A Family History Tragedy

A Family History Tragedy

You might recall that one of my interests is genealogy and researching my family tree.  I shared the mystery regarding my maternal grandmother’s family.  I will now share a tragedy that took place in my paternal line.

My grandfather’s brother served in the Royal Army Medical Corps during WW1, serving some time in Egypt.  Within his line of duty, he treated casualties from both sides. It is difficult to comprehend the atrocities he would have encountered and been forced to deal with on a daily basis. He became friends with one of his German patients, who out of gratitude gave him his field binoculars.

During WW2 whilst carrying out his duties as a member of the home guard he was shot in the face with blanks which blinded him for a time.  In 1942 he shot his wife before shooting himself; my aunt still remembers the day the news came to the rest of the family.  There was an inquest which concluded that his being shot in the face had caused blood clots which led to the actions he took.

Unlike his brother, my grandfather didn’t serve in WW1 although he did try to join the Navy on two occasions.  On the first occasion he did join up and received the ‘King’s shilling’ only to be told by his mother to take it back.  The second time he tried to join up his boss persuaded him against it.  He was in a reserved occupation and therefore not obliged to sign up and take part in the conflict.

Some years ago the German field binoculars were passed on to me along with a pair of my grandfather’s binoculars.  The binoculars that belonged to my great uncle are a poignant reminder of the futility of war and the consequences of power and greed but most importantly they remind me of man’s humanity to his fellow men.

When I went to get the binoculars out of the cupboard to take the photograph to go with this post I got both pairs of binoculars out and it was only then that I realised that the second pair were English Army issue from WW1 and that they must have belonged to my great uncle before my grandfather.

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3 thoughts on “A Family History Tragedy

  1. This is a beautiful and moving post which resonates strongly with me. My father was a German Jew who somehow escaped Germany and fought with the British during the Second World War. He wouldn’t/couldn’t tell me about the rest of his family. And to the end of his days all he would/could say about war was that ‘there are no winners’. And I agree.
    Thank you so much.
    October 31, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSoosie

    I share Soosie’s family heritage and history…with a different ending. What her father said is so true – there are no winners. And the story of your family and the tragedy is a testament to that. So sorry…
    October 31, 2013 | Registered CommenterMarcie

    Very moving Cherry, it gave me shivers. I have discovered that 2 of my grand uncles, both teenagers, fought in WW1 for the British. It was very common in Ireland at that time as we were still part of the UK. One died in the field, the other was awarded a posthumous medal for bravery for rescuing a squadron after they were buried alive by a shell. He was 19 and later died on his way to hospital in Germany as a result of the flu epidemic. So neither returned. It was amazing reading about them on the British Archives, they had been so long forgotten. Your own story is so hard to bear, the grieving never really stops. x
    October 31, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine

    As these stories are passed on from one generation to another, Cherry, you’d think we’d all wake up and insist on NO MORE WAR. But no, we never seem to learn from all our grief and sorrw. It’s enough to break our hearts forever…and, yes, truly a tragedy.
    October 31, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGinnie

    i echo marcie. no winners.

    the things that hold stories fascinate us. to whom do you pass these binoculars?
    October 31, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHoney

    What a chilling tragedy. Thank you for sharing such a personal event from your family’s past. Makes one think so much as to the stupidity of war.
    October 31, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGotham Girl Aka Robin

    The high cost of war it seems does not all occur in battle but after the soldiers return home.
    October 31, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMaery Rose

    These stark stories remind us of the futility and bigger tragedy that war causes. It has never been the answer.
    October 31, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDonna@Gardens Eye View

    Very poignant story. So sad. I must admit that I loved the mother making her son give back the King;s shilling. Good for her. You’re a born storyteller, Cherry.
    October 31, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterUbermouth

    I too have a war heirloom, passed now to the fourth generation, my son. It was given to me by my father on the occasion of my Commissioning, and given to him by his Father who ‘found’ it.

    Two bullets, .303; one pierced by the other. My Grandfather was a Private in the Boer War and under fire one day and running across open ground to seek cover, he was targeted by two snipers. They fired at the same time and their bullets collided right before my Grandfather. They fell near him. He scooped them up as he ran.

    My Father mounted them on an onyx plinth and I added name-plates to the sides and a ‘legend’ of the circumstances on the underside of the base. My Father was a Lance Corporal, in a Cavalry unit at the start of WW2. I was a Royal Air Force Officer. My son is a civilian. In his youth we discussed careers. I did not encourage him to follow his Father, Grandfather and Great Grandfather.

    A further interesting and relevant point.

    I was watching a program the other week in which mention of suicide was made. Some statistics for soldiers were discussed. It seems that (in America) the largest proportion of soldier suicides are military doctors.

