Saturday 3 November 2012

Poppies by Eve Edwards

A couple of days ago, my children and I were at Paddington on a half term trip to London.  Sadly, a fatality on the line had sent the trains into chaos, so we had plenty of time to watch the veterans selling poppies for Remembrance Day.  I sent my children over to get theirs from the one with the most medals.  He took a shine to my pretty sixteen year old daughter and started telling her his story.  A naval veteran, he had a picture in his poppy tray of a kamikaze plane like the one that hit his ship. What is for her subject for a history lesson, he had lived through.  She was mightily impressed.

When my three returned from this impromptu brush with the past, I told them we had picked our veteran well as he was in the service their ancestors joined.  Their great-grandfather had been in the navy throughout the war on a military gunboat.  He had had his hat shot off his head in the Channel, been present at Dunkirk, and spent many months patrolling the Straits of Messina.  And his father (their great-great grandfather) had been at the Battle of Jutland during World War I - the most important naval engagement of that war.  The navy runs strongly in the family tree on my father's side so I hoped they felt just a tingle of a sea shanty in their genes as they listened to our lovely veteran.

In 2014 we will be remembering the centenary marking the beginning of the First World War.  Such encounters with WWI veterans are no longer possible, though many families still have memories of conversations with members who lived through it.  Even the veterans of 1939-1945 are getting thin on the ground, providing the obituary pages of the broadsheet press with fantastic and inspiring material as many of them pass on at a good old age.  This is perhaps why some of us History Girls are turning to these conflicts for our novels, a sense of capturing the moment while these memories are still available for us to tap.  You'll see from the books in the sidebar that we have some well known writers in this era.  I'll be joining the First World War crew next year with my next book, called Dusk (from Razorbill - a Puffin imprint for teens).

Officer's Kit - WW1 - can't live without tea!
My inspiration came from the source I've described: capturing the family reminiscences, most particularly of my East End grandmother, and using them as a way of telling the story of that conflict for the teens who endured it.  Did you know for example that London had a Blitz in that war too?  As you read this blog, you probably did but I've found most teens I've talked to only know about the war in the Western front sense, in many cases thanks to War Horse and Private Peaceful.  I'll be blogging more about this over the next few months but needless to say, buying a poppy this year has meant more than ever to me after months of research.

Do you have any family memories handed down from either of the World Wars?  If so, do tell me about them in your comments as I am always interested in these gems that didn't make it into the history books!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

my grandfather was 14 when he signed up-was at a variety of airfields during WW1 made him hate war and all that came from it-but was realsitic enough to see a need for it in the 2ndWW-great man George Vallis