”What is to happen to women like me when this war ends … if it ever ends. I am twenty-one years of age and I know nothing of life but death, fear, blood, and the sentimentality that glorifies these things in the name of patriotism […What is to happen to women like me when the killing is done and peace comes … if it ever comes?” … (from Not So Quiet by Helen Zenna Smith ) Remembering the women who were left behind and all those whose lives changed forever – for they had to live on.
The final paragraph of Not So Quiet … reads
“Her soul died under a radiant silver moon in the spring of 1918 on the side of a blood-splattered trench. Around her lay the mangled dead and the dying. Her body was untouched, her heart beat calmly, the blood coursed as ever through her veins. But looking deep into those emotionless eyes one wondered if they had suffered much before the soul had left them. Her face held an expression of resignation, as though she had ceased to hope that the end might come.”
I am writing this as the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the eleventh year approaches. A landmark date for many. There are very few alive today who remember the Great War, but there are many who were courageous enough to leave their accounts behind so that those of us who owe our very existence to them can maybe, just try a little, to understand.
But we cannot possibly. We know little hardship in this modern age of welfare, decent housing, health and safety, employment law, and human rights legislation. We exist wrapped in cotton wool compared to those who survived the first mechanical war.
It was wholesale slaughter ordered by men who were drinking brandy and returning home most evenings to their wives. Barbarism of the best kind. Barely a family survived without a bereavement. There was a habit of putting all men from the same areas in to the same regiments, so some villages suffered the loss of all their sons as whole regiments were wiped out.
The time after the war was called The Great Silence – the title of a book sat on my desk and which I shall be spending some time reading this weekend. The experience for many was so horrific it was unspeakable.
This is my area of study. I look at the effect of the Great War on women – those who were left behind so often, who tried (and were often prevented) to help in so many ways.
So in 10 minutes I shall be giving a minutes silent thought to those who were left behind to live on with such a burden of grief in their heart – because we owe thanks for their courage also.
Here’s to the brave men and women of the Great War and all subsequent wars – if not for them we would not be free.
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