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 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.
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.
We still have a letter he sent to my Great Aunt Vera, the youngest of the family.
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?
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
The war graves commission still tends the grave to this day.
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.
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.
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.