Yesterday, November 11th was Remembrance Day here in the UK and across Europe. I rather vaguely recall it as ‘Armistice Day’ in the States. It is the day that we are to remember and be grateful to those who have died in battle. It began after the end of WWI, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
I say that I ‘vaguely’ recall Armistice Day, because it didn’t really touch my generation, or even my household. Until the first Gulf war (with the first President Bush) that lasted just from the summer of 1990 until February of 1991, my generation had not played a major part in a war. Vietnam ended when I was a toddler—I have no memory of it.
Neither my father, uncles, cousins nor grandfathers fought in any wars. My family was spared—we were the lucky ones.
It wasn’t until I moved away from the comfort of the United States that I realized how different life was for virtually every other nation.
Until September 11th, the States had never had invaders on its soil—we had existed safe on the sidelines of world conflict. This gave its citizens a sense of invincibility—and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it is just different from most other countries. We’ve not taken the hits that other nations have.
In Switzerland, where we lived for five years, I would often observe the old men and women as they got on with life, pulling groceries home from the market in wheelie bags or chatting together for hours as they sat on benches in the ‘dorf platz’, village center. I would wonder, as I watched them, what their experiences during World War II were like. A constant mantra would cycle through my head, ‘You were there. What did you see? Did you help? Did you turn away? What would I have done?’
Camille, my nine year old wrote a paper for school about her great-grand-parents’ life during WWII. They are my husband’s grand-parents. We are so lucky that they are both still alive to tell us about it. The Mister’s grand-mother, Nan is English. She joined the British Women’s Land Army when she was just 16. She met her husband, Pa during that time, as he was U.S. soldier stationed here in England.
Nan actually joined the army to get away from how bad things were in London.
Air raids every night, the whole family would have to wake up and run into the backyard in their pyjamas and hunker down in the cramped bomb shelter to wait until the ‘all clear’ siren was heard. Many houses on her street were bombed to ruins. They could hear the planes flying overhead, see the flashes of fire as the bombs exploded on the ground, and smell the smoke and flames. The idea that she and her family could be killed was a real threat they experienced with all of their senses.
When the bombing was really bad, they would run for cover in the subway stations—literally living there for days or even weeks on end; entire families sleeping on the floor of a subway station. Can you imagine putting your children to bed at night on a blanket on the filthy subway station floor?
She told us of one horrible instance when people were packed into the stations like sardines and it had been raining for days—areas were becoming flooded. In the middle of the night, water began pouring into the station. Because there was such a crush of people and because they were mostly asleep and caught off guard, many of the people (especially the children) drown.
The stories go on, and get worse... Nan and Pa saw just a bit of the horrific happenings of WWII.
90 million people died in that war. 90 million.
My generation knows nothing of the harshness of life. We, especially Americans, have had it ridiculously easy.
And we owe a debt to those remarkably brave men and women who sacrificed sometimes, literally everything so that future generations could indeed live such comfortable lives; hopefully never repeating history.