To End All Wars? A Personal View

My father was born on the eleventh November. As a child that was Dad’s birthday; it contained nothing more resonant than that.

At some point however, and I wouldn’t have been very old, I realised it was also Remembrance Day when there was a minute’s silence, poppies and that bugle. Oh that bloody bugle. Was that the first musical instrument that played havoc with my heart? Perhaps, as a child it was the adult’s reactions to it that meant so much to me. They were sad, men dabbed at eyes and blew noses in ways men were not expected to do and yet it was ok.

Later I came to understand that the Remembrance of the Fallen covered more than the war that had both defined and scarred so many of my parent’s generation’s lives. It was born out of Armistice Day when the First World War, the oddly named Great War ended at 11 am on the Eleventh of the Eleventh 1918. My grandfathers, both of whom had fought in that conflict, were dead by the time I was aware of anything meaningful. My grandmothers told stories of them, of the japes and the fun and hinted at some of the bad things that happened to them individually. But I had to wait till school before the true awfulness of that war began to seep into my consciousness.

I lost relations in that war. Two great uncles went. My maternal grandfather flew his plane into the cliffs at Dover in the fog, lay there injured for three days before being found and spent nine months recovering. My paternal grandfather trained in Ireland through 1914 into 1915 as a member of the cavalry and took part in one of the last charges of the British Army. He became a foot soldier and slogged his way around France until 1918, coming home with less than complete lungs that eventually cost him his life.

Some stories one can piece together, at least to an extent.

Mr Great Uncle Willie Dyson was  a member of the Royal Army Medical Corps, a pacifist and stretcher bearer. He would have worked at a field bearer station like this one.

I wrote a piece back in 1914, on his life and his death. This is it (updated for today)

William Dyson 1

William (Willie) Dyson

William Harding Dyson, Willie to his family, was born on 16th August 1895 into a reasonably comfortable family in Melford, in Cambridgeshire. He had two brothers, Allen and Edward  (who died young) and three sisters Mabel (Mabs), Gladys (Glad) and Vera. He was a mechanic working at Sucklings Engineering in Long Melford when he joined up on 29th August 1914.

Of his pre war life I know little. Neither his brother Allen. His sisters have painted a bigger canvas. Glad married her sweetheart (my grandfather) and moved to Northamptonshire when he set up a tailoring business while Mabs was postmistress and, with Vee, stayed in Linton. He doted on them as this card to Gladys in 1910 shows.

Entry in Nana's scrapbook (date1916)

Willie to Gladys

His army record shows he left for Le Havre on 12 July 1915 having covered his training. Where he went then I haven’t found out but he survived two years until, in May 1917 he was involved in some action that lead to him being awarded a Military Medal fro conspicuous bravery. The next day he died of a cerebral hemorrhage, probably from wounds inflicted on him the previous day.

My grandmother always spoke of him with affection.

Here she is, as a nurse.

Nana as VAD Nurse

Glad the Vad!

We still have a letter he sent to my Great Aunt Vera, the youngest of the family.

William Dyson letter undated page 1

William Dyson letter undated page 2We also have the award of his Military Medal.

William Dyson medal certificate

His award

His parents never had the chance to tell him how proud they were of him.

What must his death have felt like to them, him having survived so long?

2014-07-17 17.12.40

Willie’s parents

The story is told that his parents received news of both is death and his bravery in the same post. I can’t begin to imagine the impact that might have had. A young life, snuffed out like so many.

He is buried here, in St Pol

War grave 1918

Private William Dyson’s grave

The war graves commission still tends the grave to this day.

War grave today

and today… with smart new headstone

A recent visit produced this image, with his medals.

The village, like so many, raised the funds for a memorial and his name was inscribed with two other Dysons, relatives I surmise.

My grandmother often wore a sweetheart broach he gave her.

Sweetheart broach

Glad’s broach

Recently I had the opportunity to buy back Willie’s medals (from James Baker, who photographed them at St Pol cemetery – James read my previous post about Willie and kindly offered them to me), including the Military Medal. I was delighted to do so His name is engraved on the side, except in the case of the 1914/15 Star where it is on the back. These four medals are, from left to right, The Military Medal, the 14/15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal, awarded posthumously.

On the 27th September 1914, as part of the remembrance of that ghastly war, William Harding Dyson’s  name was read out in the moat of the Tower of London where a ceramic poppy was being planted for every commonwealth victim of that conflict; the ceremony took place each evening at sunset and continued until 11th November 2014 when the moat was be filled with the poppies. It was a moving tribute to all who died during that war.

2014-09-27 18.59.45

just before the ceremony

2014-09-27 19.24.45

the names being read

2014-09-27 19.49.20

like blood flowing out of the veins of the castle

2014-09-27 19.50.59

it is so moving

And when the last post played it was difficult to keep  in check emotions I didn’t realise I had for someone I never knew and only heard about while  playing games with my grandma, Gladys Le Pard, nee Dyson. Willie Dyson was my great uncle and I’m proud he was. Maybe, too, it was that bloody bugle.

