What I know about World War I you could fit in a thimble.

For many years I just assumed that as a Baby Boomer born during the Korean Conflict and also within a decade of the end of World War II, maybe the First World War simply faded from prominence and even the school system wasn’t able to devote much time to a strong overview. The Great War just didn’t bubble to the top!

Except for a few random bits of awareness, in particular when I note memorial services observed in Britain and Europe, I’ve wondered why so little is “made of it” in the United States?

I have always loved history. Why haven’t I been interested–before now?

Textbooks noted the war began with the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Ferdinand. I have no memory of knowing why he was assassinated, or really, who he was. American teenagers don’t know a lot about Archdukes.

I am almost positive I didn’t learn until decades later that the Archduke’s wife was also killed–seems like an odd fact not to include. Maybe my teachers didn’t know much about the war either.


I  recall a little spark of enthusiasm when my high school history teacher discussed that King George V, Kaiser Wilhelm II, and Tsar Nicholas II were cousins. This was interesting to me.  American teenagers don’t have a vast knowledge of “crowned heads.”

The late 1960’s were my “Nicholas and Alexandra” days.  Post reading  Robert K. Massie’s  popular book  I couldn’t get enough of the Romanov’s, in particular the romantic conspiracy tales purporting that the Grand Duchess Anastasia, youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, had escaped the fate of her family with only a very severe case of amnesia.  I really wanted this to be true. I am certain I made no connection between the Russian Revolution, the  Tsar’s fate, and the post-war conditions in Russia that contributed to the whole mess.

Poetry introduced me to shell shock, mustard gas, and the psychological trauma and on-going effects of open trench warfare.  Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est” shook me at the time and it still does.

DSC_5015We are living in a wonderful age with marvelous ways to learn more. I would encourage a reading of Owen’s landmark poem  HERE, and I think you’ll also find this site an excellent source of interest if you, like me, want to better understand the context of World War 1.

Well, if ever there was a good time to learn more about this war it is now–maybe especially here in the United States where we reluctantly and without any enthusiasm entered the war in 1917, three years after the war actually began in Europe.  American involvement was very, very complicated and this was not a war with widespread public support.

And when it was clear we were going to enter the war, there was a great need for persuasion.

I recently spent a very thoughtful afternoon at an exhibit at the Huntington Library featuring propaganda posters from the First World War.  In  honor and memory of the Great War’s 100th anniversary, the exhibit, “Your Country Calls! Posters of the First World War” showcased the Huntington’s collection of prints and ephemera.


These powerful images were fascinating  and absolutely beautiful with stunning artistic detail.

The collection includes posters from countries other than the United States and also some that focus on humanitarian aid following the war.

I actually  have my own “World War 1 ephemera collection”  and I am eager to show you–next time.

I wonder if you can guess what might be in that collection? I’ve only recently thought about it–somewhat forgotten!  Funny how you can see something quite differently when you have a little better understanding of its importance and meaning.

I’d be curious to know if the images in these amazing posters connect your thoughts in any particular way?

It is exceedingly true that the American experience during the First World War was completely different from the war in Britain and Europe. How great those costs I am just now beginning to understand.

If you haven’t yet been to any exhibits or library collections noting the 100th anniversary of this war, you might want to investigate and see if you have anything of interest in your own locale–the 100 year anniversary ends at the end of this month, but there’s never an endpoint to curiosity.

Let me know if you learn something new.  I am really trying to fill my thimble!

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57 thoughts on “What I know about World War I you could fit in a thimble.

    1. I somewhat regret that I wasn’t a high school history teacher, Frank. Haha! There are so many really interesting facts and stories about American involvement in this war and President Wilson was a real piece of work–I am not sure it’s such a positive thing that I’m completely entertained by the facts that led to so much bloodshed, but my teachers missed a good opportunity to engage young students in seeing how politics can affect the world stage–and war! Thank you for the map. I spent a few minutes looking at in and realized, once again, my ignorance. I am going to spend a little more time with it. It really is quite interesting.

  1. I’ve heard stories about WWII from my father, and he wrote up his memoirs about *most* of his experiences – some he can’t bring himself to think about too much. I write a monthly column about antiques and vintage collectibles, so I do a lot of historical research and have learned way more than my father has told me. It’s really quite fascinating. If they taught these things in schools, history classes wouldn’t be just about dates, names and places – it would come alive, and kids would grow up learning a lot more life lessons!

