As I listened to the bells tolling at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, I thought of the grandfather I never knew – of the father my mother never knew. I wondered how our lives might have been had he not been killed in 1916.
Major Ronald Greig was a professional soldier – he had already got the DSO in the Boer War and was an experienced 40-year-old officer in the Royal Engineers when he died.
I have little idea of what he was really like. I get the impression of a nice, easy going, probably quite charming man, but without the apparent liveliness of the family he married into.
What would have happened if he had lived? Well, for starters Tish, my gran, a young war widow overwhelmed by life with three small children, would not have remarried. (So I would not have acquired an additional aunt and three lovely cousins.) Nor would she have started the liaison/friendship with Dick Mitchison in 1927 which lasted till his death in 1970. And our family would not have benefited from all the rich friendships, that still continue, with his family .
So would Ronnie and Tish have lived happily ever after? Hmm. I’m never quite sure. I always wonder whether being an army wife would have really suited my fun-loving, capricious granny.
The First War had dealt her a double whammy: the year after Ronnie died, she lost her favourite brother, David. In some ways I wonder whether this death did not affect her even more.
David Clutterbuck was the middle of three brothers. The oldest, Lewis, came back from the war a damaged man. We never asked gran what really happened, but he spent most of his life abroad – a remittance man, paid to stay away from home. The youngest, Walter, survived the First War and ended up a major general at the end of the Second War.
My mother once took us to Winchester College and showed us the war memorial for David’s class. I think the entire class was wiped out.
That led me on to remembering reading Vera Brittain’s sad ‘Testament of Youth’ and watching the powerful 1930s American film of the German book ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’. Two works to push you towards pacifism.
To end, the unbelievable news that Donald Trump stayed indoors rather than face the rain for an Armistice day event at a cemetery holding the graves of American soldiers! While Merkel and Macron make symbolic gestures of peace and unity, he once again makes bellicose gestures and statements and fails to understand the symbolism of what he is supposed to do.
And I wonder what he made of Macron’s statement:
Le patriotisme est l’exact contraire du nationalisme. Le nationalisme en est sa trahison.