The original post, and so naturally this one owes a lot to the work done by my brother, the Archaeologist of these pages. I thank him and James Baker, for additional research he shared with me.

My father, who set the temperature in our house felt nothing but a well of anger towards the whole of the Great War. It caused him grief in his childhood from a father whose emotions had been driven so deep during that conflict he could barely express much other than anger while dad was growing up. And he saw, as did I eventually that so many of the major geopolitical conflicts and disasters of the 20th and this century could be traced back to effects of that awful conflict. Those who suffered through it wanted it to be the war that ended all wars but if you take any conflict, be it large ones involving Nato and Russia or narrower ones in the Middle East, you can see the tentacles stretching out from the decisions made in 1914-18.

It didn’t end war – far from it – but if there is one lesson to take from it, it is that history echoes and repeats and we should never lose sight of that as we go forward. To do so makes the sacrifices of one small section of my family (and millions of others since) both in vain and, frankly, idiotic.

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published four books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars, Salisbury Square and Buster & Moo. In addition I have published two anthologies of short stories, Life, in a Grain of Sand and Life in a Flash. More will appear soon, including a memoir of my mother's last years. I will try and continue to blog regularly at geofflepard.com about whatever takes my fancy. I hope it does yours too. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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69 Responses to To End All Wars? A Personal View

  1. Ritu says:

    Such a poignant list His Geoffleship. I’m so glad you were able to be reunited with your great uncle’s medals.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very interesting Geoff, and I love reading your thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Beautifully moving post Geoff. So glad you were able to be reunited with your great uncle’s medals.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. trifflepudling says:

    I am looking at three sets of medals now, one set from the 2nd Boer War, one set from each of the World Wars. Photos of my grandfather, RFA, MM and Bar, made it through WWI, my father’s cousin, Duncan, DFC, who didn’t make it through WWII, but today I really missed my Daddy. He had a hard time getting over the war and the loss of family and friends.
    Great writing, Geoff. I think it represents many of our families’ experiences.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Mary Smith says:

    A wonderful post, Geoff. What makes it so special for me is that on the list of deaths – the first name, Private James Dunlop is a relative. I know my great uncle, my grannie’s brother, was killed but he was a Landsborough (Grannie’s maiden name). She married a Dunlop from Ayrshire so the Pte James must be on my father’s side of the family. I’ll need to find out exactly who he was. My first thought was, ‘I must ask Dad.’ But no dad to ask now.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. trifflepudling says:

    Nearly forgot Great Uncle David of the Camel Corps! Amazing photos – he emigrated to Australia before WWI, hence the Camels as they had them in Aus. He was commanded by Colonel ‘Biscuits’ Arnott (Light Horse) of Aussie biscuit manufacturing family. Lovely moniker.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. willowdot21 says:

    I just don’t know what to say Geoff. Thank you for this poignant post which tells us so much. I agree with every word in the last two paragraphs. Was it all worth it ? No we have not learned a thing war still rages on. I do not mean to denigrate those who have died, I just see it as a senseless waste. 💜💜

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      I’m more upset now than ever and now beginning to appreciate those left behind have need of our thoughts and help. Such a cruel tragedy that bites long after it ends. If i5 ever does

      Like

      • willowdot21 says:

        Yes indeed as we grow older we do see things more clearly. Sadly there are more people suffering from the fall out of war, Soldiers and refugees. It is like we are on an horrific treadmill. Senseless. 💜

        Liked by 1 person

  8. lydiaschoch says:

    What a wonderful post this was. Thank you for sharing it.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Darlene says:

    Well said, Geoff.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Lovely! Quite a legacy, Geoff! ♥

    Liked by 1 person

  11. This is beautiful, and another reminder of why the rising generation needs education of its preceding ones. They have no idea of depravity or wars and behave selfishly for it.
    I can’t imagine a 21-year-old bravely fighting and bravely dying.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      Quite. We tend to sanitise and heroise these conflicts, focusing in the derring do and not the tragedy and despair. And we need to remember get families left behind and carrying the scars as my grandmothers did. Thank you Chelsea.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Yeah. Those bloody bugles. Super tribute Geoff.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Wow, what a beautiful post, Geoff. So important to remember the war and all it’s terrible tentacles, as you say. My maternal grandfather was born in 1900 and lied about his age to go in, though it was at the tail end of the war and I don’t remember him ever talking about it. I have seen him in his navy uniform, looking like a baby. Thank you for jogging that memory and for this tribute to so many fallen and all those who are left behind.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      There are so many lives affected by it, then and still. It was so cruel and while we rightly remember the dead from the conflict we need to spend time thinking of the families devastated by the losses. My grandmothers were stoic tough women but their loses, their carrying the flame cost them so dear. They had to believe the sacrifices were worth it.