    1. Yes! You have really captured what I’ve been thinking about today! It only took a very small amount of research which led to some interesting stories and then I was off and running. The more I read about World War I the more I realized that there was a very complex and fascinating story behind why America didn’t first enter the war, and why President Wilson later instituted the draft and sent young men into an extremely unpopular war. It’s a very dramatic and interesting story that I certainly was never told. It’s a shame that so much curriculum is devoid of context and really no wonder so many history courses are a big yawn. And I need to follow your column! We are a big antique and vintage collectible family…I’ve inherited some really nice pieces and my mom’s house is a small museum. LOL! I’d be so interested!! Thank you for your very thoughtful response. I am quite envious (in the nicest of ways) that your father shared his experiences, to the extent he felt he could. I have so many friends who lost their dads and NEVER knew what they’d experienced in the war. How valuable to have his memoir!

  2. It’s great that you have so much interest in world history. What happened to the Russian Tsar and his family was so utterly shocking. There was always the hope that Anastasia escaped from being locked in a room and gunned down with the rest of her family but I’m quite sure it was just wishful thinking. I heard (and I’m not sure if it’s true) that the Tsar’s family hid their diamonds and other jewels from their captors by sewing them into their garments. When they were being shot the bullets were deflecting off their garments as they hit their diamonds. Again, not sure if it’s true. I believe Russell Crowe has a great movie coming out about a family’s plight during WW1 which would be great for you to watch as it centres around an Aussie family’s suffering (and we were geographically so far from that war yet gave all we had and more – almost half the male population of our small nation was sacrificed) and the movie Gallipoli starring a very young Mel Gibson is definitely worth a watch xx

    1. I should see Gallipoli again, Charlie. Thank you for the reminder! I saw it when it first came out and thought it was an amazing movie, but I have done so much more reading since then and it would mean even more! The stories of the Romanov’s have always just fascinated me. When I was young there was a lot of talk, because Anastasia “could” have been alive…by age, really not circumstance, although I loved the stories! Robert Massie wrote a follow-up book in the 90’s using modern day forensic evidence to prove that the entire royal family was indeed murdered. It was a very interesting book, although I forget half the details! Thanks, too, for the heads up about the Russell Crowe movie! I wasn’t aware of it and I’ll look forward to seeing it. 🙂

  3. WW1 may as well have been right after the civil war. I don’t remember much about it from school either but by that time we had had WW2 and the Korean conflict. I hadn’t realized that we are coming up on the 100 year anniversary. Hopefully there will be much more information printed.

    1. The war started in Europe in 1914 so this was the 100 year anniversary, but like I pointed out, America entered much later. THere was a huge American casualty toll, but we weren’t in the war for more than a year. I don’t think we need to necessarily focus on a war that was that long ago, but when we were in high school there were still living veterans of that war. I think history is much more interesting when we string events together and create context. Good thing I can read…I make up for a lot of what I didn’t learn the first go round. 🙂

  4. Perhaps Debra, and I’m simply thinking out loud, we Americans have lost sight of WWI not because of its insignificance but because we (of older generations) have grown war weary and are affected by conflict fatigue. We could create volumes of history books about it and all of the wars and incursions that have followed, but I sense an information and interest saturation point. For me, there are so many more pleasant aspects of U.S. and global history that I choose to focus on and research. I can only take so much about the absence of civility, unnecessary death, and destruction — even when there are important sociological and cultural issues aligned. Kudos for your interest in exploring what is historically important to you! I can sense your interest and excitement.

    1. You make a good point, Eric, and may very well be correct about why so little coverage of the Great Wars (talk about propaganda in a name) centenary. I study history from the perspective of understanding–or I should say trying to understand–motivations. War is always motivated by some level of political or economic gain, and that was as true in 1914 as it is today. I am really fascinated by human behavior and that seems to be where my interest primarily lands since i have absolutely no understanding of military strategies. The propaganda posters were all the more interesting to me from having a little background in why propaganda was necessary in the first place. 🙂 I think we have been war weary for a long time, but never more so than in recent years. I think the challenge today is to not let the weariness turn to apathy. One hundred years from now it would interesting to read what historians record as the motivations for the past 11 years of war!

