The World Remembers; Never Forget

November 11th…

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You may well have heard of the shortage of butter in France; supermarket shelves are virtually empty and ranks of margarine and other assorted spreading agents have taken their place. Various reasons have led to this set of culinary circumstances but the situation has really made me stop and think about those times of austerity.

We take for granted that our grocery stores will be stocked with provisions, and during a family conversation at supper, I asked the children, “Can you imagine only having half a packet of butter for the week? You take it for granted that when one is finished we take another out of the fridge and we’re not happy if there isn’t a spare to hand.”

I paused to emphasise my next words. “Imagine not having a choice at all” and their eyes bulged at the thought of not having butter, of not having a stocked fridge and being able to eat when they wanted.

As the discussion continued, I sat back and thought about rationing. The timing of our butter shortage is very poignant. At no time in history have we in general known such abundance, but despite the newspaper headlines screaming at us that the butter shortage is the worst since the end of World War Two, it is truthfully nothing like those hard times, NOTHING AT ALL. Both Roddy and I had parents who fought in that war, as I am sure many of you have. But it’s not a subject anyone talks about much and when they do, I am always incredibly humbled for they never talk of the horrors, instead they talk of kindness and how people helped one another, they even tell amusing stories. We owe everyone who fights for their country, past and present, so so much.

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Yesterday was Armistice Day, November 11th. Much of France fell silent for two minutes at 11am, a time to silently remember the fallen, not just those from the First World War, but from all of the wars past and present that have taken so many people and caused so much suffering.

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Heavy dark skies rested like a lid over the village and surrounding area for much of the day. We found ourselves in a small hamlet a few miles away with a beautiful church in the middle of nowhere and we stopped and walked. Flags flew on the war memorial and a wreath had been laid during the morning ceremony. We walked amongst the graves, where ancient stones simply carved sat peacefully alongside the new. We picked up a few fallen chrysanthemums knocked over by the wind, and put them back to rights. It somehow seemed wrong to see them laying on their sides and it was the least we could do.

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Even the roses were bowing their heads in remembrance it seemed.

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As we crossed the marais on our way home we stopped and said hello to a couple of ponies. The clouds sat broodily overhead, and a brisk wind whipped around our faces, brushing thoughts of past Armistice days to the fore. It was all too easy to fall deep into thought as I walked with the children from fence-line to fence-line.

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I couldn’t help but think of what it must have been like 100 years ago. Perhaps it was the peace that surrounded us; there was not a soul in sight, not a sound to be heard apart from the occasionally  stamping of a hoof on wet ground and the swish of a tail. However, I knew that on the way back we would pass a small memorial to an incident that happened 65 years ago – proof that even the marais had memories.

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When we returned home, I went straight to the study and pulled out my Grandfather’s old leather case and started to look through the papers inside. It’s something I have done so many times, I feel as if I know them off by heart; but still they hold an incredible fascination and it is a link to a past that I will never know.

Once again I handled the pages of the Liverpool newspaper which he had kept from the day that peace was announced. It’s pages are so thin and worn now, and it has to be handled with extreme care.

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Millie became engrossed and whilst thinking how good the cartoon was she noticed the list of those who “Died From Wounds”. Amongst them is my Grandmother’s brother who died in hospital in Rouen in Normandy.

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My Grandfather was also in France for most of the war; he took part in the Battle of Passchendaele at Ypres, and he was one of the lucky ones who survived. Although wounded he never talked about those times, ever.

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I found myself searching out his diaries, a series of little leather bound books, each with a handwritten entry (very often in pencil) for every day during that long ago war. I found an entry for November 11th, 1918, the day that the war officially ended, by that time he had been moved on to Palestine and on that day he was in a small village by the most southernmost lake in Suez. He was stationed in the Middle East from March 1918 onwards, and the war wasn’t over for him yet.

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However, although he never discussed these dark times, he started writing his memoirs when he was in his 80’s after my grandmother died. He employed a local lady in the Sussex village where he lived, Miss Jones, to help him. She set him up with a dictaphone, one of those little things with tiny cassette tapes. Each week he would recount a part of his story, and I am sure it must have caused him untold grief reliving those times, I can’t imagine how he had the strength to go back to those dark days in his mind and relive them all over again and yet he did, in great detail, but he still never mentioned it to anyone outside of his private world with his machine and Miss Jones. Each week she would diligently come to his house, collect the tape and hand him over a sheath of papers on which she had typed everything she had transcribed from the week before. There are more than 391 of these A4 pages, tucked away in an old leather briefcase that dates from a time long ago.

I remember Miss Jones vaguely, a tall woman with brown hair who wore glasses, always dressed in a tweed skirt and twin set. My grandfather’s  story starts with his earliest memories of life in Cheshire around the turn of the last century, for he was born in the 1890’s. Most of the diaries concentrate on the years during the First World War but they do end with a summary of life after my mother was born. He lived until the ripe old age of 91 and next year I hope to find a way to publish the diaries as part of the celebration of 100 years since the end of the war, because I believe it is probably quite rare to have such an introspective account of the war years accompanied by his dairies. Not every page is gruesome, although there are plenty of stomach turning gory details, but there is much humour too and a constant pining for my grandmother, not even his wife at the time, but the love of his life. Reading his diaries is also a reminder of how important letters and links with home were, I believe this is what kept many of the men sane.

Here’s an excerpt from 1918 and his first morning at the front line in Palestine.

“The fighting in the front line and the reserves was also in complete contrast to Flanders. There we had lived in a hole in the ground within shouting distance of the Boche. In Palestine we were on top of high hills. On the evening that I joined the Battalion, the Major took me with him on his tour of the posts – an undreamed of thing in itself to have happened in Flanders.  It was dark and I hadn’t the faintest idea where we were. I was just stumbling about over boulders and there would be the occasional whine as a bullet ricocheted from one of them.  I didn’t like it one bit.

