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Two Grandfathers - and their brothers

By jonathanruffle, Aug 13 2013 11:07AM

Following on from the blog I wrote about my three WW1 grandfathers, it occurred to me that the genesis of TOMMIES lies in just one family anecdote.


My grandfather Horace was about to go over the top, or so the story goes. A little further up the line, his brother Percy had just completed his job: shelling the Germans prior to the attack. Realising that this might be - very probably was - the last time he would see his brother alive, he got on a horse and galloped down the line to see Horace one more time. This they did. We can only guess what such a brief and possible final reunion may have been like.


Horace survived the attack. Percy got into trouble for leaving his gun, and was given Number 1 Field Punishment.


So that’s a dramatic story all right. But what interested me was the idea that you would know where people were on the Western Front (indeed they visited each other often, it transpired). Before I started to think it through I imagined the front line as just a soup of indistinguishable mud and unidentifiable locations, year after year after year.


But this story made me go - Of Course! Of course you’d listen out for the names of your neighbouring units. Of course you’d go visiting when out of the line. Over time, finding the quickest way to see people would become second nature.


And it was that realisation that made me see the wood for the trees, or in this case the pimply 18 year old and his elder brother in the mass of khaki. And all of TOMMIES’ joy in the human, ground-level detail probably springs from that moment.


To cap it, and I’ll scan it in if possible, my grandfather James on my mother’s side has a photo in his album of pictures shot covertly in Palestine. It’s of him and his brother Jack after the Third Battle of Gaza.


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