…no, we’ll never tell them:
We spent our pay in some cafe, And fought wild women night and day, ‘Twas the cushiest job we ever had”.
And when they ask us, and they’re certainly going to ask us, The reason why we didn’t win the Croix de Guerre,
Oh, we’ll never tell them, oh, we’ll never tell them
There was a front, but damned if we knew where.
~Oh What a Lovely War
When we returned from UK there was a small package waiting for me from my cousin Geoffrey Andrews.
I was expecting it.
It contained the First World War medals of our grandfather–James P. Weakford and a sheet of paper with photographs of the medals and a photo of Geoffrey’s father, my uncle, the gloriously-named Merlin Andrews.
Uncle Merlin served on the Western Front at Ypres, the Somme and at Passchendaele as a Lewis machine gunner.
He survived to continue in business with his brother Fred in their butchers shop in the Fulham Road, West London.
He died aged over a hundred after receiving the Legion d’Honneur (with the red ribbon) from the French government.
Imprinted on the back of one of our grandfather’s two medals are the words: The Great War for Civilisation.
Geoffrey says Merlin never talked about the war.
This seems to be a common factor–few who survived were willing to revisit the horrors they’d seen and lived with.
Harry Patch–one of the last survivors–told no one, not even his wife, he said in a BBC Radio 4 interview, until he was persuaded to write a book about it when he was well over one hundred.
Understandable reticence but regrettable….
Telling it like it was would have helped counter the myth-making intentions behind the phrase imprinted on the reverse of Grandfather Weakford’s medal.
The “Great” War?
“The Catastrophic War of Unintended Consequences” more like.