04 August 2014

One hundred years ago

I have written about this before, but today, the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the Great War, seems more pertinent to mention it again. Both my grandfathers were in the First World War but on opposite sides.

My mother's father William was on the side of the English. Born in Bermondsey  as the oldest of ten, he enlisted at the age of 19 at the very start of the war and fought at the battles of Ypres, the Somme and Passchendaele - the latter where he was badly wounded. He was in the Royal Artillery and had a horse called Smiler that used to pull the gun carriages. The horse was also badly injured and had to be put down. My grandfather luckily was brought back to England with injuries to his leg, head and eye. He lost his eye and from then on had a glass one. He was plagued by bad headaches for the rest of his life too, whenever the schrapnel moved around.

My paternal grandfather Erisch was on the side of the Germans. Born in Berlin, he also enlisted early on in the war. He fought for a time in France, where he was shot in the leg and then, after he had recuperated, he was sent to the Russian front which was notoriously freezing and conditions were unbearable. He was awarded the Iron Cross for his bravery. He went on after the war to marry a girl with Jewish connections (my grandmother) and in 1939 they were forced to flee for their lives and settle here in England, some number of months after their two teenage sons (one of them my father) had already come here with the Kindertransport.

 My German grandfather in exact centre front row.
When my mother and father got together in the Second World War, announced their engagement and introduced both sets of parents to one another, my two grandfathers amicably shook hands and joked "I bet you were the b*****r that shot my leg/eye".  It was good that they could be so forgiving, given the extent of their injuries. It does however highlight the futility of war - human beings but for the grace of God on oppposite sides ordered to kill one another. We haven't learned the lesson - it still goes on all over the world......Ukraine/Russia/Gaza/Israel/Afghanistan. The futile killing of fellow human beings.


Rethink Street said...

Gosh what an interesting story! Lovely that the 2 grandfathers were so amicable when they met. Thanks for popping over to my new blog by the way :-)

Nota Bene said...

I wish I knew my family's history as well as you do yours. A fascinating and timely read

Strawberry Jam Anne said...

That is so interesting Addy. Wonderful too that when the two gentlemen met they were able to be friendly. Would that it were so more often.

DD's Diary said...

You should write a novel based on the story! Fascinating. So sad, as you say, that we refuse to learn the lessons of history.

Flowerpot said...

Fascinating Addy - there are so many incredible stories that seem to be coming out with this 100th anniversary.

the veg artist said...

My grandfathers did not fight - both too old, and one a farmer, but my husband's grandfather worked the gun carriages. He survived and went on to be a fireman in London during WWII.
I agree with you about war. When I was a child I thought that everyone in the world should be entitled to the same sized little piece of earth. I know it's more complicated, but I still feel that in principle.