Yesterday marked 100 years of the end of WW1. A war in which 16 million died with a further 37 million casualties.
Last night I watched a remarkable documentary which merged past recordings of WW1 Tommies with digitalised war footage called, ‘They shall not grow old’ by Peter Jackson. It was, unsurprisingly, harrowing. However, the part that I was most shocked at was November the 11th. Footage showed women, children and men celebrating in the streets. As the news spread people left their homes banging on anything they could get their hands on -bin lids, metal trays, school bells. Anything that screamed that one of the deadliest wars was finally, thankfully, mercifully over.
In contrast, there was footage of our soldiers hearing the news. These incredible, brave men were not dancing, they were not screaming thanks or drinking champagne from crystal flutes (okay that’s extreme). Instead they were sat together, silently smiling to themselves in ragged uniform covering weary, battered bodies.
So, instead of an excerpt from Olivia this week, I thought it fitting to hear from these men, except the voices of these now dead soldiers all described how flat they felt on November 11th:
‘There wasn’t a cheer to be had….At 11 O’clock the guns stopped and it was dead silent…It was eerie…..
There was relief, of course, but no celebrations……Only way to celebrate was with a cup of tea. It was one of the flattest moments of my life. We just couldn’t comprehend it….’
As the news sank in thoughts turned to home and what they would go on to do:
‘…It felt like we’d been kicked out of a job. The feeling from everyone – what now?’
And when they got home, after medals and more tea:
‘…we had no commercial value, see? one advert said “no ex-servicemen need apply”… And people never spoke of the war….no conception of what it was like, so totally disinterested.’
Exhaustion can sometimes destroy the sheer joy of a moment.
I received my book in the post last week. My name underneath Olivia’s. It has been a moment I’ve fought for four years. Yet when I opened it alone with only a morning cup of tea to commemorate this final unveiling I felt flat. Exhausted at pushing for it’s release.
I know it’s a tenuous link but I understand, in my own way, how a perceived great, dreamt for, cried for moment in their lives can be flat. Sometimes the world is just flat.
Until it’s round again:
And that happens when meaning in life springs up once more. Before the soldiers were evacuated a soldier who was a keen botanist noticed:
‘I was amazed to see in the shell holes flowers peeping out…..I could pick Lily-of-the-valley, right there in old holes….’
For me, I take inspiration from these great men. I had felt flat for a week until today. Two emails arrived in my inbox asking for articles about my book. One even seemed enthused. It’s a small Lily I know, but enough to blow my world.