Thursday, 11 November 2010

Remembrance Day

My fascination with the Inter-War years is probably influenced by the fact that this was my Grandparents' heyday, also the time when my parents were born.  In thinking about my maternal Grandmother in particular I always wondered what were the events that shaped her outlook, made her the 'wild one' amongst her siblings and a scary, if loving, mother and grandmother.

I've decided to blame World War I, rightly or wrongly, for the rebelliousness of the 1920s.  I'm sure my Grandmother 'flapped' as best she could for a person from Booneville, Arkansas, finding herself with two young children in Lehigh, Oklahoma.  Well, WWI, the Spanish Influenza and the untimely deaths of several of her siblings.  Surely in some of that is an explanation for why she was so ornery, but enough about her.

Reading about Vera Brittain, about repression of war memories and the like, one can't help but get a feel for how shocking that whole experience will have been for the British people.  Death tolls were even higher amongst the French, the Russians and the Germans.  Not all casualties were soldiers; many civilians died from famine.  

Having briefly scanned the articles on this website about the First World War, I came away with the sense that it began not really with the assassination of an Austrian Archduke, though that was the starting gun so to speak, but rather with the machinations of the German Chancellor, Bismarck, to consolidate his power over the newly unified Germany, under the Kaiser Wilhelm.  Glancing through his Wikipedia entry, I noticed 'anti-democratic', 'anti-Catholic legislation' and may have discovered why my father's ancestors immigrated to the US around 1880.  I shall enjoy going back to read more about Bismarck.  Anyhow, it was all like a bunch of dominoes because of the treaties between European countries and their colonies.  It was almost like street gangs:  pick on one member and you get the whole gang in retaliation...even if it's supposed to be a minor fight and it's nothing to do with everyone else.  I always wondered what sort of beef could be so big as to make it a 'World' war.  Now I (sort of) know. 

I just read in the freebie paper the other day that the last widow drawing a war pension from some war or other had died.  Of course we've tossed the paper and I can't seem to find it on the Internet (specific point often seem to elude my researching skills).  I was thinking it was a woman who had married young to an elderly WWI vet, but I'm not at all certain, given that several WWI vets
are still alive. Perhaps it was a war even more previous.

Speaking of living World War I vets, as of yesterday, Frank Buckles (US), Claude Choules (AU), both 109 years old, are still kicking. The last French veteran of WWI, Lazare Ponticelli, died in 2008, aged 110.  Jack Babcock, Canada's last WWI Veteran, died in February of this year, also aged 109.  Babcock said he never did consider himself a veteran because he never got to see fighting.  Germany's last living WWI Vet is believed to have been Erich Kastner (or Kaestner); according to the BBC this was difficult to verify as Germany doesn't keep records of its war veterans, which could be for a number of reasons.  Kastner was honoured by the German government as being their second oldest man, for his work in the field of law and for being married 75 years.  He was the first of this group to die, at age 107 in 2008.

Choules, the only career military man of the bunch, interestingly doesn't celebrate Remembrance Day as he doesn't believe in glorifying war.  If anyone is entitled to that opinion, I'd say he was.

1 comment:

Boywilli said...

She was actually the last widow of an American Civil War Veteran.As you suggest, she was a young woman who married an old man allegedly to look after him and provide for her child, but what do you know, a couple of years later another child appeared. i think that this child entitled her to the pension