It’s been a hundred years on the 11th November since the First World War ended. It feels strange talking about an event that happened before mine, my parents and my grandparents life time. Some people would argue why do we as a nation need to reflect on something that happened so long ago. My answer is sometimes we need to remind ourselves of our history and sacrifices that were made to understand our future and to learn from our past. When many soldiers enlisted in the First World War some were very young and many lied about their age to join the army. Many young men were very naive on what war actually meant until death stared them in the face. It was this war that changed the world in so many ways shaping it to the world we know It as today.
When I was fifteen I went on a school trip to Belgium and France and we went to the Somme and we visited many war memorials including Thiepval Memorial, The Canadian Memorial at Vimy and paid visits to many war cemeteries. We walked through the trenches and I remember my young mind at the time imagining the cold, damp and terrifying conditions. The thought of running through these built up walls with heavy guns and equipment, fearing for my life and gambling which areas were safe and which were not. I also felt homesick myself at the time and remember trying to imagine how these young men spent endless hours here, a long way from home. Walking around the cemetery I remember feeling very overwhelmed by the amount of white graves that were staring at me. My overactive imagination began imagining that all those white graves were replaced by the soldiers and that they were alive again and just standing there looking at me right back. I never imagined I would feel the way I did being there. I felt some how all those lost lives that were cut short some not much older than myself had stories still to tell. It was a peaceful, quiet place that showed you how life can be so cruel and unfair sometimes. It’s a place I will never forget.
I became interested in my family history in my mid twenties and like any genealogist would know you begin to paint a picture and build a story of the lives your ancestors led. When you have been researching a person for a long time you begin to understand more about that person and you feel connected to them. When I was researching my great grandfather Alexander Hollis and how his mother Agnes split the family up in 1902. She took Alexander’s two younger siblings back to live with her in Scotland and leaving Alexander, his older brother Arthur and their father living in London. The family were never to be reunited again. Growing up must of been hard for them after the split of the family and I imagine Arthur being the eldest at twelve years old had to look after Alexander who was two years younger than him whilst their father worked to support them. They must of been close as Alexander named his first son who was born in 1913 after his brother Arthur. However after years of searching through military records I am not been able to trace Arthur again after the 1901 census. My aunt told me he had been killed in the first world war. I remembered thinking back to the war memorials at the Somme and those white graves that seemed to go on forever thinking maybe one of them is our Arthur. My great uncle.
I have not been successful in finding any Military records on Arthur entering the army, any information on whether he died or was buried. I have come to the conclusion that maybe Arthur is one of those unknown soldiers buried out there somewhere. He would of been just twenty four when the war started. I hope one day I will find out what happened to him.
My great grandfather Alexander enlisted on the 29th November 1915 and due to illness was discharged 27th May 1918. I am thankful to say he was a one of the lucky ones who came out the other side of the war and went on to live a full life.
When I was fifteen I felt for those lost soldiers who lost their lives so young. Now in my thirties, I’m a mother I feel for the mothers who lost their sons. A mother should never have to bury any of her children. Many of those soldiers killed have stories to tell and just like Arthur will never be fogotten.
Article by Cheryl Davis 07.11.18