08 August 2017

Passchendaele

I remember my maternal grandfather very well. My parents and I lived in the upper storey of my grandparents' house until I was eight and after that we moved a few miles away, but still visited him and my grandmother regularly. At least once a week. He died when I was 26, so, yes, I guess I remember him well.

When I was old enough to study French at school, he would boast that he too could speak French. It was just the odd word, but he liked to show off, throwing words like "oeuf" and "petit dejeuner" and "boeuf, s'il vous plait, madame" at me, as if it made him fluent. I subsequently discovered it was a handful of words he had picked up from his First World War days in France and Belgium, when trying to order food in villages, as the soldiers passed through.

As a child (and female at that) I was not particularly interested in what he had done in the war. Come to think of it, he was none too keen to regale us with stories, as I think it was all rather painful and horrific. There was no such thing as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in those days and precious little in the way of counselling. People just had to man up and cope the best they could. I did pick up that he had terrible pain in his legs from the shrapnel wounds and when the shrapnel moved around he would suffer from terrible headaches. He used to shout a lot when that happened. My childhood chattering and running about on the floor upstairs used to make his headaches worse apparently. As a small child, I was fascinated with his glass eye. I never quite cottoned on which eye to focus on, when I spoke to him,  not really understanding that the glass one would not actually see anything.

The little I do know was that he fought at Mons, Ypres, the Somme and at Passchendaele. He was in the Royal Artillery and had a black horse called Smiler that pulled the gun carriages. It was at Passchendaele in 1917 that my grandfather was badly wounded in the leg and lost his eye. Not only that but, in the same explosion, Smiler was fatally hit and that upset my grandfather more than anything. My grandfather was brought back to England to be nursed and his eye apparently ended up in Northampton Museum. That was the end of the war for him.

It is exactly one hundred years since that battle at Passchendaele.  My mother still has his medals and some excellent needlework he did while recovering in hospital. As I think of him now,  I so wish I had asked my grandfather more about his experiences. As always, we leave these things far too late.


4 comments:

Yorkshire Pudding said...

I salute your grandfather. He came home but he was a victim of that terrible war. Lord knows what memories were stored in his mind.

Linda deV said...

Just a reminder to ask the questions we haven't asked yet. I would love to know more of you grandfathers story.

Liam Callahan said...

Love your blog. Sorry about your grandpa:(

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http://apex.rehab/staying-sober-summer-days/

K Ville said...

I guess he wouldn't have told you even if you did ask. My mother talks of her Uncle Bill who lived with his mother (my great-grandmother) - she says he shook so much he could hardly drink tea from a cup and how, as a child, she was fascinated by the way he shook it over himself all the time.