The next morning, just before dawn, I was taken up to my Platoon’s post. I was introduced to my sergeant. He greeted me with a “Good Morning, sir” in a voice which might have been addressing parade. I thought, “My God, we’ve had it!” and would have dropped flat except that the Sergeant was still standing. As far as I could see, we were at the end of a wide plateau extending in front of us with, presumably, the Turks holding the other extremity so, in a hushed whisper, I said to the Sergeant, “Where’s Johnny*?” and in the same stentorian tones he pointed across a wide valley to a ridge of hills just becoming visible and said, “He’s somewhere on the back of that other ridge, sir”.

I never felt such an utter damn fool but that was the sort of country we fought and lived in.” 

*Johnny was a slang term for the enemy

143 thoughts on “The World Remembers; Never Forget

  • You have to find a way to publish these, I am not an expert but I would assume such a manuscript is rare indeed and it needs to be shared. What a great man he must have been.

    • Hi Sharon, I shall do all I can to see these published, trust me! They are so fascinating and i am sure that although not rare, they may well be welcomed by many people. He was a great man too…..thank you for the kind comment.

    • Oh, I’m sorry, Panda, it wasn’t my intention for the post to be sad…. 😦 But we should really all smile, for we are surely lucky to live when we do. I cannot imagine the horrors of war. Like most mothers, it would be the most terrible thing to have to send your children off to fight….

  • What an interesting blog! I am from Liverpool and remember my mum telling me a story. During the war she had collected the ration of butter. It was a cold winter and the butter was so hard it was breaking up her ration of bread. She placed the butter on the hearth to melt. The butter fell into the fire and she cried knowing she couldn’t get any more until her next ration. She was telling a lady in the park and the lady came back with half her ration for my mum. A complete stranger gave half of what little she had. They really came together to help each other in hard times.

    • Sue – what a lovely story! How wonderful, but then – how typical of people in the direst of circumstances to do that. I think rather a lot of that went on everywhere – not just in England….. thank you for your comment 🙂

  • This gives me goosebumps. While I was reading this my son happened to be playing his bagpipes downstairs – reawakening the memory of the Remembrance Day Parade that took place in our small town this morning; a poignant ceremony indeed.

  • Thank you and God bless everyone of those brave men and women who suffered for us to remain free. You must publish these accounts. What do our young people know of the hardships they went through just to have a bite to eat. How they remained sane is beyond my capabilities and to see people dishonor our flag lets me know the depth of our depravity. God save us from ourselves.

    • Alice, I could not agree more, and what you are going through right now is the USA is bizarre. Reading through these diaries here makes me wonder too how they kept sane – some of the horrors my grandfather writes about are simply indescribable. It truly was a war from hell. As I am sure any war is.

  • Such a stirring post. On one hand it is wonderful that we live in a time of plenty; but so many just take it for granted. It is not that we want our children or grandchildren to know suffering, but we do want them to be aware of what others before them sacrificed for their freedom.

  • It is so important for you to try to publish this account. The young people have no idea. What we have seen and heard from our parents has fortunately not been a part of their lives. However if we do not know history we are bound to repeat it. God bless you and your beautiful family.

    • Thank you Theresa – we shall see what happens, but I would love for these diaries to be read by a wider audience. It will be a shame that I will not be able to share the relics of that time that he also kept – some of the material is fascinating.

  • Such a moving post today Susan. What an incredible legacy your grandfather has left for you all. To be able to read his exact words in his diary is sad, but wonderful too. I’m wondering if the newspaper was The Liverpool Echo? I hail from there, but am not sure if it was published that far back. I so wish I could go back in time & speak to my now deceased Grandparents about those days. My dear Dad was a naval radio operator in WW2, & Mum, being 7 years younger, was evacuated to Hereford from Liverpool for a couple of years. Although separated from her brothers & sisters, she loved the experience, but others sadly weren’t so fortunate. Lest we forget. xxx

    • Hello Janet – it WAS the Liverpool Echo, you’re quite right. How funny….gosh, isn’t the world a small place? I’m sure there are thousands upon thousands of us all with the same stories of parents during the war – if we could only put them all in a book.So many people, mostly gone, some still with us, all so important for what we all enjoy now. Did we ever thank them enough, I wonder?

  • My father, a Canadian soldier, spoke of waking up badly injured leaning against a demolished church in a field near Rouen. He saw carts pulled by horses picking up the bodies of fallen soldiers and also carts with dead horses and cattle. The pictures of the horses reminded me of this.

  • Susan,
    Such a beautifully written post. What a wonderful gift your Grandfather left you. With a degree in History this post “tugs” at my heart.
    The diaries, the newspapers, the dictaphone tapes are an irreplaceable part of history. This is such a treasure, Susan.
    My Dad fought in WW II and there is one surviving small diary. Such a heart warming prose of his thoughts and beliefs.
    Can’t wait for the publication of the words and wisdom of this remarkable man, your Grandfather. ❤️

    • Oh, rest assured you’ll have more to read before long.!I have it all planned, and as I said elsewhere, if I can’t find a publisher than it’ll be an e-Book. You shall have your fill of history, I promise 🙂 I hope you keep YOUR diary for ever XX

      • Will be anxiously awaiting the publication of your Grandfather’s material.
        And yes the diary is in safe keeping and a cherished treasure!❤️
        Happy Momday…Happy Week. xx

      • I will do all I can to find a publisher, but it’s not an easy task! The sad thing is I know it would be so well received and is such an important part of history. Fingers crossed we can do something, I have Roddy working on the case in his free time too! Hope you have a lovely week as well xx

  • My Grandfather also used to keep diaries. Following his death my Grandmother started throwing things away including the diaries “Nobody will be interested or want those things…” My mother managed to save quite a few. Following my Grandmother’s death, my mother started disposing of those diaries and papers relating to my Grandfather’s life. She passed some of what she had to my ex-brother-in-law so that he could write up her family history. Now he refuses to part with them, those that are still extant.

    • Oh my goodness! I hope enough was saved? Gosh, isn’t it funny how some people cannot keep memories like that and yet others collect them like mad. How fascinating – I hope you get to read a finished version too, one day.

