Living history, remembering WWI

Aug 1, 2014 | 2 comments |

In the UK, we’re preparing to mark the centenary of the start of the First World War. 

For most of us, August 1914 is many lifetimes away. Yet, I’m fortunate to have a connection with one of those lifetimes. It’s part of the web of family and community history which although I don’t write historical romance, has nevertheless influenced me as a writer.

Born in 1910, my father’s cousin celebrated her 104th birthday in May. Still feisty and active, Mary doesn’t remember that defining moment when war was declared but she has vivid memories of its ending – and the men who did or didn’t come back from the trenches after 1918.

They were the older brothers of school friends, fathers, uncles and cousins too. Men who’d grown up in small Canadian towns, unprepared for the horrors they’d experience on the battlefields of Europe.

They were the men who wrote letters home and received letters and parcels in return. The recipients of socks knit by Mary’s mother, prayers from her church and patriotism from her school.

For the men fortunate to come home both they, and the world they came back to, were forever changed.

Many, like my great-uncle, a survivor of gas poisoning, were scarred by what they’d experienced. Not only physically but emotionally, trying to fit into a society which either didn’t recognize the impact of those scars or know how to treat them.

Older sisters of Mary’s schoolmates never married because so many men had been killed or maimed. For a generation of women, dreams of love and family died ‘somewhere in France.’

As I light my commemorative candle on 4 August, joining the national Lights Out remembering that day in 1914, I’ll also reach out to Mary, sharing her memories.

She’s part of a living history that’s almost disappeared, a connection to global and family events which have shaped the world I live in and who I am.

Will you be marking the WWI centenary? What does living history mean to you or your family?


  1. Jean Bull

    Hi Jen, thank you for such a moving post.
    I have very real connections with with the First World War. My father, born in 1899, was sent to France in 1917, and wounded on October 13th 1918, just weeks before the end of the war. Luckily he came home, or I wouldn’t be here, and I’ve been able to trace his records on Ancestry and even visit the place where he was shot which was a very emotional experience. I will certainly be marking the centenary. He would have then been just 14, with no idea of what was to come. I also feel for my grandmother; what must she have gone through?

  2. Jen Gilroy

    Thanks for commenting, Jean, and sharing your memories. Your words about your dad moved me too.



  1. Jen Gilroy » Remembrance and remembering - […] month in 1918, Remembrance ceremonies have particular poignancy this year. I blogged about the WWI centenary previously and, on Remembrance…
  2. Jen Gilroy » Remembering a life - […] of my family this week, and my last living link with a world that’s now vanished. I blogged about…

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