Remembering

This year is an especially poignant Remembrance Day for me. On Wednesday 26th January 1944, my Great Uncle Edwin Mitchell, my grandmother’s favourite brother, was killed at sea. He was just 25. The same age I am now. I can’t quite fathom that.

I have visited his grave, in the beautiful church in Corfe Castle village, Dorset, where my grandmother grew up. I have managed to find a picture of it online, along with a list of all the men of the village who died during the war. The village was, and still is, tiny; the fact that there are so many men on that list is shocking. What a blow it must have been to the villagers to lose so many of their vibrant young boys. No wonder my Nan never went back after the war.

I wish I could have known my Great Uncle; my Nan doesn’t talk about him much, but the memories she has shared were of a fun loving, generous, tease of a brother whose death devastated her. I’m thinking of him today, and of all the other boys and men who grew up with him in that peaceful little village, went bravely off to fight for their country’s freedom, and  never made it back to England’s green and pleasant land. Their courage is something that should never be forgotten.

15 comments

  1. Your words are so poignant today, Rachel, and a fitting tribute to all those whose lives were lost. Such things take on more meaning when we hit the ages of the victims of war, don’t they? It is good that you have been to your Great Uncle Edwin’s grave and that you took the time to pay him your respects.

    1. Thank you Penny. They do – I just can’t imagine being in a war and being faced with imminent death. It makes all the things I stress about on a daily basis come into perspective.

      I’m glad I’ve been too – I may never have met him but he’s certainly someone I think of frequently.

  2. History preserves the outlines of war, but family and friends preserve the individual faces of the warriors and other casualties of wars. A very nice tribute to your Great Uncle Edwin.
    I never had the opportunity of knowing my cousin Billy, a Navy pilot who died at age 19 in WWII, but I remember him from stories my aunt told me.
    My thanks to all who served and my prayers for all who are serving.

    1. Thank you Liz – you put it beautifully. I’m so sorry about your cousin – what a loss that must have been for your aunt. I just wish those two great wars had been an end to conflict – I hate that so many young men and women are still dying in wars today.

  3. That must have been so devastating for you grandmother! I can’t imagine losing one of my sisters, especially in something like this, far away from everyone, where you’d only have reports of what had happened, and not have seen it for yourself. What a terrible thing.

    I should have known this, but I didn’t realize your Remembrance Day was the same date as our Veterans’ Day. Interesting.

    1. I know, it was. She doesn’t really like to talk about so I don’t know much but she never went back to the village again from what I know.

      Yes! most other days are different though – it does get confusing!😉

    2. In November 1919, President Wilson and King George V each proclaimed the first commemoration of Armistice Day (US) and Remembrance Day (Commonwealth). In 1954, Congress redesignated the then US legal holiday as Veterans Day, to encompass WWII and Korea as well.

  4. How bitterly people remember the World Wars: the terrible waste and grief. Poor Nan.

    Are you interested in poetry, Rachel? If you get a chance to listen to Andrew Motion’s Remembrance Day programme – and if you are brave enough – it’s available on Radio 4 (Afternoon Play – Laurels and Donkeys). I thought I wouldn’t get to the end (crying into the washing up) but I’m so glad I did. I hope these wonderful poems will be published soon.

    1. It was such a waste – it makes me so sad, Chrissy! Oh goodness – I don’t know if I could manage to listen to that without dissolving into tears, but I will certainly try! Thanks for letting me know.

  5. It gives me chills to think of what it must have been like to watch a loved one board a train, boat or bus, to join the fight during wartime. How do you even begin to think about doing the laundry or making dinner when your mind is consumed by worry? R and I visited the Heritage Warplane Museum a couple of years ago and I can’t get my head around nineteen year-olds being in charge of a Lancaster bomber, or dying in one.

    I wish that I had a Nan I could talk to about what it was like to live during World War II. Thanks for sharing a bit of your family’s history, Rachel.

    1. Me too Darlene – I don’t know how they coped. Such bravery! I just can’t get my head around it either.

      It’s great being able to speak to my grandparents – they don’t tell me much but what they do tell me are real gems. You are welcome Darlene – thanks for reading!

  6. Hi Rachel – like you, I had a Great Uncle who didn’t come home from the War – he was missing, presumed dead at Dunkirk – aged 23. Since becoming a mother I have always felt deeply for my great grandmother – her loss was profound, he was her first child and she was so proud of him. I am an English teacher in an inner London school – when we held our two minute silence yesterday, I was thinking of him. Although 11 o’clock falls right in the middle of break, the silence was immaculately observed by our pupils – I was so proud of them. Thankyou for sharing your story.

    1. Hi Caroline – how awfully sad. It’s terrible when you think how many individual families had to cope with a loss like the one our families faced. It really brings it home.

      I love that your pupils observed it so well – I really love how everyone, no matter what their age, really respects the sacrifices our soldiers have made over history. Everyone buys their poppies and takes the time to remember – it pulls people together and gives a real sense of community, I think. I’ve seen loads of people having a good old chat with the soldiers selling poppies in London – me included – it’s something that really seems to strike a chord with people. It makes me glad that people still care.

  7. Such a touching post. Even though it happened before your time, it has had an effect on your life. I am always amazed at the courage of the young men and women who march off to war. I believe the families who stayed home had a unique kind of courage. It is difficult now, even with phones and e-mail and all of the communication that we have. It is hard to imagine saying goodbye to your child or husband or brother and having so little communication for long periods of time, not knowing how they are. Such courage.

    1. Thank you Janet. Yes -I can’t imagine that awful feeling of not being able to get in touch or know that someone was safe. When I was the Imperial War Museum a couple of weeks ago some of the letters soldiers had written had reached home after they’d died – that must have been dreadful, and to receive letters so few and far between, knowing that anything could have happened since the last letter you got. Those that stayed behind had such tremendous courage – we shouldn’t forget their sacrifices either.

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