  • My father was in WWII and Korea and my father-in-law was a Japanese interpreter during WWII. Neither wanted to talk about the War, but on rare occasions, after a couple of beers, they would start telling stories and have everyone just riveted. We asked them both to write down their stories or at least let us record them, and they refused. You have a treasure in your fathers memoirs. And if you’re ever in New Orleans, Louisiana, visit the National WWII museum. It’s truly fascinating! I went when it first opened and all of the docents were WWII Vets. It was an honor to visit with them.

    • My Uncle landed on the beach during the Normandy invasion. My Father served in the Navy during the Korean war. Neither talked about their experiences during the wars save for an occasional funny story or reminiscing about the kindness of some of the people that they encountered. I knew from my grandmother that my Uncle threw himself on a landmine that someone else had tripped to save the rest of his platoon and very nearly nearly​ died as a result. According to Grandmama, his scars were pretty horrific and made her want to cry every time she thought about them but she always said that coming home with scars was infinitely better than coming home in a box as so many others had.

      I think that for some of these men and women that served, there are a lot of terrible memories associated with that time in their lives and perhaps some survivor’s guilt. It can’t be a thing that is easy to talk about or share with others.

    • That sounds like a fine reason to visit Louisiana, Julia! I’m not sure when it will be though. As for the rest of your comment, it’s difficult to understand sometimes what our predecessors went through, isn’t it – but you’ve heard about it from their mouths, as it were. My grandfather could never talk of it at all. Thank goodness for the printed word though….

  • I remember at school how important Armistice Day was when I was there, in the late 60’s and 70’s. Many of the people who taught us were still perhaps a little raw with emotion each November 11th, as were many parents and their friends. It seems with the passing of that generation that a little of the urgency of those scarred memories is diluted, and eventually of course we will have no veterans at all at any services any more. It is imperative, in my view, that we never lose sight of not just those conflicts, but any conflict, for war is a dreadful business, even when ‘just’, and we cannot afford to produce generations of children who have no inkling, none at all, of what war entails. In my opinion this is doubly important in this day and age when 24/7 media coverage of conflict zones has de-sensitized so many people to the horror and tragedy that warfare creates, and when so many of our children and young adults spend so much time killing each other with impunity with the help of computer games.

    I didn’t mean for this comment to be so heavy, my apologies, but each and every Armistice Day my sentiments are rearranged yet again. Lovely post, Susan, thank you for keeping us grateful and humble.

    • You’ve said a little of what many of us may feel sometimes, I think, Simon. I’m sure I am not the only one who thinks your comment about the modern world is apt, too. I’ve never thought about computer games, at all, but you’re right – you can’t get away from them even if you don’t play them. Adverts on TV, on Facebook, on YouTube…… and they’re so horribly realistic too. I hasten to add that I’m lucky – my children are engrossed in Minecraft half the time and i think the most serious ‘shoot-em up’ game we have is Legend of Zelda. And thank you for your comment, don’t thank me!

  • I have heard of the butter shortage and like the way you used it to segue into the rest of your post. Reading about the rationing during each war, especially in Europe has always amazed me. My f-i-l landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day and was then in the Pacific later. He never talked about it and it seems that many, from any war, don’t. I wonder whether that helps or hurts them. What a treasure you have in these journals and papers. Thank you so much for sharing just a bit of them.

    I do love that in France there are so many memorials to those who died in WWI and WWII. When we went to the museum at Omaha Beach, it also touched me as an American deeply to know that there are those who gratefully remember what the US did in helping to win these wars. I get tired of always being thought of as a bad country.

    janet

    • Bonsoir Janet. I can tell you that most of french people are VERY grateful for the great sacrifice of the young brave american soldiers during WW I and WW II ( same grateful for british, canadian, australian and newzealander young soldiers ). Sometimes political issues bring some disagreement between our two countries…but never war between us! It is only political matters. Nothing to do with the good feeling we have for american people.Le rêve américain/the american dream is always very strong for many french people. It is also interesting to know that the five D-Day landing beaches are U.S. Territories for ever ( War cimeteries as well and U.S Army runs them thus ). Vive l’ Amérique as we say in France!

      • Erratum : I think I was wrong about your first name. Misunderstanding with Janet Orrett’ s comment. I beg your pardon dear ” Sustainabilitea “!

      • Merci beaucoup, Philippe. I so appreciate reading this and have experienced nothing but friendliness in all the times I’ve visited France. My s-i-l and b-i-l live in your beautiful country, so I’ve been blessed to visit often.

    • Oh Janet, it’s been a long time since I was in Normandy looking at the war memorials. I should make a trip soon, with the children, I know Millie will be especially fascinated for she loves history and has a rare talent for understanding it all. And your remark about the French people is a two-way thing too, for as Roddy is always quick to remind others, Dunkirk would never have happened without the courage of the French army who held back the advancing Germans for long enough. France and Britain are cousins, we always have been, even if we have argued a little now and again 🙂 It’s so strange to be talking to people about this, I’m sorry….

      And America is not a bad country. It’s a wonderful country with wonderful people. Except for the strange people in Walmart at midnight on Saturdays. Roddy always jokes about this…..

      • Susan, I in no way meant anything bad about the French. It’s just that these days I mostly hear how bad the US is and it was such a joy to know (not just in my head) that everyone doesn’t feel that way. The French held out, the Brits were incredible, the Poles fought bravely, etc. I’m of German descent and I don’t believe all the Germans were bad, either. 🙂

      • Oh, I didn’t mean to imply that at all, Janet. I’m so sorry if you misunderstood. Roddy just says he finds so many people look down on the French and their perceived failings in the war, when in fact they were as brave as anyone else and did so much during the occupation. He supports them incessantly during arguments, and both he and I know that the USA is a wonderful, brave, caring country. We see both sides of the coin, that’s all I meant to say. And of course you are right too – no normal German wanted to go to war and die. They had as much right to despise what was going on as anyone else. And to be truthful, any country is capable of producing a figurehead with objectionable traits – bless you for your story too XX

      • I understand, Susan, and only wanted to clarify my position. It’s easy to say people should have acted in a certain way when we aren’t in their shoes with our families literally held at gunpoint or worse.

