Many years ago, when my sister and I were children, our mother showed us the name of her uncle, on the Naval War Memorial on Plymouth Hoe. On our way to and from the Tinside swimming pool, we would delight in being able to find his name among the thousands there. The fact that he had had a short and hard life never entered our minds. We knew, of course that it was “sad”. My mother was born in 1913 and knew no more about him than did we.
Roll on sixty years or more and my grandson is doing a school project. Its exact nature escapes me, and probably always did, but it involved using a computer to research into an unknown family member. This was how we found out that our uncle died in April 1918. The date, so close to the end of the horrors, is bad enough. My grandson also discovered that the ship on which his forebear was serving, H.M.S Bittern collided with SS Kenilworth in fog, in Lyme Bay. There were no survivors from the Bittern. It’s hard to explain how very upsetting we found this news which seemed to encapsulate the whole futility of war and waste of young lives.
Ten years later and my sister’s granddaughter is involved in a history project requiring her to write about some family connection with The Great War. My sister told her that although she knew of at least one of our father’s brothers who had fought, nobody ever spoke about it. So my grandson’s research has been sent on and added to. It seems that the captain of the merchant vessel was found to be guilty of negligence. Perhaps the study of family history should be made compulsory. We are all aware of dreadful things which happened ( and still happen) in many places and at other times to many thousands of strangers. However, when one of those strangers has a link to oneself, no matter how tenuous, awareness of the suffering becomes much more acute.