with the USA for 2 years before signing up for the Canadian forces. Amazingly, it's possible to view his sign-up papers here and here.
He wasn't a man prone to exaggeration, so when he said he went over the top 11 times, I believe that's true, although it's about the only thing he ever said. Apparently he was trapped under soil and mud in a trench collapse on one occasion, which meant he could only sleep with a light on when the war ended. He taught himself to cope with less and less light - no therapists back then. My Dad also remembers that during the second world war he would watch bombers flying over, when everyone else was sheltering in case of shrapnel. I guess it was a minor risk for him compared with the Somme.
Meanwhile, my grandma lost her first husband, Horace Heath, in March 1918. He was a baker, but found himself in action against the final major German counter-attack. He is commemorated at a cemetary called the Pozieres memorial. It's on the Albert to Amiens road. She married Pop after they met in Lincolnshire - he visiting home whilst in Europe, and she taking a break with two small children. She wouldn't go to Canada, so they settled back near Nottingham. Her bereavement lived with her though. My Dad remembers some statistics being announced on the radio about German planes being shot down during World War 2. Some people understandably cheered, but she didn't. "Some mother's son" she would say.
I once visited the Pozieres memorial and I was the first member of the family to do so. It was odd, feeling the sadness of the place, and seeing my grandma's name as the next of kin, yet knowing if it hadn't happened I wouldn't exist. It just reinforced how much one event can depend so much on so many others.
So I do wear a poppy on Remembrance Sunday. Not because I'm a great patriot, or that I think war is wonderful, but because I remember all these ordinary blokes who found themselves in an extraordinary and hellish place.