      • I totally agree with you Janet, I can understand fully your point of view. It seems many people like to criticise one country or another endlessly, let’s face it, all have their faults and all have their good points. The best part for me is that so many different nationalities can all live happily together, isn’t that how it should be? xx

      • Exactly, it is like people saying “oh I don’t like the English” for example, I have heard it so many times, (fortunately not about us, that I know of!) apparently the English do this and that in France, but not all English are same, it’s a label that is so unfair and it is not just the English, as you state it is the world over, sadly, a broad generalisation. xx

  • What an incredible legacy to have access to…I do hope you are able to publish a book. Perhaps the more people understand about that dark period of time, the less likely they might be to plunge civilization into more wars, especially now that there are far more leaders with access to nuclear weapons.

  • The importance in this post, for me, is that you share your grandfather’s story with your children. Lest we forget, we say – one day we won’t be here and it will be for our children to pass on what is an ever more distant flame and if they are to keep peace in the heart of life and not allow another ‘war to end all wars’ (or the bloody carnage that followed so soon after) then it is essential that mothers share the story in a way that they understand that it is THEIR story but for the grace of God. Well done, you for keeping the memory alive.

    • Osyth, I’m lucky that Millie is a historian, and she will keep the memories alive. She has a love for history and a knack for wanting to know more, soi the memoirs will be in safe hands with her to start with! Ss for the rest of what you say, I agree with all of it. I guess that is one reason why I want to publish the memoirs – it may add a little more importance to them that the children may appreciate more deeply. Is that selfish thing to say?

      • Not at all. History, like charity, starts at home and understanding our own heritage (and we all have one no matter great or humble) is enormously important. I was fortunate, my mother brought us up with stories and stories and stories of her childhood and those that she had absorbed about the generations before. I have always been glad that I pinned my father down to talk about his own family when they sold the family house and moved to where my mother now lives. If I hadn’t, much that I now know I would never have heard in his voice (which was quite crucial for me) as he died a year later. We are guardians of our past and that past is in some way a key to our future. War memoirs written by those who were serving have a particular resonance and though the children may not entirely get it immediately (with the exception of Millie) they surely will as they grow and they will have something tangible to pass to their own children. A great grandfather to be very proud of, they have.

      • I urge the children to ask us anything they want to know, ask away and ask away some more, because otherwise they may never hear parts of their own history, who knows what the future holds. There are questions I would so like to ask my Mother or Grandmother now and it is too late. I hate that with a passion. xx

      • And you are just too too kind. Hope you had a fabulous weekend with your daughter. Sun is shining brightly here, but cold, we have so much to be grateful for and we owe so much to so many, I just want the children to understand that and be aware of it. Because if we don’t tell them I fear it is a part of history that they might either not know about or they will just brush aside and not realise how important it is. xx

      • Friday/Saturday is the time with daughter. I just can’t wait – she’s in Ibiza staying with one of her oldest friends who lives there and posting pictures – it’ll be so good to give her a mummy squeeze! At the moment though, I do have husband here for 10 days (he’s staying on to look after the dog so I don’t have to kennel her or take her with me to Barcelona) – so lovely to have him here. Here it is cold, the mountains are well covered with snow and it all looks gorgeous now the rain has finally abated. We cannot cannot cannot labour the point too heavily nor too personally with regards to the two world wars. Xx

      • Two and a bit days to go, so excited for you, I know just how you feel, I cannot wait to see Izzi again. Enjoy Barcelona and we WILL catch up next week, I’ve been working on a few new things until the small hours every night this week and am hoping next week will be much calmer!! xx

  • Thank you for writing this story of remembrance. And do please find a way to publish your grandfather’s story. As others have said, we must keep alive the memory of what ordinary people did during those extraordinary times. Again, thank you.

  • Memories such as these should be passed on, but let me write here something that I think is sometimes missed. You mention children need to be made aware of the hardships of the past and how precious their freedom is, but for my own experience, my mother seems to have forgotten the war she grew up in – WWII. She is very materialistic and seems to have totally ignored the basic life rules my grandmother had of frugality, neighbourliness, charity, family and humbleness. She expects to have heat when she wants, butter when she wants. I actually came to France without any experiences drawn from my mothers life – which is comfortable middle class. She has no time for the royal family, nor the poor, nor those in difficulty. She wont give to charity. I find it so sad that having lived through a war and the rationing afterwards, these things have been discarded as merely an uncomfortable history to be forgotten. I don’t think we have to wear the memory of the war like an old coat, but I do feel we can gain a considerable “soulness” if I can express it like that, by living life today with some of the moral fibre and honour that many of our older generation had and still have. Sorry to be heavy too, but I know many children who are very anti-war and have courage and charity within them. But then that is why we have Armistice Day – for everyone to reflect.

    • Oh Judi – so much to read in your comment, and I am sorry for your dilemma – but then again the last part of what you say makes so much sense too. Anti-war is an easy stance to take of course, and we have much discussion about war and why war is sometimes unavoidable in our house. But it’s hard to get away from the reality of conflict nowadays – it’s on our TVs and computers 24/7. I love the sentiment you forward though, it is indeed a good day to reflect.

  • A brilliant, moving post. I wonder if the Imperial War Museum might give good advice about how to proceed with your grandfather’s history? They would certainly be fascinated.

    • Margaret – what a good idea! I didn’t think about contacts like that, I wonder if it’s possible to ask them for advice? I’m sure its worth a try, thank you. I shall see what they say…..

  • I remember my first visit to France in the 1960’s. It seemed that every village had war memorials listing the names of all lost in defense. The ancient buildings wore their bullet holes with honor. All the above posts were very moving. I hope you are able to share all you have with the world.

    • Bonsoir Gloria.You are right in saying that every village have war memorials. I can tell you that only four villages out of 36 000 ( yes! 36 000…) cities/towns/villages within France don’t have a war mémorial! Because just these four villages didn’t get any men killed in action.

    • Hello Gloria, thank you for your kind comment – hopefully we can share the memoirs, we’ll try. And I have to agree with you about memorials in France – every village seems to have one, and sometimes two. I love your phrase, “wore their bullet holes with pride”. That sums up the respect they have in moist places for military history.