  5. Strangely enough the first world war is also not as big a topic in Germany as it is in the UK. The anniversary this year meant more documentaries on it, but mostly we hear only about the second world war (constantly! The German “guilt” still exists after all these years!) In my school days in the UK we had to cover the Russian revolution and first world war for our exams… I had a poor teacher and was disinterested in those days, so i remember writing three almost identical essays on the Russian revolution in the exam! (I failed!) LOL!

    1. I am sure if we were all polled as to what kind of interest we had in these topics while in high school most of us would fall quite short. I wasn’t all that interested until recently, and once I started reading I realized there was much that interested me. I am glad you shared about the German response to both wars! I think you have such an interesting perspective to offer since you were raised in the UK and live in Germany. I listen to a lot of British Internet radio and find I learn a lot about different perspectives that are definitely not openly and readily shared in the U.S. on a whole host of topics! I would benefit even more if I spoke more than one language. Thank you for sharing, Cathy. I loved your story about the three almost identical essays. We were always taking short cuts when we were young, weren’t we? LOL!

  6. Fabulous post, Debra, and an exhibit I wish I could see.

    I think because we, or at least me, were Baby Boomers with parents who were born during WWI, lived through the Great Depression, and fought in WWII or held down the home front, little was said about WWI. I do have the Bible of one of mother’s uncles that he took with him to war. He came home with what we would now recognize at PTSD, institutionalized, and was killed. It was never clear if he jumped out of the window, or was pushed. Sad story that I wish I had pursued a bit more, but, our parent’s generation just didn’t talk about things. I keep his Bible safe, though, in honor of his service and what he must have suffered.

    Archduke Ferdinand was pretty much a page in a book, though I did have a high school teacher who delved a little deeper with us. He also had lived in Russian for a year, during the Cold War, and brought an interesting perspective to us as teenagers. Is there ever enough time for history? There are some excellent novels out right now, both American and from across the pond, of WWI. One of the local libraries did print up some wonderful bookmark size handouts of novels and books about the time in commemoration of the 100 years.

    Oh, now, look what you’ve done; have me off on an epistolatory tale. As I said, fabulous post.

    1. There really are a lot of good books right now, Penny, I agree. I haven’t ready many, but I’ve taken note and hope to. I would love to have seen those bookmarks. How interesting! It sounds like you had an involved and engaging history teacher! I have memories of one teacher who did his best to engage us! I think it would probably be very unfair of me to blame my ignorance on him. LOL! Such a sad story about your mother’s uncle. I am never interested in studying these wars from the perspective of understanding battle strategies or the military leaders, but it’s the toll on families and society as a whole that really speaks to me. The people stories really draw me in. Thank you for sharing about your uncle, Penny. I’m going to enjoy sharing my own little artifacts. Not quite as personal, but interesting. 🙂

  7. I remember learning that Francis’ wife was also killed in that assassination, but I’ve long been a history geek. Penny bests me with her comment, though.

    In 2007, we visited Luxembourg, Nancy and Strasbourg, and I wished I knew more about WWI. We rode the Maginot Line. The landscape in that part of Europe is pretty incredible. Easy to see why people fought over it for centuries.

    I wish I could see that exhibit. Thanks for sharing it here, and giving me an opportunity.

  8. I think you learn so much more from traveling to other countries than you can pick up in a book, Andra, and you have traveled to some wonderful places. The exhibit was so much more interesting to me because I have spent this year reading about the Great War. I think the reason I have been so caught up in my own ignorance of this time period is because I am such a student of history. How I completely skipped over this period I really don’t know, but I’m making up for lost time! 🙂 I wish you had been here while the posters were on display. I think you’d have enjoyed them very much. I only showed a fraction of them. 🙂

  9. dandyknife

    A good kick-off to the centenary of a sad period of history, Debra. Like you and your other readers, I too got nothing out of the date-memorizing approach to history. The short novel All Quiet On the Western Front might interest you.
    You’ve written of several wake-up moments you’ve had, e.g. learning that WWI was basically a family squabble to which the world was invited. The piece of information I’ve never forgotten — and learned only through helping a friend with a term paper for a course I never took! — is that the whole Modernist movement in the arts, with its bleak and broken outlook, came principally out of the disillusionment and horrors of the First World War.

    1. I really appreciate you comment, Dandy. More “connect the dots” for me to follow! I don’t really know anything about the connection between post war disillusionment and the Modernist movement and I would like to consider more about what that entails. I have seen then movie All Quiet on the Western Front but I never read the book and that indeed might interest me. Thank you for the suggestion. As I have been delving a bit deeper I am finding quite a few areas of interest. I am enjoying the discussion, so thank you so much for adding to it!

