Thursday, 11 November 2010

On Armistice Day

I didn’t need November 11th to remember those who have died in wars, but it did focus my mind on it:  in those two minutes silence time stood still and I reviewed in my mind the members of my family who were involved but lived to fight another day, and those who didn’t make it.

I watched on television British people standing to attention at the Cenotaph in London, and heard the commentator reminding us that it is not only world wars which are remembered, but the conflicts that have happened since - Suez, Korea, Viet Nam, Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, the Gulf... and the Falklands.  Just to hear the mention of the latter gives me pain, and I still don’t know whether to refer to it as The Falklands Conflict or La Guerra de las Malvinas.

Imagine your parents have split up, and there are such strong feelings between the two families over the issue that they come to blows.  Imagine you’re standing on the sidelines, powerless to help as you watch your maternal uncle beat the living daylights out of your paternal grandfather, and your cousins from both families rushing in to retaliate.  You watch them fall, first one side, then the other.  You’re weeping with grief for both, your hands outstretched to beg them to stop – to no avail.  That’s what it feels like when you’re brought up to love, respect and understand two different cultures and two languages, and it is intolerable when they come into conflict.

In my own family there were volunteers from Argentina in the two world wars – in World War II my mother’s eldest brother joined the British Army and spent time in Italy, bringing back a German helmet as a souvenir (?); she lost several close friends with whom she had spent happy teenage years – one in particular who had joined the RAF and was stationed in Ceylon (Sri Lanka today) and was involved in a fly past to entertain a visiting RAF bigwig, demonstrating how they dropped depth charges.  Something went wrong, the plane was too low, and it got caught in the explosion.  It plunged into the sea, and when her friend’s body was found, he was perfect and intact, but without his lifejacket - he hadn't worn it.

While looking through my father’s papers a few years ago I found this picture of a very handsome young man...

David Bridger

...and learned that his name was David Bridger (my family name), and that he had died in 1915 aged 23 having volunteered for World War I from Argentina.  He was the youngest of 9 children...

My great-granparents and some of their children. 
My grandfather stands behind his father, who holds David,
the youngest.  I love this image - unusually for these old
family group pictures, they look relaxed and happy.

... and sailed to England in 1915 to join up.  As a Trooper in the King Edwards Horse Regiment he had no time to see action or even settle into his new life - meningitis claimed him in April that same year.  He must have already been ill when he was on the ship.  What a waste.

My father was one of five, four of which were boys.  In 1940 the third brother volunteered from Argentina and started an intense period of training in the RAF on arrival.  He learned to fly Spitfires, which became his passion, and he was impatient to become a fighter pilot.  Alas he was not to see action either.  On a training session in the Orkney Islands in August 1942 while doing a diving manoeuvre his plane crashed and he was killed – there are theories about how this happened, as he was by now a skilled pilot highly rated by his superiors.  A colleague who knew him well in those days told us that he had had a blackout previously while going into a dive, so it’s possible that it happened again.  He was buried in the Orkneys, on a lonely and windy hill, and many Bridgers have been there on pilgrimage to see it.  What a waste.

And his name... was also David Bridger.

 (The youngest wasn't born yet).  On the left is David,
with my father next to him.

Uncle David wrote copious numbers of letters to his family, in a compellingly eloquent style.  This was a handsome young man heading for a great – if risky – career, overflowing with charm, humour and enthusiasm, by all accounts.  I recently visited his sister, my aunt who is now 92 and lives on the south coast, and she has lent me the file with a lot of his letters.  A cousin in New Zealand has investigated his brief RAF career, so once I have transcribed the letters and matched them with what was happening to him at the time, I shall enjoy telling his story on my blog.

David Bridger

To give you the complete picture, I would also tell you that on my mother’s side, her father and his ancestors were German – there are fifth cousins living in Entringen, Germany, with whom my mother kept in touch in the last decade of her life, and I remember her telling me that as a twenty year old during World War II she longed to volunteer, but was told it would be too difficult because her surname was Schiele. 

Gaby, my German friend who loves England so much that she has bought a home here, has nevertheless felt upset and alienated by the anti-German war nostalgia attitudes she frequently encounters here prompted by television repeats.  She feels it’s time to move on, and time for people to understand how present day Germans feel.

All this was going through my mind this morning, and along with gratitude to all these people who gave their lives, I also felt overwhelmingly that in the final analysis we are all part of a world community.  If only we could confine ourselves to declaring war on want, on polluting the planet, and most of all, on intolerance.


Photo Finish:
From Lonicera's non-digital archive




Jesús said...

Querida Caroline, la mujer de las fotos bellas.

He vuelto, y es un placer volver a ver tus fotografías, me encntan.

Qué sepas que he leído los dos primeros párrafos de tu texto (ya sabes que yo el ingles...), y lo he llegado a entender.