  • The photos of the ponies were somehow very moving, their peace and calm on such a grey day seems to be a very fitting photo for such remembrance.

  • My grandad was from Liverpool, he wasn’t so lucky, he died in France and so did his brother. So many lives lost, and lives and family I never got to know or meet. My mum was just a baby when her dad was killed so she never knew him either. We must never forget them and I hope perhaps we can still learn by remembering. Thank you for sharing this very personal post today. I really do hope you find a way to publish his diaries and let us all know when you do, I will be buying straight away.

    • Your words are too true, Ashley – so many lives lost indeed. I hope it was not all in vain and we can sort out the mess we seem to be getting into with Brexit. Politics is a rough ride these days for sure. Stay tuned for ‘diary publication’! It will happen.

  • A.m.a.z.i.n.g…. My father, although with a Swiss passport, grew up in Germany during WW2 and he never wanted to talk about that time. He did however give us some bits of what went on, for instance he told us once that he taught a French pow German and learnt some French phrases from him. Only when he was over 80yrs old, and I ‘offered’ him a day of my life for his birthday, he chose a train journey through Switzerland and over a fondue in a tiny village in the Bernese Oberland he started telling me things he lived through during the war (incl having to ‘refuse’ becoming a spy for Germany; which wd have been possible as he was Swiss by birthright’. It was chilling stuff and when I ‘delivered’ him back to my mother, I told her with tears in my eyes that ‘had we only known some of the horrors he lived through, we would have had much more understanding for his behaviour’…. And then the added horror of my mum who was NEVER told what he told me, his daughter….. Those were moments I wouldn’t want to live again and your ‘report’ brought out miles of raised hairs on my body and an internal shiver that has nothing to do with the room temperature.
    YES, those diaries MUST be published. The world needs to know whatever can be learned. So that maybe MAYBE those horrors needn’t to happen again and again.
    I was baffled by the butter shortage and in my opinion it was ‘just’ the pricing policy of the large supermarkets who ‘created’ indirectly the polemic. I only realised it even when after several attempts I couldn’t find any organic butter – then I started reading the articles here and there and we discussed the fact that butter has always been (far too) expensive in Switzerland and totally too cheap in France…. Therefore I can understand the producers who don’t get a fair enough price for their produce and I’m all for them to get ‘even’!

    • Hi Kiki, what a momentous day in your life that must have been, in more ways than one. Your father must have had some very different experiences during the war than most. How wonderful of you to take him out for a day…but gosh, how you must have felt when he told you all of that!

      You’ll be one of the first to know when the diaries are published it we can make it happen – no – WHEN it happens!

      The butter shortage is a strange one, but we had our bakers for tea yesterday and it IS all about prices. Suppliers are withholding butter from the supermarkets as they are getting better money for it abroad, as there is a shortage as such. Their prices to the supermarkets are fixed once a year and cannot change, so obviously they’re trying to get the best price for what they have …..

      • isn’t it funny how life works? For some years only I now happen to fall for books who ‘handle’ the wars in form of novels. I have always, always read mountains of books and I have honestly no idea why now, and/or only now I get books dealing with the wars in one way or other (always combined with intruiges, love, mariages etc of course); it might have been for films I’ve seen or just living twice now in countries heavily ‘formed’ by those wars (England and France). As a Swiss we are quite often blissfully unaware of the horrors although my grandmother ‘maternelle’ was a great hoarder with an even greater heart. When her house got sold, 23 or 27 matresses were hauled down from the barn floor (which was the highest up enclosure so I might use a wrong term)…. To our great amazement we learned that she and grandfather had hosted as many children having brought to CH during the war and although they had literally nothing themselves, they gave those kids food, a bed, a home….. Nobody ever spoke much about this, it was just done because it needed to be done. YES, many stories lurk in minds and dark corners, let’s sweep those corners clean for the future generations.

      • Oh gosh – what a find, what a story – you must find out more! I have Sound of Music visions right now, rattling through my brain! All of you have made me more determined than ever to get these diaries published. Even if it is just an e-Book. We shall have so much to talk about when we finally meet, Kiki. That has to happen too!

  • Yes I agree with all the commenters: what an incredible legacy and gift your grandfather has left you, & i sincerely hope you can publish or share it all somehow! I loved the way you moved from butter to rationing, it was a lovely technique, & I recognize the butter from all my time in France! May we all live in peace, blessings from Australia, G 🙏🏼❤

    • As I have said to everyone, we shall try!! It is a wonderful legacy and it would be great to show the whole of it, not just the diaries………..thank you for your comment 🙂 The lack of butter is a problem we shall overcome rather more easily, I suspect!

  • Thank you so much for this moving and thoughtful post. We lived in England after WWll and my American grandmother used to send packages of canned ham and other goodies to supplement the rationing that continued until 1952 in England. My father never spoke of his experiences during the war until he got Alzheimer’s and then he wept while telling us about the desperate suffering of the flight crews who were able to make it back to the airfield in spite of the damage to their aircraft. I’m grateful that my children were able to hear those stories and hope that they will inform their own reading of the memoirs like those of your grandfather, which are a treasure indeed.

    We live in a time of careless abundance. In the US we are governed by politicians who have shirked war personally but feel empowered to strut about threatening nuclear oblivion. Passing down memories of the savage suffering cause by war is an act of true nobility. Thanks for doing your part.

    • Hello Elizabeth, how moving that your father did eventually tell you of his experiences, even if the memories were sad. Memories need to be held and used as a tool, not just for enjoyment, I agree. We shall see what happens, but that you for your support. ‘A time of careless abundance’ is a wonderful expression, I may borrow it….and I am in no way noble, I hasten to add. Just a mother with children and lots of animals, trying to make a way through what is becoming a complicated world – I think we are all in the same boat!

  • Oh Susan… tears to my eyes also. What a wonderful and moving post. As you know, in New Zealand our day of war remembrance is Anzac Day, April 25th, but I still think it’s worth talking to my students about Remembrance/Armistice Day. Which indeed I did on Friday. My Grandad was in WWI and my Dad in WWII, but like so many, they talked little about their experiences. Thank you once again. And by the way, butter isn’t in short supply here, but it has become ridiculously expensive!

