Today is the 100th anniversary commemoration of the armistice that ended World War One and a day on which to reflect on the solemnity of the occasion and the tragedy of the Great War.
Jill and I went to our church this morning and attended a very moving service complete with a minute’s since at 11.00 am. They did a very good job of building the theme of sacrifice, explaining the significance of WW1 to the many young people attending.
The years 1914 -18 were indeed a horrible period in our history. The total number of casualties (on all sides) during the war was around 40 million people of which 23 million were military casualties. The number of deaths is estimated at between 15 to 19 million. Military casualties totalled 8 million, all of whom were young men in their prime. In 1914, Australia ’s population was only 4.9 million people, yet around 417,000 men enlisted. That’s nearly 40% of men between 18 and 44 years of age. As a small country, our deaths totalled over 60,000 men with 156,000 wounded. We lost a good part of a generation in that war.
It’s a sad day and one that should be commemorated. I remember all the young men who went to war full of bravado but soon found out its horrors and the misery of the trenches. I think of those whose future was taken away from them, those who suffered agonising injuries or who returned home broken and with severe cases of shell shock. (What know call PTSD). I think of all the families who grieved – the mothers, wives, fathers and families whose only form of solace was to visit the local war memorials that were constructed in every little town and village. These served as the defacto graves of their loved ones. I think of all the women who remained unmarried because there were not enough men left in the community after the war. Like many other families, I remember a couple of ‘maiden aunts’ for whom there was no available husband. I also think of the millions of civilians who were displaced, hurt or perished in the conflict surrounding them
Four years ago, at the 100th anniversary of the landing at Gallipoli, members of my extended family gathered at my grandfather’s grave at Box Hill Cemetery to commemorate his service and to attach a poppy tile on his headstone. The Returned Services League had created a program to commemorate the service of men who went to war and who died after returning home. A bit on impulse, we visited his grave again today just to see if the poppy tile was still attached to his headstone and I’m pleased to say it is still there and shining brightly.
We are heading to Europe for Christmas in a few weeks with our grand daughters and I’m looking forward to showing them the area in which he fought and was injured. I think I know within a few kilometres just where he became a casualty. On 8 August 1918, my grandfather received a gunshot wound to his right buttock and that was the end of the war for him. He was treated in a British hospital and returned home in early 1919 after the end of the war.