  10. What I find so unbelievably sad and depressing is that WW1 started because a group of pugnacious men (politicians) couldnt talk to one another sensibly and satisfied their blood lust through the proxy of generations of young men. Even more sad is the fact that our leaders continue to do this up to the present day.

    1. I really appreciate your comment, Philip. I don’t yet have all the particulars in my new “thimble” but I have been reading quite a bit and I’m beginning to piece together the cast–the “pugnacious men” and can easily draw some direct ties to the present day. I can’t point to a specific moment when this period in history became so interesting to me, but I am very appreciative of perspectives like yours that gives me a toehold with which to continue my exploration. Thank you!

  11. 1914, my mother was born and the world went to war! In 1939 she went overland to Nice on holiday with her sister. Two weeks after she returned home WW11 began! Ireland was a neutral country, so we did not officially enter the war. Many men joined up with the British forces, but on their return, were ostracised for ‘fighting for our arch enemy’ the Brits! They found it difficult to gain employment, not allowed to join the Civil Service (Government Departments) and denied pensions until very recently.

    My husband was English and fought in WW11. He was injured in Burma and carried the injuries for the remainder of his life. His father before him was involved in The Battle of Arras in Northern France in the first world war.

    1. Marie, Thank you so much for such a thoughtful and personal response to my questioning. It would seem that your family has had a great deal of direct affect from multiple wars and I can only imagine how many ways you have been affected by those involvements, too. I am sorry to think that your husband suffered injuries as a result of his time in Burma. It’s the family and personal stories that run deep and reverberate over decades and continue to make “old” wars relevant. I had absolutely no idea that Irish men who fought with the British forces were treated so poorly upon their return. Veterans of the Vietnam War were treated with contempt and disdain in the United States at the end of that conflict. It was an unpopular and very controversial war, with a mandated draft, and upon their return they certainly did not receive a welcome. I am going to do a little research to find a little more information on the Irish troops fighting with Britain. It’s complicated, isn’t it! Thank you, Marie. Wonderful to hear from you!

  12. la_lasciata

    Read Pat Barker’s wonderful WW1 novels – Regeneration, The Eye in the Door and The Ghost Road.
    Read Sebastian Faulks’ wonderful WW1 novels – The Girl at the Lion d’Or, Birdsong and Charlotte Gray.
    Read Robert Graves’ amazing autobiographical Goodbye to All That.
    WW1 was the most obscene war ever fought, Debra, because it was conducted by foolish generals, holed up in safety, sending thousands of young men to their deaths without care or thought.

  13. I really appreciate the reading suggestions and I will make a point of reading them. I am delighted! I a beginning to better understand of just how immoral WWI was, and I appreciate your reinforcement of that fact. I will perhaps understand much more after reading the books you’ve suggested. Thank you!

  14. Like you I have limited knowledge. I know my Grandfather served in WW I and when WW II came about he went to join!!! They refused to let him and he was very saddened by this. I would be interested in learning the stories of the people, not necessarily the politics.

  15. I think that’s rather extraordinary that your grandfather would have been moved to serve a second time! He must have been a very emotionally strong man. I find the politics only as interesting as the personalities that manipulate them. It’s unfortunate that one generation doesn’t seem to learn from the previous, which is, of course, deeply tragic. It does make for good reading, and if I’m ever asked to rule the world, I’ll be so well informed! 🙂

  16. I think it a sign of “out times” that we all know a little of The Great War. Grandpa was a veteran of that War, and Dad a veteran of WWII. I remember sitting and listening to them talk of their experiences. At the same time, there were a few WWI veterans in our neighborhood, one of which had survived a gas attack. All of this sparked an interest in me and, for a time, I did read a little about WWI and the events leading up to it. It may have not been “the war to end all wars” but it sure did change the world forever, including setting up WWII.

  17. I wish I could meet up with you in person because I studied world war I, world war II, the Russians and the Cold War last year 😀 We could discuss all the intricacies behind the stupidity of mankind and war, and it would be awesome! I am so glad you are getting interested in this, history is my favourite subject of all time! Enjoy my friend 😀 and invest yourself completely!

