Sadly, millions of families all over the world have one. A photograph of a dearly loved dad, husband, son, brother or boyfriend who went away to war and never came back. Nowadays it can be a mother, wife, daughter, sister or girlfriend.
My Uncle Jack was my Nanna's big brother, only a year older than she was and only 16 when he went to France to fight. He was killed on 1 July 1916 and he was only 18 years old. What a waste!
Here are some of the historical details about the events of that day and its consequences, extracted from the War Graves Commission website:
On 1 July 1916, supported by a French attack to the south, thirteen divisions of Commonwealth forces launched an offensive on a line from north of Gommecourt to Maricourt. Despite a preliminary bombardment lasting seven days, the German defences were barely touched and the attack met unexpectedly fierce resistance.
Losses were catastrophic and with only minimal advances on the southern flank, the initial attack was a failure. In the following weeks, huge resources of manpower and equipment were deployed in an attempt to exploit the modest successes of the first day. However, the German Army resisted tenaciously and repeated attacks and counter attacks meant a major battle for every village, copse and farmhouse gained.
At the end of September, Thiepval was finally captured. The village had been an original objective of 1 July. Attacks north and east continued throughout October and into November in increasingly difficult weather conditions. The Battle of the Somme finally ended on 18 November with the onset of winter.
In the spring of 1917, the German forces fell back to their newly prepared defences, the Hindenburg Line, and there were no further significant engagements in the Somme sector until the Germans mounted their major offensive in March 1918.
The memorial was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and was built between 1928 and 1932 and unveiled by the Prince of Wales, in the presence of the President of France, on 1 August 1932. Every year a major ceremony is held at the Thiepval Memorial to commemorate those who were killed. I've never visited the Memorial but maybe I should and take my grandson Nathan to see it.
I remember my Mam telling me how close my Nanna and her brother had been as there was only a year between them. He wrote to her very often after he left for France. Sadly I don't have any of the letters he wrote but I do have his Bible. It was presented to him by his Sunday School Teacher in May 1911 and Jack recorded the details himself in the front of it. His Bible was given to my Mam in 1933 when she was 11 years old. It's a bit tatty now, it's nearly a hundred years old, the print is so tiny I can hardly read it but I value it so much.
When I was learning history at school they never taught us about the World Wars and I don't know why. It's ninety years since the end of The Great War as they called it. I don't know what was great about it! Nowadays thankfully they do cover modern history in the schools and the sacrifices that people made so that we can live in freedom. Children are now encouraged by the schools to wear their poppies. The poppies are sold by the British Legion to aid men and women who are serving today, as well as ex-Services and their dependants. So we wear our poppies with pride.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
John McCrae (1915)
We might not agree with the wars that are fought but it's important that our children do learn about what happened. It's also important they never forget what people have done for us and sadly are still doing today.
This morning, Remembrance Sunday, there is a ceremony of remembrance in Trafalgar Square and there will be other ceremonies throughout the country. On Tuesday, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month there will be another major remembrance ceremony in Trafalgar Square and two minutes silence will be held there and throughout the country.
Yes, we will remember them. How could we forget?