Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Remembrance Day - Lest We Forget

Remembrance Day, like Anzac Day, seems to me to be unutterably sad. Heaven knows there have been wars before and since but these days with their memories of the best and brightest of a generation on both sides of the conflict being sent out to die in their hundreds of thousands are especially touching. Somehow they seem to mark the loss of innocence for the world and Australia in particular. Of the young men who marched off to dreams of glory while doing their bit those who came home (physically and mentally whole if they were lucky) bore the marks of their experience for the rest of their lives.

I'll tell you the story of one family, not particularly special but fairly typical of many Australians, during the 1914-1918 War.

At the outbreak of the war Thomas Oglesby King and his wife, Charlotte, had six surviving adult children, four sons and two daughters. They had lost twin daughters in early childhood. Horace Chamberlain King , their third son, aged nineteen, joined up on March 8, 1915 and was followed his brother, Glen Roy, then aged twenty three, who joined up on 25 June 1915.

Horace was posted to the 28 Infantry Battalion as a Corporal and Glen Roy to the 10 Light Horse Regiment as a private. Although I can find no record of it family stories say that their oldest son Bertram also served. Both Horace and Glen Roy served in several theatres of war - a chilling way to describe a place where men are being killed! Horace gained rapid promotion to Captain. He was mentioned in despatches and was also awarded a Military Cross. He was killed in France on 7 April, 1918. He was only twenty two years old.

I said at the beginning that this wasn't a special family and that's true as far as history is concerned but they are special to me because Horrie, Dick (as Glen Roy was known to his family) and Bert were my great uncles. I know the loss of a son and brother remained an ache in the hearts of the family for the rest of their lives.

When I went to France I didn't search for Horrie's grave in the war cemeteries where it breaks the heart to see row after row of white crosses stretching as far as you can imagine. Instead I stood in the fields of Flanders on a bleak day in April where poppies spotted the ground like blood. I remembered them - the men who had lived and died so long ago - and prayed that their sacrifice would be enough and there would never be another war.

I could tell of other families too, of the Martins where a cousin went to the same war and returned physically recovered but never quite the same man as before. Then, in World War 2, there was a family where four brothers and a sister joined the Royal Australian Air Force but not all came home. They were the Ellis family and you can find the details of their lost ones, John and Robert, through the Australian War Memorial. One day I will tell their story too but that's enough for now.


Satima Flavell said...

Is it time to get into that family history, Helen?:-) Let it go another generation and the stories will become weaker and weaker and finally fizzle out. They need to be put down while someone still knoafws enough about those guys to care.

Imagine me said...

I'm encouraging my father to write down his memories for just that reason. At the same time I am pleased to see that there is a resurgence of interest among the young and that what happened so long ago seems to be important to them. Maybe this time we will learn from our history.