  • Great post Susan – so important to keep the memories and diaries alive. Being a writer, you ought to document this and get it printed. My Mum did this and assembled notes, photos and her own recollections of family history. I revisit her manuscript regularly.

    • We shall see what happens, but hopefully we can get something published. It would be a waste of so much, so many different things, if we couldn’t get it to be used in some way. Thank you for your thoughts….

  • Wow, Susan, powerful post. I hope you will publish your grandfather’s diaries. So many people today are ignorant about the cost of war. My father’s plane with crew was shot down in WWII in the Pacific and only once did he comment on his experience. He joined at the age of 17 and when he told me of this one horrible event when he and his crew were shot down, he never breathed a word of his service again. He died at a relatively young age – no one tied the terrors of war with depression and heaven knows, no one knew about PTSD back then. Please keep us informed, I will surely buy your book if you decide to proceed with documenting your grandfather’s memoirs.

    • Oh Kathleen, so many of us are saying the same thing, It seems so funny that they would not talk about it, but then of course it also makes so much sense. Who would voluntarily want to recreate the hell? I will try as best as i can to get these into a book, for all of you have commented, and for those who are unaware. Thank you for your memory.

  • What a gift to have access to your grandfather’s diaries and remembrances. I hope you have the opportunity to publish them. Both of my grandfathers were too young to have been considered for service in WWI, and too old for WWII. None of the men in my family have been directly involved in any conflict, although most have military service (those in the generation preceding mine). My mother grew up on a large farm in lower Alabama. She remembers as a young girl when a group of German POW’s were “assigned” to assist with working the farm. She recalls that they were just young guys, a few years older than her brothers. It seems odd that they would have made their way from wherever they were from to that place in the backwoods of the American south. If you locate Nowhere on a map the farm is in the middle of it. I remember ‘duck and cover’ drills in grade school – as if crawling under your desk would provide any real protection. I think about the waste and destruction and suffering and lost potential inflicted by war. It seems to me that we, as a world society, should be able to resolve differences by means other than killing each other. Perhaps that is naive. Greed seems, to me, to be the underlying motivator that causes most of the worlds ills. Taking what others have. Perhaps one day that will change. No sermon intended.

    • To follow on what Kathleene says (above my post) – and to correct the statement that none of the men in my family have direct combat experience, I had a brother-in-law who was in the US Air Force, a C-130 pilot (those are the huge transport planes). Over the course of his career he was engaged in many combat scenarios. He would literally go into work expecting a normal day and my sister might not see him again for weeks. It was extraordinarily stressful on their family, and on the extended families on both sides who loved and supported them. Over time he changed, and hardened and became someone none of us recognized. He resisted help, choosing to ‘self medicate’ – with all that implies. He and my sister separated, then divorced. He eventually took his own life, alone – it took several days to know that anything was wrong because the lines of communication with those who truly cared had been so broken. His mother finally sent the police to check on him. He is one of the countless victims of PTSD. Because he refused to open up about his experiences we will never know what he saw, or did. Although we did not live his experiences directly we are impacted by the results. He now has two beautiful granddaughters who will never know his embrace or see his smile or hear him laugh. It is tragic.

      • I loved both your comments, Steven, and it would be churlish of me to say more, for you have said it all. Thank you for your frank story, I wish I could send you a hug too. War is terrible, there is no more to say.

    • STEVEN, both your comments made me cry (which surely wasn’t intended neither by you or Susan). I almost wish she hadn’t started this…. But then I’m a ‘neutral’ coward and I hate anything involving cruelty in any shape or form. Thank you for your thoughts; they are so important.

      • Kiki, I do know how you feel, it is all so sad. But rather than wishing I hadn’t started this, I felt quite the opposite this evening. I sat down when I returned home, just after it turned dark and I read through all the comments all over again, I felt I had to, so many people have shared so many personal stories, I felt so incredibly humbled and at the same time I thought how fabulous that complete strangers can all come together on one tiny little place on the web. xx

      • Hi, Kiki – sorry to have made you cry. Of course that was not my intent. In fact I posted the second comment only after I read another post that mentioned PTSD and it triggered our family’s experience. Maybe I’m too adept at compartmentalizing. Deaths due to PTSD is a national crisis in the US. Of course the term is broad and relates to many forms of trauma but more than 5000 suicides per year are attributed to military service related PTSD. That is unacceptable. That it touched our family in such an immediate way was a complete shock. We all want to think we are loving and caring individuals with open arms.

        I have found all the commentary very interesting. I also have read every post. We are all more alike than we are different, I think. ‘Our French Oasis’ is one of the blogs I most enjoy following. I love the everyday aspect – just living and enjoying and celebrating a good life. Those of us who are fortunate enough to have that privilege should be thankful, and try to not take it for granted. And do what we can, in whatever small or large way available, to help those less fortunate. The fact that Susan is willing to share her oasis is a gift I appreciate. 🙂

  • A historical post, Susan, not just because of your own story but the snippets from each and every one of your readers. Some talk of grandparents in WW!, others of parents in the Second World War. Have to smile about the butter, because in Australia it has nearly doubled in price recently: but then, we make an almighty number of dollars sending ours to China! Butter during WW!! ? . . . ha! I was a small kiddycat, a refugee in Germany running away from The Communist hordes which had as yet again taken over my homeland . . . Butter, bread – what were those? I remember crying so often because there was NOTHING to eat for days and my Mom cried because there was nought she could put in my mouth, lest we found a piece of wild fruit . . . I remember we used to collect weeds in the fields to make soup and felt we had won the lottery if after hours of waiting behind a baker’s door, he was able to sell us half a loaf of inedible rubbish at Black Market prices . . . I am an army brat and Remembrance Day is very big here in Australia . . . . oh, yes, Lest we forget . . . .