Me encantan las fotos antiguas, esas sepias y que tienen esas pequeñas manchas, esos pequeños arañazos que las va haciendo el tiempo.

Un enorme beso que reconforte los pensamientos en las guerras.

Simone said...

What a lovely post Caroline, I love the old b&w photos....I was looking at some old photos myself tonight and found one of four children in descending height, all in sailor suits!

I always love hearing you talk about Argentina and about your family history, it's fascinating.

My daughter has been studying the Second World War this week at school and she shared with the class yesterday how her Italian grandparents (then aged around 12/13) came face to face with German soldiers in the mountains where they lived in Italy.

Thank you for your photo advice, I may well take you up on your offer :)

Best wishes,
Simone :)

amandakiska said...

What interesting stories! I wish we could sit and talk. I think I would listen more than speak.

Very few in the States know much about the conflict in the Falklands/Las Malvinas. I know it is an issue that invokes great emotion in you Argentines and probably the Brits too. It must be difficult to straddle both sides of the conflict.

Sandy Lee said...

Here in Canada we call it Remembrance Day but it is still the same history. There are no more Canadian WWI vets alive and the WWII vets are aging, but there are still so many veterans of our current war to remember. My kids are very aware of the day and many times go to the war memorial service downtown Ottawa. We have a War Museum and one room was designed to hold the tombstone of an unknown sholdier. At the 11th hour on 11/11, on a sunny day, a sunbeam shines across the stone. Here is a link to the front page of our newspaper today showing it ( Hope it works. I thought you would appreciate this.

My mom was born on November 11th (1928) but unlike those in Britain, lived in safety here in Canada. She died 3 years ago and we waited to bury her ashes on November 11th, 2007. It seemed appropriate to come in and be put back in the ground on the same day. My dad's family had a German name so I grew up with a bit of feeling that I was somehow connected to the Nazi's. Funny how our young minds think.

Thanks for sharing your story of family. It is in such remembrances that we remember.

tessierose said...

What a lovely post Caroline, thank you for sharing. No matter where in the world we live, we have all been affected by war and hopefully can all appreciate the extreme sacrifice of the soldiers who fought with purpose.

Reddirt Woman said...

As one who was born in one state, Oklahoma, and lived all of my life in either Oklahoma or Texas, it is so intriguing to me to read about people that live not only in more than one or two places, but on more than one or two continents. I've always loved and read a great deal about modern history and I really enjoy reading about other families history and this post and photos about your family is so romantic to me. Not fighting and being killed in wars but the fact that nationalism ran (and still does) so high from the other side of the world that one was proud to go away from their birth home to fight for their country. I don't know that all this makes any sense or that I've said it correctly so let me just say that I really, really enjoyed this post and the stories about some of your family.

Thank you so much.


Lonicera said...

Jesús - gracias. No conozco a nadie con ganas de leer un blog en otro idioma, te admiro realmente. Me gusta mucho tu sensibilidad.

Lonicera said...

Simone - you made me smile....the number of family photos I have here with brothers/cousins/Uncle Tom Cobley and all, all in rows by height! They're quite satisfying to look at, aren't they. What a scary story about your in-laws - hope you'll tell it on your gorgeous blog one day.

Lonicera said...

Amanda - you know what, as a kid I could have won prizes for being the talker ("Someone shut her up" was a phrase I would hear often - said jokingly I hasten to add), but now, I'm more apt to be 'talkative' on my blog, rather than face to face. I suppose I'm afraid of being boring. I'm sure you have family stories which are just as if not more interesting - maybe you just don't know them yet! Thanks for your nice comment.

Lonicera said...

Sandy - I love the concept of the sunbeam on the tomb of the unknown soldier. I had a look at Ottawa Citizen and read the article, thank you.

Lonicera said...

Thanks Tessierose - I much appreciate the sentiment. It's good to stop and think sometimes.

Lonicera said...

Helen - I'd never thought about it like that before, but yes, when the British emigrate, they take their loyalty to the mother country wherever they go, and it endures down the generations. I think my parents' generation was the last to do this - I don't see my or our children's generation being willing to volunteer to die for another country.

Pamela said...

My youngest daughter was in London on a student exchange and the only thing I asked her to bring me back was a poppy, I feel forever linked to that important day as we were tought at the British School in Punta Arenas.

I completely understand how you feel about that awful war, Falklands or Malvinas, we human beings need to learn to live in peace.

Let's fight against intolerance as much as we can, no life is worth being lost in any war. All my love

Vagabonde said...

I have been away and missed reading your last two posts. I enjoyed looking at your family pictures – how wonderful to have them. Your flower pictures were very pretty, as usual. I hope you are fine.

Lonicera said...

Thank you Pamela and Vagabonde. It's such a gift when people tell me they've enjoyed what I've shown or written - or the subject. I should do like you Vagabonde, and draft some posts to be uploaded automatically for times when I haven't got time to think of much, but I'm not that organised...

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