May 1915

[tweetmeme source=”ChazGunningham” only_single=false]11th of the 11th, Remembrance Day. Being a Sunday, we were all at my son’s cricket match, sitting watching, dogs running about, chatting with fellow parents, encouraging the boys. It was peaceful, sublime, a million miles and almost 100 years away from the terrible action of the trenches in the first world war, and all wars since.

Lest we forget. My own grandfathers both saw action at around the same time, a few miles from each other. My paternal granddad Howard went over the top in May 1915 with his brother Bertie and was struck in the leg. They were in the Essex Yeomanry, and 60 years later my Dad and I found the battlefield, and saw tombstones of those in their regiment who did not make it. Howard’s leg was saved by some coins in his pocket, one of which we still have today – half of it is blown away. He crawled through the mud for hours to get help. It must have been terrifying and excruciatingly painful. His brother Bertie was injured later that day and did not know what had happened to Howard. Howard was invalided out of the army. Months later, standing at a railway station back in England a woman came up to him and gave him a yellow flower (to signify cowardice, for not volunteering). Rather than put her right, he said “Thank you madam”.

Meanwhile my maternal grandfather (who I am named after) saw action in one of the last cavalry charges during the Battle of Cumbrai near Ypres in Belgium. They galloped down a cabbage field towards the Germans who were firing at them from a copse. Bullets were whistling past their ears, and the occasional one struck a rider sending him to the ground. Charles “Pop” Harris, aged 21, thought “why are some of them falling off their horses?” In the heat of the moment, he hadn’t realized they had been shot. They reached the copse, the Germans had fled. A brave volunteer then had to ride back to their own line to find out their orders. He had three horses shot from under him (which earned him the VC). And the orders? “Retreat to your former position.”

The madness of war. The bravery of the people involved. I will never forget my two grandparents and all those who fought. The serenity of our lives today are due to their sacrifices.

Image: painting by Bertie’s granddaughter Emma Gunningham, from an extract of Bertie’s diary, May 1915

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