Thursday, 29 June 2017

One family’s war......... stories behind the book nu 20

Now neither my parents or grandparent talked about either of the two world wars they lived through.

From Uncle Fergus 1918
Not that there is anything strange in that.

They went and fought or made the best of staying at home and like many they coped with the loss of a loved one.

But we were lucky, of the eight who served in those two world wars we lost just the one.  He was my uncle Roger who died far away in Thailand in a prisoner of war camp.

The rest which consisted of my great grandfather, my grandfather, two great uncles and two uncles,  as well as my mother all came safely home. But of my cousins in Germany fighting on the other side, I have yet to discover their fates.

Uncle George, 1918
But because those wars were never spoken of much that they experienced is lost to me.

And so like others you try to piece together the stories from the handful of pictures, the small collection of official documents and their letters home.

We have only one full set of military records for one of the six who served during the Great War and that was because he had enlisted in Canada.

The remaining five are fragmentary or were lost when the records office was destroyed during the Blitz.

So I know so little.  But then almost out of the blue you make a discovery which was there all the time I just hadn’t made the connection.

I knew my grandfather was in Cologne in 1920 because it was there that he met and married my grandmother who was German.

And given that the Allies had moved into Germany at the end of the war I rather think he will have been there from 1918 which was just when my uncle serving with a Highland Regiment also arrived.

Great grandfather, Montague Hall, 1916
This I know because along with a Christmas card he sent my father in the December of that year he also wrote a long letter.

It was dated December 12th 1918. The Great War had ended just a month before and uncle Fergus and his battalion of the Black Watch were in Cologne, relieved no doubt that the fighting was over.

On that Thursday in December he wrote that “Cologne was a lovely city with some fine cinemas” but they were prohibited from fraternizing with the civilians which for a young man of just 21 was a bit of a bore given the attractive young women he came across.

But duty was never far away and preparations were a foot because “we are crossing the Rhine tomorrow” and there was a determination “to show the rest of the division the way as we proved to be the finest marchers during the trek to Germany.”

Extract from grandfather's discharge papers, 1922
At the time they never knew each other and would not even be aware of each other till my father met my mother sometime in the late 1940s.

Of course they may have missed each other entirely and the historian in me demands a degree of objectivity but ever the romantic it would be fun to think that they inhabited the same German city at the same time.

Location Cologne

Picture; With Best wishes for a Happy Christmas and a Victorious New Year, December 1918, Uncle George, 1918, Montague Hall our great grand father, 1916, discharge papers for William Henry Hall, our grandfather, 1922, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

No comments:

Post a Comment