While in Paris this month you can’t escape the fact that it’s the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War. Front pages of newspapers and special photo exhibits across the city commemorated the momentus event.
One photo on the Champs Elysees of French lancers started me thinking about the role of my grandfather, Thomas Penry Phillips, who was a British lancer.
He was a farm boy from Wales and so when he signed up at 18 years of age his horsemanship meant he was assigned to train other young men to ride the horses that were so critical to the First World War – the misnamed ‘War to end all Wars’.
When he was eventually shipped off to France neither his unit, nor their horses, lasted very long against the guns they rode into. He told me he was the only one of his comrades who survived their version of the charge of the light brigade. He was wounded and mistakenly thrown onto the wagon with other bodies only to be noticed when he groaned.
As the sun shone down in Paris 2014 you couldn’t help but marvel at the innocence of the young soldiers who went off to end all wars 100 years ago…nor was the irony of that pledge lost on those of us who took the time to remember.
A new concept to me but thanks for the info – I’ll look into it.
It made sense to the dinosaurs at the top to send men on horseback with lances across deep goo against men in trenches behind barbed wire (battle barbs, not yer average farm stuff) armed with machine-guns and protected in depth by shrapnel.
If interested in the warfare topic you’d do a lot worse than bone up on ‘3G warfare’ …
The horrors of the big wars in the previous century is impossible to imagine. Hopefully this century will not get into the same craziness – although wars are happening all over the world. Unfortunately.
Yes we continue to be surrounded by wars that could at any time grow world wide… And the destructive weapons we have today don’t bear thinking about!
I loved your last sentence… You are blessed to have retained such wonderful photographs of your grandfather from that time. In many ways, combat in the First World War was more gruesome than that of the Second World War with the chemical warfare that took place. Mustard gas was a most gruesome way to die; you can see the cloud coming if you are lucky and have the time to have donned on your primitive gas mask…
Thank you! So true about the chemical warfare – my grandfather recovered physically from his wounds as a cavalier and they sent him back to the front…he was gassed in the trenches and lost the use of one lung for the rest of his life – a brutal war indeed. Appreciate the visit and comments.
So I guess you come by your love of riding legitimately, must be in the genes (as well as the jeans).
I do enjoy my horse but can’t imagine what horror these young men and their horses witnessed.
The USA came in near the end of the war, so our connection is more distant. I have my grandfather’s cavalry sword & uniform. I do not believe that he actually got to Europe though.
How special to have the sword and uniform from so long ago! Was he also from a farm so he was used to riding? Thanks for the comment.
I do not know that he had any farm/horse connections. He worked in management of an oil refinery (Wyoming and California). My grandmother (his wife) grew up in a family which had a cattle ranch… which is now moslty developed into a city with suburbs.
It is and I hadn’t thought about that much until now…thanks for the comment.
It’s wonderful that you have the photos to go with your grandfather’s memories. Thanks for sharing.
Remember visiting my great granddad’s grave near Ypres, in them idle of a sea of white crosses, so important to take to time to think about what they all went through
That must have been very emotional for you – what terrible losses for a whole generation. Thanks for your comment.
I’ve often wondered how survivors of the horrors of WWI, such as your grandfather — or the survivors of any great catastrophe — manage to become again part of the “normal” world. They must be so fundamentally changed by their experience, somehow permanently inhabiting another world from ours, yet on they go.
Well said. We are just coming to grips with what should have been obvious – that most survivors don’t cope well on their own…the awful history from this war of so called cowards and deserters being executed instead of being treated.
Thanks so much for a most interesting post. Those lancers seem to come from a bygone age, long before the era of tanks and bomber planes. Hard to remember that they were all part of the same disastrous conflict.
So true and it was the last great conflict that horses played such a big role although they had been key to ‘victories’ throughout history.
A very poignant and touching tribute to your grandfather. The photos are now very precious. The last one in particular, he looks so sad/afraid.
He does doesn’t he – as if he’s seen too much.
What a beautiful tribute to your grandfather and a gift to us who also had grandfathers in WWI. Our youngest son Steven has his great grandfather’s medals hanging on his bedroom wall. After reading your blog I went down to glance at them (something I haven’t done in years) and remember his sacrifice and the sacrifices of the hundreds of thousands of others who continue to give their lives in the name of “war”.
Thanks Cheryl and I’d love to see the medals when I’m up there. Did your grandfather speak much about it? Mine did but I wish I’d listened more closely.
How sad your grandfather looks in that last photograph. It is so very difficult when survivors are remembering their fallen friends and fellow soldiers, but of course, as survivors of such horror their lives were blighted too. You asked me about my great-grandfather in WW1 and none of us ‘knew’ about his war, but he subsequently became a violent alcoholic. Perhaps a sufferer of PTSD. He terrorised his son (my grandfather) who then suffered temporary blindness for a year when 13 years old. Tragically wars have such far-reaching consequences ricocheting down the generations.
Thank you for sharing the sad story of your great-grandfather and the tragic effect the war seems to have had on his family (and him) afterwards. I think it must have been far more common than was ever acknowledged and even though we seem to recognize PTSD with soldiers today we still don’t do well enough.
I am finding these moments very poignant. Your story, my own stories, the stories of others; we still carry the loss in our hearts. I am glad that your grandfather, like mine, survived but they came home with the loss of innocence.
Very poignant indeed…I think it’s good to carry some of these losses in our hearts since it keeps their spirits alive.
Very much alive.
Imagining the horror that your Grandfather faced at such a young age is astounding.
On a happier note I hope you are enjoying your time in Paris!
A horror impossible to fathom…Paris was lots of fun and we got to see it through the eyes of our 10 year old granddaughter too!
Wonderful to have such an experience with your granddaughter. Enjoy!
There is a song by folk singer Eric Bogle called “No Man’s Land” that is quite a moving tribute to these young men. Worth a listen to. May they all, two-footed and four-footed, rest in peace.
That’s a beautiful tribute.
What a wonderful folk song – thank you for bring it to all our attentions…in terms of the four footed who served us in war that will be my next post!
Those photos are such treasures. I wonder if those poor soldiers had any inkling of what they were heading into. I’ve always thought the folks who decide to go to war should be the ones out in front!
This was a war they thought was going to be an adventure and that they’d be home soon…yes I agree, it should be those who declare war who lead the charge.
How fabulous you have this collection of photos to keep your memories so alive. Isn’t it poignant to see the one of the lancers at this ready. So useless against the artillery. What a tragedy
So many people slaughtered – on both sides – it beggars the imagination.