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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Great War

News of the last WWI vet in this country, West Coaster Victor "Bob" Rudd, having passed away is an event worth marking.

Having reegularly visited my great uncle Snow at Pt Chevalier as a child I did not know that it wasn't just old age that prevented Great War veterans from talking about their experiences. It was after he died that I interviewed a veteran of that war who lived on the corner of our street for a school project. (I was a finalist for a prize for that - but I recall the student who later became the Dux won it). He arrived in Europe just in time for Passchendaele (3rd Battle of Ypres, 1917).

The two things I will remember distinctly from our interview:

The utter horror of that war. He said the Germans put in gas with every shell. If you didn't have your gas mask on you would die and it would settle at the bottom of the craters and trenches. He described the front as one crater on top of another and of another - something I didn't really appreciate until I saw photos like these:

These aerial photos are often used to illustrate the point:



It was a living hell. He described the quivering flesh torn open by a shell - of a man, not yet dead - of which he could do nothing to help, inside his gas mask, in the mud. It was all too graphic. He referred to military action as "stunts." Such was the derision they held for such futile charges and attacks. It was one crazed stunt after another. He was wounded and sent back on a hospital ship from what I recall.

The other crucial thing was that this was the war to end all war. It wasn't just a hope or an ideal it was a reality - another war was simply unthinkable, impossible. There would be no way that a war could be allowed to occur because of the immense gravity, cruelty and monstrous losses of the Great War. How could anyone living through that and seeing the memorials erected in every town and district in the country and the thousands of names etched into the wall possibly think otherwise?


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