It’s 2014 and a century ago Britain went to war with the Germans and their Austro-Hungarian Allies. Men on both sides signed up in their droves to take part in this war and – despite examples of extremely low moral and even mutiny in the French Army – the moral and commitment to the war in the British Empire’s army stayed strong throughout.
One of these soldiers was a Major in the Royal Engineers, my Great Grandfather, who we believe ended up being awarded the OBE as a result of something he did during the war. We’re still researching that aspect, but it was apparently to do with trench building.
Many people believe that the British troops arrived at the trenches and stayed there until they died. This isn’t quite true as they were regularly rotated to areas in the rear to keep them fresh. However, this does not mean that they didn’t go through something most of us can’t imagine in our worst nightmares.
What they went through was truly horrific. Aside from the living conditions in some of the areas, the combat, when it came, was nigh-on medieval, especially when it came to raiding the enemy trenches. Improvised weapons of the sort you see in horror films were the norm.
I don’t believe that there has yet been a film that comes anywhere near as close to depicting World War One combat as Saving Private Ryan does for World War Two combat. No doubt there will be a number of films released in the next four years that attempt to do so, but with no surviving veterans we’ll never be sure.
And yet, after years of living on the front, our Great Grandfathers came home and were expected to pick up where they left off and live a normal life. How they managed this I’ll never know, and I’ll always have the utmost respect for every soldier that served, regardless of their nation, for I know that I would never want to go through the things my Great Grandfather did. I just hope that whatever memorial events are planned do them and their friends justice.