    PTSD is not simply from tangible trauma but from (in the Drs case) the fantasy of shame. The view is that modern warfare gets injured soldiers to the medicos fast. They would have perished slowly, gruesomely on the field in previous times but now the medics are expected to save them. It is often just not possible. Even with modern surgical techniques and medicines, many die.

    A soldier with honour and Integrity does not want to let his comrades down. Reputations of men and Regiments are built on ‘never leave a man behind”.

    There is no shame, of course, in failing to save a man whose injuries defy repair. But shame is felt, just as guilt can be felt by an innocent man accused of something. It is deadly. In both instances. Falsely accused men are the largest proportion of civilian suicides.

    We live in an age where more civilian men are likely to be falsely accused, particularly of a sexual ‘crime’ than a soldier is likely to be shot.
    November 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmfortas

    Thank you, Amfortas, for being so specific with your post. That very specific information about the shame of doctors who can’t “fix” broken men and women needs to get out there. As a people and a country we must know the complete cost of our wars. I work for an organization that allows these Vets to write about their experiences. These folks will never really have their lives back. Innocence has died.
    November 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSusie@Life-Change-Compost

    Cherry, your post has stimulated some thoughtful comments and ‘conversation.’ A sign of a good post, in my opinion.
    November 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSue

    Thank you all for your thoughtful comments. And thank you Amfortas for sharing your story here along with your thoughts on the Drs treating the injured. I also thank you for inspiring me to get around to writing the post.
    November 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCherryPie

    My grandfather used to have field binoculars like that. They now belong to my brother – since my brother has no children I have no idea where they will go to one day. They also came in a hard case like the ones in your image.
    November 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCarola

    This is a wonderful and moving post. My family also have had to deal with the consequences of war (spanish civil war) . I grew up listening my mother´s stories about it and realizing the strong impact of this on the lives of the persons that had to live them not only while the battles were occurring, but afterwards when the survivors were back home… So much pain and so many wounds, so sad and so useless
    November 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterZena

    Zena, I appreciate what you say but …. can I ask that you think about the word ‘useless’ in such a context. It minimises and dismisses what is for many an absolute necessity for which enormous sacrifice was and is made. War is Tragic, yes. Useless, rarely. It is as ‘useless’ as digging for survivors after an earthquake or expending huge effort to save a sinking ship. We would rather not have to do such things but cannot wish earthquakes away or counter the winds and waves totally. We can conduct autopsies on causes. But the events themselves rarely come about by the choice of the men who have to deal with them. Nor the women.

    War is Human. It is not an aberration as we might wish to think it, but an essential when evil tries to force itself upon us. It is a fever when an illness strikes the Soul on a vast scale. Honour is to be found in standing and fighting when no other option is there. Courage, great compassion, even the making of community flows through and from it. We go to war for our friends and we make friends of our enemies after. It is only when we fail to win and make the peace that we can call it ‘useless’.

    Pray for us all in this Vale of Tears. Pray for those that give so much that we may have peace. Pray for the enemies. Pray for Understanding.
    November 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmfortas

    It’s a sad story, Cherry. On the other hand, though it’s sad, it makes the person real. That’s what you’re looking for when digging in the family’s history, isn’t it? Finding the real persons behind the names, keepsakes and occasional photos… however hard it may be to find them and cope with their fates.
    November 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPetra

    Oh, Cherry, this makes me want to weep…for the kindnessess shown by your great uncle during the war and for the great tragedy at the end of his life…it is just too sad for words. Deeply saddening.
    My grandfather, a Canadian, also served in the Royal Army Medical Corps in Egypt. I can’t help but wonder if they knew each other. They must have. He also survived his time there, but on his return, and just days after his third child was born, he succumbed to an infection that would have been cured with penicillin had it been invented.
    November 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJuli

  2. Further to my tale, above, Cherie. I recently did a ‘search’ in Military records (spurred by knowing you, I must add). I found my father’s service record. He was indeed a Lance Corporal in the Cavalry as he has always told me. But only for the bit of the war that he ‘enjoyed’. The horses. They took the horses away and gave him a tank. What he didn’t tell me (was I just too young or just didn’t listen?) was that he was Commissioned as a 2nd Lt and was elevated to temporary Captain. He rarely spoke of what he saw and did.

    It is only in the past few years of my son’s adulthood that I have opened up to him about my own war experiences. They were no doubt less horrific than my dad’s but enough for me to have kept very reticent about them for most of my adult life.

    • I am glad I inspired you to look up your father’s service record. It must be interesting for you to learn something new about him. I can imagine he wouldn’t be too pleased about swapping his horse for a tank.

      I imagine it is difficult to live/come to terms with the memory of war and other conflicts. Some people like to bury the experiences. A long time ago I worked for an Army Major who had worked in Bomb Disposal in Northern Ireland. He didn’t mind talking about his experiences. Some (as you can imagine) were quite horrific. I was left wondering how anyone could cope with such things and remain sane.

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