A family divided....
I was sitting in the comfort of my armchair the other evening and my mind turned to thinking about various families I’ve had the privilege of researching, and considered how one event in history irrevocably changed the lives of just one of those families…..
This family consisted of seven brothers, born on the family farm between the years 1886 and 1902. I imagine this closely knit family thought their lives were already mapped out for them – that is until the rumblings of The Great War (WW1) was heard.
Between the years 1914-1916 it was only volunteers aged eighteen and over who enlisted to fight in the war. - Reasons for volunteering were diverse, with enthusiastic war spirit being one, and for others it was a way to rid themselves of the severe unemployment at home.
.….When the Military Act was passed in January 1916 it meant that men between the ages of eighteen and forty one became eligible for conscription…the only ones exempt from this were married men, clergymen and any man working in employment which was considered to be vital to the welfare of the Nation... From June of the same year married men were also made eligible to be called up for service, and the upper age limit was raised to fifty one.
…..By 1918 almost half of the five million men in the Infantry were aged nineteen or under!
The eldest brother of this particular family was already married and ran the farm along with his father, so he was successful when applying to a tribunal to be allowed to remain at home, as agricultural work was one of the vital jobs needed to help the Nation.
Brother number two decided for conscientious reasons not to fight in the war, and, as only so many men could stay to work on the family farm he found work as a coal miner - which was another of the jobs exempt from joining the Military. It appears his brothers considered his action to be cowardly and the atmosphere between the siblings was so strained that he decided to leave the family home and move away from the district, which sadly caused a lifelong lasting division among the family.
Brother number three waited until he was conscripted and then joined the Canadian Merchant Navy. Sadly just a few months before the war ended his ship was torpedoed by a U-Boat and all but one of the crew lost their lives - this brother among them.
Brothers four and five (twins) enlisted in the Infantry at the same time and spent the majority of their service life, serving on the Western Front. We’ve all been made aware of the horrors of this particular war, but both of these brothers were fortunate to return home at the end of the conflict with no physical incapacity. ….but mentally was a different story. Both young men were deeply affected, and carried mental scars for the rest of their lives by the horrors they’d encountered. Neither man fully recovered from his ordeal – one of them suffering from severe shellshock and lifelong recurring nightmares.
The two youngest brothers were still of school age when the war began, so weren’t effected a great deal by it to begin with…When they left school the elder of the two was persuaded to remain and do agricultural work, but the youngest brother with the enthusiasm of youth, found great excitement in going off to fight for his Country….I think the well known poster of Lord Kitchener encouraging young men that their Country needed them, did much to persuade him, as it did with many other young men.
Thankfully he returned home safely when the war ended, but his *happy go lucky* nature had disappeared, and instead it was a very chastened withdrawn young man who came back into the arms of his family….One assumes he’d seen and endured horrors that no teenage boy should ever be subjected to.
This war had irrevocably changed the lives of all these brothers. They were never again the same close knit happy family they had once been..Not even their mutual grief over the loss of a brother at sea could unite them.