      Like

  14. May Willies memory be kept alive for as long as possible. It always feels like those that lose their battle via war deserve the honour of remembrance. Around the East Coast of the North Island, nearly a whole generation of Maori men died due to the inscription of the first and second war/s. Not sure it was for the good of NZ and more likely the needing of employment!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. A very personal post about your family, Geoff. I believe that people have to fight for their country and what their nation stands for.

    Like

  16. Erika Kind says:

    Your stories are more than poignant. So many tragedies. It is amazing, although you (or I) never fought in both World Wars we are connected in history through our ancestors.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. JT Twissel says:

    It wonderful that you’ve been able to track your family history and turn the letters and pictures into a fascinating piece. My grandfather fought in France but never talked about what happened and my grandmother was also a nurse.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Charli Mills says:

    Anger is a driver, it motivates the soldier. Anger is a mask, it protects him from deep sorrow and loss. Anger becomes a constant and it’s sad that it was the only expression left to your granddad. You are so poignantly correct — the greatest war has the greatest number of tentacles reaching around the world and through history. I don’t want us to forget the sacrifices and suffering of families, but I wish we would care so much when we attend these solemn events that we would never let the like come to pass again. Peace to you and yours, peace to the memory of Willie and Glad.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      Thank you Charli. I’m so well aware that you are living such consequences with Sgt Mills every day. The TV here has been full of films of the war but tomorrow there is a programme on the hidden shame the shell shock that was ignored. It should be compulsory. At the homeless shelter I work at on Thursdays the sad truth is there in the presence of form service personnel who we’ve let down. It hurts, it is so bloody unnecessary. When will we learn if 100 years on we still haven’t. And if one thinks about all this children impacted but the Syrian crisis let alone the adults…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Charli Mills says:

        Shellshock is actually a good catch-all phrase for PTSD, TBI, and “moral injury.” It’s often a combination of these things. To call these soldiers cowards is so wrong. PTSD is a survival mechanism. You can’t have PTSD without having had the courage to face something inhumane. More often it is the impact of blasts on the brain that cause it to alter — even just repetitively shooting a firearm or cannon, or jumping from a perfectly good airplane multiple times. And moral injury has to do with soldiers dutifully following orders against their values, or witnessing atrocities they can’t reconcile. Keep doing what you do at the shelters, Geoff. It all begins with caring and these soldiers (refugees, survivors) need to experience caring; they need to secure safe places to live; they need to build trusting relationships. That’s why I’m all over Welby Altidor’s thoughts on creative courage as a model for healing.

        Liked by 2 people

  19. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you for the picture of the stretcher bearer. My grandfather was in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in France at the battle of Vimy Hill as a member of the Ambulance Corps. I am sure he would have looked like your photo. We have no photos of him, so this was helpful.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Mick Canning says:

    That’s a great tribute, Geoff. We watched the Peter Jackson film on TV last night and it brought home just how unspeakable horrendous it all was. Every single bloody politician should be made to sit through it.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Norah says:

    Thanks for sharing your family history, Geoff. A history so similar to that of many other families. You do express the sentiment well in your closing statement. Lest we forget.
    Although not your direct ancestor, I was interested to see another poet in the family tree. Obviously a wordsmithy family.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. LucciaGray says:

    Insightful and moving post, Geoff. I love this line: ‘…if there is one lesson to take from it, it is that history echoes and repeats and we should never lose sight of that as we go forward.’

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Such a beautiful post Geoff. I am so glad you were able to buy back Willie’s medals.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Yesterday, long before I read your post, I was musing on the terrible irony of calling WWI “The War to End All Wars.” I realize this must have sprung in part from a hope that those who survived such a horrendous convulsion would make certain it was never repeated. As you observed, however, the roots of nearly every armed conflict since then lie in the geopolitical lines drawn in the aftermath of The Great War. Perhaps “The Mother of All Wars” would be a more fitting epithet.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Widdershins says:

    The Last Post always gets me in the tear ducts too, as did that photo of the blood pouring out of the castle.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Breathtaking to read your family history. Your story is like so many others who fought for our freedoms. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Even from this distance, I want to quietly nod my thanks to what your family gave to defeat that particular evil. I doubt your family needed the lesson that war is hell, but as long as evil is out there, good people like your family and mine will need to sometimes fight with all we have to protect both the innocence and freedom for others. I want to add my thanks to your surviving family and am so sorry for their losses.

    Like

    • TanGental says:

      If you get the chance to see Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old where he remasters original WW1 footage and adds colour and words then do. It’s compelling and defines the bloody minded resilience of the ordinary Joe Soldier amongst the carnage

      Like

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