“My memory of World War One was constantly marching”

If I may be just a wee bit personal, a remarkable thing happened yesterday speaking to my father, who was diagnosed with dementia some time ago.

1307 Groomsport (Medals - front)

Let’s leave aside the revelation from the above that he takes the News Letter (!), these are also the his father’s (my grandfather’s) medals – my grandfather, somewhat unusually, was born fully 97 years before me and in fact had sadly passed away before World War Two, leaving my father then aged five to grow up in a series of foster homes and orphanages.

My father’s condition means that he rarely participates in any conversation at all. Yet despite, or arguably even because of his dementia, my father perked up at my reference yesterday to Jeremy Paxman’s BBC series on ‘Britain’s Great War‘, currently ongoing.

Without prompting, my father startlingly intervened with something Paxman confirmed in the first episode: that his father had clearly had little time to tell him much, but he had told him (on their walks to the park that he recalled another time, presumably), that without question his main memory of the Great War was not camaraderie or artillery shells or the trenches but “constantly marching“.

My father claimed further to have been told, quoting his father directly seemingly from memory: “We marched everywhere. One day we marched 31 miles; and then the next day we marched another 31 miles – straight back to where we’d come from! I tell you what, we were a lot faster getting back!

My grandfather, who was already an Army Officer by this time (so would presumably have been in action right from the start; he was certainly at the Somme), never mentioned the difficulty of carrying equipment or that sort of thing, merely the tedium of the whole thing.

I do not know, of course, quite how accurate this story his – after all, my father’s lowest ever golf handicap has reduced somewhat in his re-telling from what it actually was! However, that’s as close to a primary source as you are likely to get, a century on. Over to the historians…

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