    • Oh my goodness, you had a childhood from hell, by the sounds of it! I cannot believe how many of us have been touched by the effects of war directly in one way or another. You need to write your story too, I would be transfixed by your account, I am absolutely sure! Gosh, I cannot comprehend being a child with nothing to eat, and your poor mother, how must she have felt? Oh Eha, I shall email you a hug of companionship, for surely you deserve one. XX

      • Susan dearHeart – I have actually been asked to write the accounts of both that time and, separately, of the beginning years in Australia – just chapters in quite a few history books of the era . . . exams over and other matters settled, shall send you one of the short chapters privately for a rainy, stormy winter evening . . . it is quite a story the same for tens of thousands of children at the time . . .

      • I would be absolutely honoured to be able to read a chapter, thank you so much. What a fabulous thing to do, although I would imagine it will be tough to write for you, I find all these stories so fascinating, it really is incredible what humans can go through, I just don’t think we realise how lucky we are today, most of us. Thank you once again xxx

      • Eha, oh no, don’t just send it to Susan, I also want to know…. The more we learn about history the more we see how intricately involved we ALL are. I found it hard even to go to sleep because on top of reading Susie’s blog & all comments and the more I share in my head and heart, I’m also right now going through Liz Fenwck’s THE RETURNING TIDE, a totally engrossing novel with secrets, intrigues between WW2 and 2015…. It’s nail biting but also, once again, teaches about the going-ons in England (in this case) during the war.

    • They certainly can – I can sit and go through his memoirs all day, and every time i find something new. We even have the piece of shrapnel they took out of him too – an ugly monstrosity of a thing that could so easily have killed him. He only escaped once because he took up one of his Lewis gunner’s ammo boxes as the poor man was exhausted and under shellfire received another lump that was deflected but should have severely injured or killed him. Such a personal reminder of fate and MY mortality, because but for that box, I would not be here either!

  • It is always more interesting and poignant to learn about history from personal perspectives. We live in Jersey in the Channel Islands, so part of my Mother’s childhood was spent during the occupation.
    Food was very scarce, especially towards the end of the war, not only for the locals, but also the Germans. Her family kept rabbits and chickens for food, keeping them in a small barn initially, but then had to bring them into the kitchen at night to stop the German soldiers stealing them. When this didn’t prove enough of a deterrent, the animals would be in the bedrooms with the children overnight!
    She also remembers attracting small birds with crumbs onto the garden, where she and her siblings would throw a large fishing net over them to catch them for the pot!
    But she also remembers being given chocolate by a German soldier, which was an incredible luxury for her!

    • Hi Julie, your reply strikes a chord with Roddy especially. He was brought up in Alderney, and although that island was evacuated, the history of Guernsey and Jersey during the war is well documented. Many young people today are completely unaware that the Germans occupied the Channel Islands – but time spent there is well spent discovering their grotesque heritage of fortifications, a blight surpassed of course by the horrors of the concentration camps that were on Alderney. On a bright summer’s day walking the cliffs there, it is hard to reconcile the sounds and sights of nature with the scars of the island’s military trenches, all slowly disappearing under the slow but steady growth of brambles and deep thickets of gorse. I was always in quite a hurry to get home from a walk when darkness fell. When fog falls it can be a very unsettling landscape, too. I bet you’re familiar with that!

      • Dear Susan,
        I have been engrossed by the comments to your blog post. I had surgery on Nov. 14th, so I am late in reading this post.
        My father, US soldier, fought in WW2 in Normandy and Belgium and I was born after the war. He never talked about his experiences but he suffered from the trauma always and died early at age 52 when I was 12. I have always wished that I could have asked him questions. And my mother, I suspect this was true of most women, never understood what they went through in battle or even wanted to know. There was very little “real news” sent back home. As a consequence, I devour books, both fiction & non, about WW2. I recently read Nightingale by Kristen Hannah which talks a lot about the rationing and lack of food. Just Horrible!
        One fact that always haunts me is the length of time of the occupation. I cannot even imagine how terrible it was to be occupied for 5 to 7 years, watching all the horrors around you and being totally helpless to escape or change things.
        The Channel Islands, I think, were occupied for five years. A book that was quite popular in the states many years ago is “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Mary Ann Shaffer, which is done as a series of letters and it gives much insight into how lives were changed by occupation. I recommend it. The are so many books which are fiction but based on true events which are available today about both wars.
        Thank you Susan for starting this great discussion. It is sad, yes, but necessary to know our history accurately. These wars have touched all of us and in a special way each of us.
        Patty

      • Hi Patty (Patricia), I can only underline your choice of book. I must have bought and gifted this book at least to three people after I bought it for myself. A wonderful book. Love Kiki

      • Hi Patricia, I do hope you are recovering well and that it was nothing too serious. My husband is from the Channel Islands and two of our children were born there. The stories from the war are horrific, Alderney, the island he is from was completely evacuated. There are still the gates to the old concentration camps on the island. I have read the book the Potato Peel Pie, very cleverly written. I think it is vital that we still talk about these great wars, horrific though it may, and I will somehow find a way to publish my Grandfather’s memoirs, because I really do believe they are quite rare, because no one ever talked about it. What I find most amazing is that even though he was dictating everything about his life, he still never discussed it. It was a totally closed subject and yet the memoirs describe in great detail exactly what it was like. Thank you so much for your lovely heartfelt comment. xx

  • Hi Susan, an incredible post, so glad you have your grandfather’s papers my family destroyed all of theirs. Harry’s grandfather was a conscientious objector in WW1 he had a choice of being shot or an ambulance driver on the front line. After the war he drank and only in later years did he speak about it and his grief of the madness of men. He was German and the 2nd war was horrifying for him. War is such a grotesque waste of life to satisfy a few men’s ego.

    • I cannot possibly compete with your memories of your father, Virginia, what a brave man he must have been to stand up for his beliefs. And I thoroughly agree with your sentiments although I know that battles must be fought sometimes, for some things must be defended…. it’s a complicated thought process.

  • It’s good to be back in France. I really enjoyed watching the Armistice Day ceremonies the held here in Beaulieu Sur Mer yesterday. How fascinating to hear about your families history with the war. The journal must be just fascinating. That newspaper is a treasure. Did you know you can buy acid free clear protective sleeves for newspapers? My husbands family has collected important newspapers over the years. I bought these sleeves and put them all away in them to help to preserve them.