    Choc Chip Uru

  18. It is a big deal in Britain because of the terrible losses we suffered – do you know about the pals battalions? Whole groups of men – friends, pals – from streets and villages and towns joined up together and died together. Every family on some – many – streets lost someone. There was a generation of women who never married because there was no one left to marry. There isn’t a village or town in this country that doesn’t have its own war memorial, paid for by public subscription. Many towns, like my own Stockport, has a memorial in every suburb.

    Listen to the lyrics of this wonderful song, which tells the true story of just one pals battalion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MTpjOfEgPGk&list=RDMTpjOfEgPGk

    More info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pals_battalion

    We also lost a way of life, one of the biggest sea-changes in our social history, when maids and manservants discovered they could earn more and be treated better than was their experience. Women over 30 were given the vote in 1918, without a property clause, because they had proved they could do the work of men. Incidentally, the suffragists felt it was their patriotic duty to support the war effort and suspended political activities for the duration.

    It was probably the last war we went off to to fight as gentlemen; it was almost certainly the last war in which we went into battle on horseback. Part of the reason there is a war poetry canon – almost exclusively made up of poetry from WWI – is because we had a generation of classically educated men experiencing something new and terrible, and they changed the face of poetry. Many of them, as well as many more men of the lower classes joined up expecting it be a jolly exercise, to all be over by Christmas.

    Did you know Wilfred Owen died exactly one week before the end of the war?

    Our nation’s psyche was scarred by the cataclysmic events and irreversible change. The only comparison I can give for the States is Vietnam; and now 9/11. America only joined the war in late 1917, and we had been fighting with dreadful losses for three years by then. We have only recently, in the last few years, paid off our war debt to the States and lost our last known veteran. The Second World War was different in that it was a war which HAD to be fought, to stop fascism; WWI was not a moral imperative in the same way, and thus our loss was harder to accept.

    Here in Britain we have marked the 100 year anniversary in small events and big events. I have given several poetry readings (from the canon, not my own stuff) around the town; attended a candlelit walk; co-organised a successful and very well-attended (I mention that to show how strong we feel about such things) event at my church; and marked it in other ways. Nationally, there have been things such as the magnificent poppy installation at the Tower of London: https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=poppies+tower+of+london&safe=active&espv=2&biw=1280&bih=709&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=kPOJVKTbLeau7AbX6oDQAg&sqi=2&ved=0CAYQ_AUoAQ

    There have also been many excellent programmes on TV, from dramas to documentaries; some of the best TV I’ve ever seen, in fact.

    Well, I hope this goes a little way to explaining how deep the feeling runs in this country and around the Commonwealth – we still had an empire back then and the nations flocked to support us, and their losses were just as great. I can’t speak for the rest of Europe but I asked a friend in Germany about how it was there and she said that not much at all was made of it. Understandable, I suppose, but their losses were heavy too. France and Belgium maintain magnificent war cemeteries, of course, as do other nations. There is a War Graves Commission also. My husband’s uncle is buried in one in Cairo; he died in 1917. We hope to get out there before 2018, even if we only go overnight. He was single and there is no one left but us to remember his sacrifice.

    1. I am so honored that you would take the time to respond with such a detailed and really informative response, Tilly. You have given me many different entry points with which I can focus my reading and research. I am honestly very moved to learn more, and I think that perhaps it has been because over the last three or four years in reading blogs from Britain I have picked up on the fact that this war is not relegated to “ancient history” as it seems to be in the United States. The difference in tone and perspective really shows! I wish we could sit across from one another and share a cup of tea. I would have so many questions for you. 🙂 I am so glad you shared about your husband’s uncle. I think it is so meaningful that you continue to keep his sacrifice a part of your family’s memory! I hope that maybe some day I’ll be able to visit some of those magnificent war memorials, and I’m going to do a little research to see if I can access some of the documentaries and special programs you’ve been enjoying. With a little super-sleuthing I just might be able. THank you again, T. Sharing so personally really means a lot to me!

      1. I found once I started typing, I couldn’t stop! It’s something I feel strongly about, as you have seen 🙂

        In actual fact, that was the longest comment I have ever typed on anyone’s blog, including my own. You hit a nerve 🙂

        If you ever get over here, I’ll take you to the main war memorial here in Stockport – it is rare because it is indoors; and quite lovely. It is inside an art gallery. I go to the Remembrance Day service every year; it is held outside, on the steps, and then the wreaths are taken inside. It is very moving.

        I’ll see if I can find some links to the programmes.

