Remembering this Remembrance Day

medals

I’m thinking about Remembrance Day over my morning cup of tea, and I’m sure many of you are too. I pulled out my paternal grandfather’s and great-grandfather’s medals to remind myself of their stories.
My great-grandfather, Joseph Saunders, was about 30 years old when the “Great War” started in 1914. He came from a family that was well-known for its boat-building skills. His family (and mine) lived in a village 10 miles from Reading, on the Berkshire bank of the Thames River in England. Grandad Saunders went to France, leaving my great-grandmother to raise two little girls. I can only imagine the horrors he endured there. The one I know about is that he was gassed with mustard gas. I’m not sure when he returned to England but my grandmother said he spent his last years in misery because of his compromised lungs. He died in 1924. The two medals together are his. My great-grandmother, Louise, lived another 44 years, making ends meet by taking in laundry and cleaning houses.
History repeats itself. My grandmother, Ivy, was 14 when her father died from the effects of World War One, and 29 when her husband left her with two small children (my dad was two weeks old when the war began) to go to Europe. She was a single parent, living on rations, terrified. My grandfather, Jack Green, was in the Airborne. He demonstrated great bravery by parachuting into various battlefields, but much of what happened in his six years in Europe and Palestine (now Israel) is a mystery because he didn’t talk about it. He survived the war and, according to family lore, slept with a pistol under his pillow for years after the war ended. He was proud of his service and dressed in his medals every Remembrance Day to attend the service. What did he think as he stood there? My grandmother talked about the war as she experienced it continuously – it was the defining experience of her life.
I am the second generation in my family that has not gone to war. I see the toll it took on my great-grandparents’ and grandparents’ generation and I feel sad and proud and grateful to them for their sacrifice. Remember this Remembrance Day.