General Comment and Observations
as seen through the eyes of someone born in 1943
As one explores, reads letters, and searches for medal and war grave information, each snippet of information, each detail of an ancestor’s story takes one into an unimaginably traumatic world where in normal circumstances emotions would have been running in overload and yet to survive, the individuals had to turn off and become callous. Letters home from the front line seem to hide the trauma particularly in the early years of the first world war and usually hinged around requests for the simple luxuries of life, warm socks, cakes and chocolate and gratitude for such items and the contact with human normality offered by letters received at the front.
Later in the war there are signs, amongst men on the front and in the national press,
of questioning about the injustices in the management of the men and the purpose of the war.
Of the 30 individuals written about, and it will be appreciated that there could be many
more, details are available of only a few, however there are some interesting interfamily connections. There are letters from the First World War demonstrating the influences that family members had on one another and also indications of the unrest among soldiers and civilians alike about how the war was going in the last 2 years.
Letters indicate from time to time how desperately sad and worried people were at home and on the front.
Card in a letter from Lionel to his wife dated 23.12.1916
It is amazing to appreciate that throughout the chaos and trauma in the trenches and for that matter during the world action of the Second World War, there seems to have been time and resources for the everyday things of life like gramophones at the front, and gifts returned home from around the world. Letters were written from the trenches often with bits of short stubby pencils, on scrappy notebook paper resting on anything that came to hand.
The following is a proforma postcard used by the troops to quickly inform their loved ones that they were still alive and whether or not they were injured.
The following website shows an excellent animation of the movement of the western front during WW1, with place names.
When looking at the lives and deaths of so many ancestors from different families, one wonders if they ever crossed each other’s paths. Probably unlikely, excepts that the greatest irony is that Colin Rowntree may well have been close to many others studied in the narrative either injured or dead. This would have been either in his capacity of medical orderly – transport, or when in the Royal Engineers dealing with the war graves.
More on the history of many of the individuals can be seen at:
Although many volunteered to enlist, the following “EMBODIMENT” document from 4th August 1914 looks compulsory, with no room for negotiation and consequences for not turning up the next day.
This Embodiment process is referred to Hansard HL Deb 06 August 1914 vol 17 c411
HL Deb 06 August 1914 vol 17 c411 411
His Majesty's answer to the Address of Tuesday last delivered by the Lord Steward (E. Chesterfield) and read as follows, viz.:
"I have received with great satisfaction the loyal and dutiful expression of your thanks for My Message communicating My intention to call out the Army Reserve on Permanent Service and to cause the Territorial Force to be embodied."