        1. I did know about that Christmas, Truce. But you know, I think I first learned of it watching the movie War Horse–and that was just a couple of years ago! I am really looking forward to reading some of the books that have been recommended!

  19. Nice post Debra. It was not only the US education system that didn’t have a lot to say about WWI – I remember that my ‘English’ history at school seemed to stop at the point where Queen Victoria died 😦

    Sadly, the origins of WWI are far more complex than the assassination of one Austrian Archduke. Much can be laid at the decline of the Ottoman Empire and Russian expansion during the 200 years preceding WWI. The Balkans and Crimea became the places where European powers jostled for influence. There was also the issue of conflicting faiths which brought additional ethnic tensions to the region. With European and other world powers (Japan for example) signing treaties to support each other in their endeavours, it was inevitable that the whole lot would collapse like a house of cards on any event that caused one of those nations involved to declare war on another! So when Austria declared war on Serbia following the assassination the other nations were drawn in almost immediately as treaties were invoked. In the context of WWII there were some strange bedfellows – Britain fought alongside Japan and Italy!

    Moving to our post WWII world it is clear that the underlying tensions of the Balkan region dating back at least 300 years now have not gone away – In 1995 NATO had to get involved in an ongoing war between Serbia and Bosnia which was part of the fallout of the collapse of Communism (and the disintegration of Yugoslavia). And where is the latest hot-spot? Russian expansion in the Crimea! I won’t be surprised to see further conflicts in the region over the years to come. Fortunately the world is a changed place. With a ‘United States of Europe’ in existence, the domino effect of individual nations invoking their treaties with each other and the continent being drawn into another war like WWI is highly unlikely.

    This is only my basic take on the situation as it was and is – and it’s as much an opinion as fact. I think we’ll both need to dig out those history books! The good news is that the UK education system today does acknowledge that there have been two world wars and tends to be much more recent history orientated than it was in my day – My son knows about The Blitz and the evacuation of children from London for example. Oh, and it’s now ‘British’ history (apparently the Scots, Welsh and Irish have played their part too!) 🙂

  20. I remember history being a lesson of fact memorizing…depending on where in the world we learn about history, we will have a different perspective.Unfortunately, I am sure there are so many other facts I could have learned in school that would have made learning a more complete picture if textbooks weren’t edited by people who want the United States to “look” good. I know this twist happens within other countries as well. I agree, there are so many other ways to learn a complete version of history today other than what is provided in the curriculum in schools.

    1. I do think that it’s fairly common, if not really a universal response, that we look back on the education of your youth and realize we could have taken advantage and learned so much more than we did. The truth is that I had next to no curiosity or interest in most history lessons at the time! Visiting the exhibit at the Huntington certainly highlighted to me, however, how little I knew. I will enjoy trying to fill in some of those very large blank spaces. 🙂

  21. There are some potent images in those posters, Debbie! I have a dreadful ‘head in the sand’ attitude to armed warfare. I’ve read some incredibly moving novels with a background in the war and man’s inhumanity to man floors me every time.

    1. I certainly don’t think I could study armed conflict on a regular basis. I wouldn’t want to dwell on the ugliness of it all. But there are some pretty big gaps in my knowledge of the early 20th century that I’m very interested in filling in. Some wonderful blogging comments have pointed me in some good directions. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by, Jo. 🙂

  22. Just by all of the detailed comments Debra you certainly wrote a post of interest to a lot of people. I loved the title and kudos to the library for a brilliant exhibit. My understanding of World War comes mostly through what my parents experienced as teenagers living in Holland during World War II. My father had to go into hiding because the Germans wanted him for their army as a young 14 year old, my mother spent 8 hours a day in bread lines because there was not food, my Grandparents were both put in concentration camps for suspicion of hiding Jews. My Grandmother survived but my Grandfather was put to death in the gas chambers. My parents chose not to talk about that time. Instead they chose to move on and build a new life as a young married couple in Canada. I don’t have a lot of knowledge of the facts and details but I do understand how it can shatter lives and families. Thank you for your detailed and well written post!

