Today is Remembrance Day. All over the world, we recall the end of the hostilities of World War I and subsequent conflicts. WW1 started exactly 100 years ago. In London, poppies are everywhere to commemorate soldiers who have died in war. I used to wonder why poppies were used in such a way, because in France there are no poppies for Remembrance Day. I was explained that it was because of a poem, “In Flanders Fields”, by Canadian physician Lieutenant Colonel John Mc Crae. Apparently, poppies were the first flowers to grow near the soldiers graves, in Flanders. Well, I will never see poppies the same way again, that’s for sure.
100 years can seem like a long time. That said, I believe that it takes at least three generations to recover from war atrocities. 100 years is probably just about the time it takes for families to be finally at peace. The past is always ready to catch up with you sometimes. And it can happen in unexpected ways.
For me, it was a few years ago, when I found out that the WW1 French army archives were online. In a few clicks, I found the death certificates of the two brothers of my great-grandfather.
They were all coming from the same small village in Provence. Gabriel and Louis died within weeks of each other, in August 1916. One hadn’t started a family yet, the other had just got married and his wife was pregnant. The remaining brother, Felicien, came back with half a leg missing. He ended up marrying his brother’s widow and bringing up the baby, my grandmother’s brother, as his own. Then they had my grandmother.
Felicien eventually died in 1941, during the restrictions of WW2. Today, I think about my great uncles who died in Verdun, aged 24 and 26. They were so young, and so far from their small village. I don’t even know where they were laid to rest. Gabriel was killed in action. Louis died of his wounds in a hospital. I don’t think that it is possible to fathom what they must have gone through. I take some comfort in the fact that life in the trenches was so incredibly difficult that maybe, just maybe, their untimely death ended their suffering.
I am fully aware that such stories are by no means rare: in France, most families lost at least a loved one in WW1 (There were 1,7m casualties).
Today, here we are, thinking of all the ones who died. I sometimes wonder how we got to be so fortunate. Who decides and why? After all, had we been born in a different time, it could have been us.
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London