    • That’s interesting about the sleeves, thank you. I shall have a look for them, as we have several things that might benefit. And yes, the journal IS fascinating 🙂 Hopefully I will get to share it with you all.

  • Good Morning from Windsor Ontario Canada Susan.. what an amazing post. Your comments tied everything together so poignantly. Your grandfathers notes and remembrances are priceless and definitely worth publishing. I think for me the most heart wrenching was his comment about his time in Flanders..”there we had lived in a hole in the ground”. If we don’t remember their sacrifice how can we appreciate our comfort. Again thank you for the post.

    • Heike, that one comment struck such a cord with me too. I know the rest of the story of course, but the men on both sides of the trenches must have been incredibly brave, poor souls. I just cannot imagine what they had to endure. Words are easy to read, thank god there is no colour film footage.

  • My father and his brother fought in WWII and they also would never discuss it with us when we were younger. It was only when my father knew his days were numbered did he discuss his experiences. Frankly, I’m glad he waited to discuss it, as I still have vivid memories of the hell that he and his brothers in battle endured. Your goal of publishing your Grandfather memoirs is a noble one. I would certainly buy a copy.

    • Thank you Ron, I hope I will be in a position some day soon to give you all the go ahead to go and get it from somewhere. But again, you’re another person with memories of that generation and their capacity for silence. One would think they would share the horrors freely, as a means of teaching their children the right things in life, but it appears it was a difficult thing to do. Roddy’s uncle won an MC in the war, but was in the SOE and no one in the family knows anything about what he did. Nothing at all. There is no official record for him either, which means whatever he did it was never recorded. Tight lips save lives, it certainly was true and still is, I guess.

  • I love reading your posts and look forward to them daily. I had the privilege of traveling to France for 2 weeks in September from the US, my first trip to Europe ever. We traveled via car to the French Riviera, through Provence, back up to Annecy and then to the Champagne region. I was fascinated and plan to return. One of the things I was most struck by was the statutes to the WWI American soldiers in all of the small communities. Our children need to know more of this history, it cannot be stressed enough. I hope you get this published, I will be the first to purchase. I hope to return in the near future to see Normandy and other areas I wasn’t able to visit on this trip, with Carcassonne being top of the list!

    • Hello Janis – what a trip you must have had! You should have come this way and i could have introduced you to English tea! As for your comment about the statues – I think Philippe has summed up that feature elsewhere on the blog. Anyone who came to France and fought for what they thought of as freedom was a hero – and the French will never forget that.

      When you come back make sure you visit!

  • First hand accounts like this are rare–and really valuable when you can supplement them with family photographs and contemporaneous reports! I hope you can find a publisher–at the very least a copy should be in an archive for researchers. And what a lovely blog, again…

  • This was such a moving and thoughtful post. The best I have read. Just the reason I keep checking in to read your lovely blog…

    • Thanks so much Cindy, it was something completely different, but that’s what I love about the blog, it’s our daily lives and so I really can mix things up and post what I think is the most relative and this just had to be talked about. xx

  • Susan,
    Me again. World War II and what it stood for and what it continues to stand for is near and dear to my ❤️.
    This post was so heartfelt written by you that it reinforces the wonderful, compassionate writer you are.
    Thank you also to all the readers that contributed their thoughts and beliefs. You too are wonderful.
    Okay…just have to say it…This is my favorite post ever…❤️

    • I agree with you so much in thanking everyone who read this and commented, there have been so many incredible stories that I have read and reread. We talk about it amongst the children because I think there are so many people who don’t talk about it and it should never be forgotten. The sun is shining here, but oh it is cold!!! Have a fabulous week xx

  • Oh Susan, you’ve done it again – what a brilliant post and what an amazing selection of replies and comments. I have spent an hour reading and re-reading each and every one. My father spent his war as a merchant seaman in the North Atlantic convoys, and he never talked about his experiences at all. He was lucky never to be sunk, although various ships he served on came under fire and one was badly damaged by a torpedo or mine. He has gone now of course, so I cannot ask him more, and my mother passed away without saying much about the difficult parts, too – she was a WREN in Portsmouth most of the war. So alas, I have no stories to add.

    But I would like to say that if only the world were ruled by women – so much compassion and soul compared to the egos of men and their incessant need to be the biggest and the best. It’s a biological trait that needs a cure, perhaps – another way to save the planet besides population control and a recovery from climate change. For ultimately, despite all the wars, and all the tragedy, not a lot seems to change for the downtrodden masses of the world who still suffer deprivations of all sorts while we of the lucky 5% sip coffee and type on our computers in warm houses. Mrs C is nodding agreement as I type this. She says she will cook my lunch if I go and fetch more wood. Need more be said?

    • Phil, you made me nod and smile – and then some more – May I say, with all due respect to Mrs C – I love you 🙂
      Hero Husband has no problem with my statement…..

    • Very wise words Phil and I too have read and re-read all the comments, there has been something incredibly moving about them all. We are lucky, so very lucky, we are even lucky to have wood for our fires, but we do all take it for granted. My mother was a young girl at the start of WW2 but as a teenager at the end she remembers how it brought people together, everyone helped one another, I wouldn’t wish war on anyone, but I think we could all learn a lot by looking back at those times and how people coped. Stay warm, it’s been very chilly here. xx

  • Susan, your grandfather’s words remind me of “Unto the Sons” by Gay Talese. He brought to life the newly minted WWI soldier’s experience so vividly that I cry every time I read the book. In fact, there is a scene in the book that fully replicates that of your grandfather’s in the passage above.

    Posts like this, along with your own eloquence, makes your blog a prized destination. Cheers, Ardith

    • Thank you so much Ardith, I don’t know Unto the Sons, but I shall certainly look it up. All of these comments have moved me so much, so many personal stories, it has certainly been a week for thought and remembering, but I think that is a good thing, it is good that we remember and think of all of those who fought for us and all of those who weren’t fighting but who still did their bit. xx

  • PS to Susan:
    Please publish your grandfather’s diary, it is such a precious treasure you have in your hands.
    We all look forward to reading the entries……..Patty

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