    1. Thea, I read your response the other day from my phone, and just wouldn’t allow myself to respond back quickly. It’s taken me a day or so to get to the computer for replies. Your comment just grabbed me. I can’t even imagine what these experiences would do to imprint a family. My dad was about the same age as your father during that war, and of course, safely here in the United States, he went to work in a grocery store (around his school hours) because all the men of a certain age were fighting. He had opportunities!! It moves me to tears to think of your mother and father and what they experienced. And your grandparents! I know these stories could be multiplied in millions, but it is not very often that I have occasion to hear a personal family recollection as you are sharing. Your parents were very strong and resilient to have “moved on” and created a new life for them, and their children, in the shadow of such a terribly painful childhood. I think by the way you are describing the situation, your grandparents, too, must have been amazing people. Well, you took my breath away with your response, Thea. I thank you so much for sharing such a personal story. Some families sacrifice so much for so many, and the rest of us really could benefit from thinking about that–and perhaps being a bit more grateful! oxo

  23. I bet you my thimble is smaller than yours, Debra! But those posters hark back to a time before the Great Depression and of a time when the “Roaring Twenties” burst onto the scene after war’s end… Just like the Baby Boomers and societal explosion after WWII. Uncle Sam has also faded from our sidewalks and windows unfortunately.

    Yes, you are correct in that we entered the war several years later. However, that was the same for us in WWII, I believe. While there were earlier incidents, Hitler invaded Poland in September 1939. Japan was at war largely in Asia from 1937 And FDR had made campaign promises not “to send American boys to foreign wars” so getting into war was not an easy sell.

    Looking forward to seeing your “collection”!

    1. You have such a keen knowledge for the context of the wars, especially WW II, Koji. I have actually learned a lot from reading about your family. It is the “family stories” that capture my heart and make we want to learn more. It is a wonderful time to be able to indulge in really excellent self-study. There are videos and narratives from around the world that share perspectives I might never otherwise hear. I thank you for your contribution to my interest and knowledge base. It means a lot to me.

  24. How interesting to read about the American experience and memories of World War 1, Debra, very different from ours on this side of the Atlantic. Like the Laughing Housewife above, this is something I too feel very strongly about and and am deeply interested in, buying books on the subject regularly. It’s probably because I was very close to my mother’s father, who served in that war and whose younger brother died in it and has no known grave, being commemorated on the Menin Gate at Ypres. I wrote a blog post about him before you and I connected: http://perpetually-in-transit.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/they-shall-grow-not-old.html I also had several great-uncles on my mothers side of the family who served in the war and survived, so knowledge of it was an integral part of my childhood and youth.

    PS As it happens I was born and brought up only a few miles from Accrington and often heard about the Accrington Pals and other pals regiments.

    1. I have been really asking questions in my reading about why the American response was so delayed. It was a very unpopular decision to enter the war at all and so I have a lot of context to yet fill in. I find the casualty numbers simply staggering! Your own family was very affected, clearly, and multiplied by how many thousands of families, it makes sense to me that the Great War is not a minor footnote in British history! I look forward to reading the post about your great uncle and I would say if any of the books you’ve read are particular stand outs, I’m compiling quite a list and very eager to continue reading. I think you and Tilly are gong to be my “go to” experts when I need some background. 🙂 Thank you for your very personal response. It really touches me to think of the stories you must have heard growing up!

      1. Debra, there’s a BBC article from 3 years ago which gives you another insight into why WW1 is still so deeply embedded in the British psyche. Of the thousands of towns and villages in the UK only 52 didn’t lose a single inhabitant in that war and only 14 didn’t lose anyone in both world wars! The war memorial is a ubiquitous sight over here.


        1. Thank you for the links and stories. To a few people who questioned “focusing” on such a sad subject, my reply had been that I really can’t synthesize military strategies and don’t care to really study political motivations, but it is the personal stories, the losses within families and the way lives are changed forever that moves me to know more. Your links address that for me, too, so thank you!!

  25. Dear Debra, thank you for this posting. I have a doctor’s appt. today and so don’t have time to read all the comments but I hope to get back to them this evening, especially those from England. For whatever reason, I have done quite a bit of reading of historical books on World War I. In fact, I have maybe 20 books in my own library here in this room where I type. Even an atlas of the war and its battles. But I’ve also read a number of novels about the war. I’m thinking that these would truly bring home to anyone the human suffering and loss of this war. Here are some authors who have written series about the war and its aftermath: Anne Perry, Jacqueline Winspear, Rennie Airth, and Charles Todd. I’d suggest that if you do decide to read any or all of these authors, you begin with the first book in their series. Peace.

  26. it is sad that we know so little, and our children know even less. Thanks for reminding us just how fortunate we are not to have first hand knowledge, yet encouraging us to learn more.

I always enjoy hearing from you!

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