What did you do in the war, Grandpa?

Published: Thursday, 04 May 2017

their courageKeren's interview in the service on April 30th was of James Anderson who has just completed a book on the 10th Field Ambulance of WW1. He reflected on his grandfather's diaries but also other members of the unit including Percy Samson. There are two "library" copies you could borrow from James and Susan. Copies are also available to purchase. Recently an ABC program "You Can't Ask That" also focused on war veterans in a worthwhile way. http://iview.abc.net.au/programs/you-cant-ask-that/LE1617H004S00

There were a number of things that struck Keren as the diaries unfolded:

  • these were just ordinary people, they were mostly working class though there was a wide smattering of backgrounds and professions, even within that the soldiers never seemed to think that they were special, they mostly saw themselves as being overseas to do their adventurous bit for King and country. Having been a tourist myself, I think that I saw a lot of similarity in their reactions — whenever they could they were out sightseeing, travelling round UK, seeing friends, famous buildings, going to the theatre and the movies etc.

  • the diaries that I had access to did not show any great hand-wringing angst at the horrors of war, though most of the soldiers did mark the time when they ‘realised that they were at war’ [it was really serious], it seems that the motivations that propelled them to sign up were sufficient to sustain them through the reality and carnage of what they witnessed. 

  • I don’t remember any intense anti-German sentiment being expressed, they did not seem to portray the Hun as some monster that must be overcome at all costs, neither did they really humanism the enemy and take pity of the ‘poor mis-guided enemy’. Whether it was part of the nature of the medical corps that men were treated as men irrespective of the uniform they wore. I’ll have to refresh my memory but even the particularly religious ones did not seem to consumed with hatred for the enemy, I don’t think that they spiritualised the war much either [that could be because I wasn’t really looking for it at the time]. 

  • the particularly religious diarist [Samson] had the most trouble with the ‘Holy Living’ issue, he found the coarseness of many of the other soldiers very vexing, I think that he was troubled by their attitude to ‘spiritual matters’ in various aspects and he was also troubled by his own reaction to them, I think he found the strength of his own censure and intolerance incompatible with his christian ethics and had a hard time reconciling his duty to love his fellows and his abhorrence of their behaviour etc. I think that he had a deal of guilt with his inability to live up to Peter’s exhortation — “...do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” "

  • Viktor Frankl proposes that people find sustaining meaning in 3 main vectors — another to love, a deed to do, and, an unavoidable suffering to endure heroically — each one of these vectors can be seen in the soldiers at varying levels.

James Anderson