Remembrance: The Forgotten Survivors of the Great War
In early 1919 the British forces began the period of demobilisation and millions of men under arms exchanged their uniforms for civilian clothes and went home. Before them thousands of men wounded, gassed and made sick by war service had been discharged. While the loss of three quarters of million men from Great Britain created the feeling of a ‘Lost Generation‘ the truth was most of that generation came home. Home to a decade of economic collapse and tough times for those with a family, trying to survive in the depression. Others with wounds struggled on in the aftermath of the war, lungs corrupted by gas and mind and body never quite the same. Even those physically untouched by the trenches still had the mental scars of the war and while they were a tough generation with no counselling the memories of their war lingered and all too often surfaced; one veteran I knew, for example, had been gassed in 1916 and the smell of the gas was like pineapples. He could not stand that smell for the rest of his life; it sent him into a blind panic. From a wealthy family, they lost everything in the Wall Street Crash and he found himself working in Joe Lyons tea shop, opening tins of pineapple chunks. But it kept his family from poverty so he stuck it, like he stuck three years on the Western Front.
We end this series of posts on Remembrance with an image of an unknown soldier. He wears no uniform, just typical clothes of a young man of the 1920s. But on his lapel is a badge which gives us a clue to what he once had been – the Silver War Badge. Issued to all those discharged due to wounds and sickness caused by active service it was worn as a badge of pride among Great War veterans. In some ways men like this are part of a huge anonymous Great War army – those who survived, the forgotten wounded, the majority. A hundred years after the Great War it is easy to remember the dead, and on Remembrance Sunday we should do that – but we should also recall the survivors: men who saw the best and the worst of the war, achieved it’s ultimate now forgotten victory and came home to a life that must have seemed unreal compared to the experience of World War One. The debt we owe that generation is not to see them as victims, but to recognise what they did, what they saw and suffered and how it changed Britain forever. We Will Remember Them… Them All.
My paternal Grandfather was gassed and was subsequently Honourably Discharged in 1917. He died in 1957 as a result of his gassing 40 odd years earlier. People should never forget that for a large number of people the suffering went on for many years after the initial injury. Of course that is still the case today. It is not just the dead we should remember but also those who live on and suffer.
11/11/2012 at 12:03
Touching post. The survivors are very often forgotten. Some of which lived with horrific facial scars for the rest of their lives. It is fascinating how the war propelled developments in plastic surgery.
19/11/2012 at 14:10
Absolutely. I did a Timewatch a few years back where we used some of the images from the facial injuries archive. Gave a real insight into the issues many survivors had to deal with.
24/11/2012 at 12:37
I remember Edinburgh in the 50’s when a number of one legged men were seen, war damaged.
Thousands died by 1939 and have no memorial bar their family.
24/11/2012 at 21:15
my grand father was in it thamas lysaght
11/12/2012 at 18:31