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Welcome to the world of the Vincent D'Onofrio obsessed - and a bit of real life thrown in.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Generation Out

JoJo has mentioned in a comment on another blog that her father and uncles fought in WW2. I'm older than JoJo, but not that much older to make this huge difference in our family histories: two of my uncles fought in WW1.

This is my uncle Fred. His picture reminds me of a very young Dirk Bogarde. He and his elder brother Albert were born at the very end of the 19th century, so they were just old enough to fight at the end of the war. They went to Salonika at the end of 1916. They only recieved their service medals, and as far as anyone knew, they saw no serious action. Fred's son Freddie is still alive, and didn't even know his father had fought until I told him.

My cousin Albert, son of my uncle Albert, joined the RAF in 1942, and was a communications officer, including in Scandinavia. He too managed to stay clear of serious danger.
I wasn't born till the war had been over for nearly 8 years. My parents were both youngest children (though my dad was 12 years older than my mum) and though married in 1939, they waited till after the war to start their family. I didn't arrive till they had lost a son at birth, had a daughter, then mum had to have a D&C to conceive me, so I am much younger than all my cousins. Except for the three relatives mentioned, no one in my family was of an age to be called up to fight, and the family lost no one during either conflict. That must be fairly rare, given the scale of the conflicts.
But that's in England. I haven't had the courage to enquire about the German side of the family. I know it can be a sensitive matter for some Germans, ashamed of their role or their country's belligerent past.
It does feel weird, though, to talk about relatives who, for others, are much closer to them in age and time than my family members are to me. My paternal grandfather was born in 1868, for goodness sake!
But that's not as good as a woman I met a few years ago, who was not that many years older than me, but whose grandfather had fought in the Crimean War. That was in the mid-1850s. I still can't get my head round that one.


SnarkAngel said...

I am a member of a cross-generational family. My dad's cousins actually feel like my cousins. That's because my great grandmother had her last child AFTER she had her first grandchild.

fuzzytweetie said...

Wow, what a history! Image the stories between ALL of us.

Eliza said...

I had great-grandparents who were in the trenches of WW1, and grandparents who served in WW2. My grandfather ended up losing his hearing during that, and my grandmother's cousin was shot down while flying his Spitfire over the Isle Of Wight (they never found him)I still have a picture of him in uniform somewhere, because he's an important part of our family, and I want my children to be able to tell their children about him.

Rambled a bit, sorry

jazzy said...

We Germans are not ashamed! It always depends on HOW you talk with "us" about that subject, rather how you come across when you talk about it.
And I can't imagine you would hurt anyone's feelings.

Diane said...

Both of grandfathers fought in WW1. Although both survived somehow, both went to fairly early graves, so neither one was alive by the time I was born. My father is now 87 and fought in WW2. He was sent to Burma and the Far East to liberate POW's from the Japanese, an experience so appalling (so my mother tells me), that, even now, he refuses to discuss it. Funnily enough, my mum and I were only talking about this this morning. They had an item on the radio about 'twinning' a town in England with a town in Japan, and one lady, who's relative was a POW and who had had his tongue cut off for speaking when he wasn't supposed to, was against it, at least while her generation were still alive. My mother was then telling me that when she and my dad went to Australia to visit her nephew a few years ago, they stopped off in Singapore for a few days. Mum said she'd NEVER seen my dad more uncomfortable about being in a place....

val said...

But Jazzy, I don't know the German members of the family very well, and even the Canadian members of the family (who were the first to tell me it was a touchy subject) don't discuss it with them. Remember they may have been conscripted into the Hitler Youth and their older siblings/parents etc may have fought or done duty in concentration camps. You are a different generation. You don't have any "history" that you may not wish to talk about.

JoJo said...

That's pretty cool Val!

My parents were much older when I was born, so my maternal grandfather was born in 1896. He died when I was 4, in '68. He fought in WW1 in France.

My dad came to America when he was 19 (he was an orphan) and joined the US Army straight away. He met one of my many uncles (Uncle Pete Mendola was in the roll call right before John Mendonza) and that's how he was brought into the fold. Dad was injured in Italy when his back was blown open by a tiny piece of shrapnel. My dad never talked about the war at all. He would change the subject. He must've seen some terrible things. He threw away all his army stuff, but my mom managed to save his Purple Heart from the trash heap. It meant nothing to him. They basically read off the names of the injured in the hospital ward and tossed them the medal case. No ceremony, no thank yous, nothing. And the way the VA treated him after his injury was scandalous.

After everyone came back from WW2, and the cousins were born, most of them were female, so no one served in Vietnam. In fact, with the exception of one of my very young cousins (born in the 80's), no one in my family has served in the military since WW2.

When Brian served in Germany in the 70's, he found out very quickly that no one discussed or referenced the war at all; it wasn't taught in the schools.

jazzy said...

Val, I think I know what you mean, and I understand your concerns.
First, you have to differ: nearly everyone (including children) was a member of the Hitler Youth, because it was a "Must". In concentration camps, on the other hand, were only SS men, a special elite unit so to speak. Although most of the SS men were sent to concentration camps (as wardens) for disciplinary reasons, they were VERY loyal to the regime; you get the idea. The SA, another special unit, were trained to kill. One of my great grandfathers were a SA officer, while his twin brother (bless him) was totally opposed to Hitler's "policy". So you see, it happend that even within a family were various opinions.
I think you will find out very easily what your German relatives think about history. And if they are not willing to talk (no matter for what reason), well... you just have to respect. But I know that the Generation in question has the need to talk.

jazzy said...

Sorry, JoJo, you are just not right. German history IS taught in the schools - in every German school. Not in schools alone, even in kindergardens!

ann said...

oh my goodness the likeness is uncanny

my grandparents were too young to serve in WWI and likely too old to serve in WWII

i know an uncle was in the army, my mother was in the wrens and my father served with the raf in burma and the far east - he never talked about it but he suffered terrible nightmares and i remember one of his sayings was, "kill or be killed" - the rest of their siblings, my aunts and uncles were too young to serve

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