A collection of shared stories of personal connections to the Great War.
shared by Maggie Saunders
My granddad George was 18 when he was sent to the front in 1914.
He was in the Royal Engineers. He was part of the team who dug the trenches and buried the dead. He was wounded twice and sent back to the front twice, which meant that he served the full 4 years of WW1.
He never spoke about what happened to him but I do know he was a difficult man and his relationship with my grandma Ann was hard for her. He hit her.
When my dad became a priest George had a revelation and asked to be confirmed and the last years of his life were much more peaceful. I loved my granddad because he was a brilliant gardener and smoked rollies and I sat on his knee while he did it. I remember his cigarette machine. He was gentle and kind to me.
Joseph Percival Kitchen
Cyanotope by Wendy Catling
Joseph Percival Kitchen (Percy) was born 26th Dec 1894 in St Ives, Cornwall into a family of farmers. Hard working from a young age, he was known for being “a hale fellow, well met” and for his lovely singing voice. At the age of 20 and at the start of WW1 he joined the army. He fought in Northern France until the end of the war. During his service he received a commission but returned it in disgust at the attitudes of his fellow officers and because he preferred to fight alongside his mates.
Dad’s older brother, Archie also fought in The Great War. He was shot in the head in Jerusalem and left for dead but miraculously survived with the bullet in his head for the remainder of his life.
As a result of the family farm being inherited by his older brother, in 1928 my father migrated to New Zealand with my mother, his new bride Mary Annie Dodd from Bromsgrove (the birth place of A. E. Houseman). They leased a large area of land and started farming near Gore in the South Island. Three daughters were born. I was the middle child born in 1930. When I was a young girl I spent much of my time helping with the farm work and enjoyed the company of my dad.
He rarely spoke of his wartime experiences; the many years of living in terrible conditions and fighting from the trenches in France near the Belgian border.
There was one story that he did tell me. It was about the day when he and his fellow soldiers were finally being demobilised. Unlike the Australian men who, he said, were given money and new uniforms, the English men were simply put onto public transport straight from the trenches. We can understand what kind of physical and mental state they were in after all the many months of miserable conditions because we see so much of it on television nowadays. But back then people had no idea what the servicemen had been through. As he travelled back a woman on the train scolded her children for approaching him and told them to stay away from “those smelly soldiers”. Dad spoke of his bitterness at being treated this way after enduring so much hardship for the sake of his country.
I do not know which regiment he served with. Any records, medals or uniform items he may once have owned he destroyed. My dad always had a high regard for the efforts of the Salvation Army on the front line, delivering food and other necessities at great personal risk. He donated to them regularly until he died at the age of 78 in 1972.
Pamela Mary Catling (nee Kitchen)
Heathmont, Australia, March 2015