"..a bardy view!"

1914 – 2014

Great-warpicWhen I review my childhood I consider myself rather blessed.

It was spent throughout the 1960s. I began the decade aged four and ended it in 1969 as I turned a teen.

Things like the dawn of the Beatles, the JFK assassination, England winning the World Cup and the first moon landing are all fresh in my mind and I was old enough to comprehend what was going on.

But the reason I'm thinking about it now is because 2014 marks the centenary of the start of World War I. 

When I was growing up in those remarkable years I was surrounded by people who fought in that war – as well as many more who fought in the next one. 

My father and grandfathers, my uncles, great uncles and there friends all played a prominent part in my life. My paternal grandmother's brother – my Great Uncle George was one of the first flying medics, part of the Royal Flying Corp before it became the RAF in 1918, jumping out of bi-planes to administer aid to the fallen and injured soldier lying on the fields of France. 

Both his brothers died in that war. He lived to a good age, past 90, and always dressed immaculately, standing tall, and took particular attention to his shoes. He was delighted to meet my future wife in 1979, and she recalls vividly his home – very Victorian, quiet and peaceful with just the sound of a grandfather clock ticking rhythmically in the background. He had a signed photograph on his bureau of which interested her.

I knew who it was, because I had seen it there from my earliest memory – it was Greer GarsonGreer Garson. I never discovered when or how he met her, I never asked, and he never said. Men of dignity and self-repose brought up in late Victorian and early Edwardian times didn't have to talk about themselves or their experiences – they were a different breed, the likes of which are long gone. 
In the sixties there were still many veterans of the Great War still alive. An eighteen year old in 1914 would only have been 69 in 1965. But I recall much older men than that, and they commanded respect. That war is now history – there is no one alive today who fought in it. 

Likewise I remember much younger men who fought in WWII – my own father and his brothers for example. I was in awe with one particular man who was a friend of the family. John Morgan. A bomber pilot who was shot down and suffered severe injury in 1944. He had a metal plate fitted in his head which had a tendency to effect his thinking occasionally. Often he would be erudite and charming, exquisitely groomed, with silver grey hair, sporting a pencil moustache in the style of David Niven, and every night he would sit in the Cavalier Club, with his pint of beer, smoking a cigarette with all the style of a Hollywood film star. Often, when I was old enough to get in the club, I would join his company with my uncle and be enthralled in his company. Not because he told tales of the war, but because he was such an intelligent decent human being. Sadly, the metal plate eventually took it's toll, and he finally lost his senses. He died in 1975.

Likewise, another friend of the family – Ted Johnson, was an RAF navigator who was shot down but escaped twice from German prison camps, only to be captured and re incarcerated. Highly well read, highly educated and very, very entertaining. He used to give me great words of advice, and was always interested how I was getting on at school, and as I got older, would give me books to read and talk about the international political situation of the time – he's dead now, but I remember very well him telling me back in 1970 that the likelihood of conflict in the 21st Century will not be with the Soviet Union, but involve China and the US.

I could go on – with scores of others. A first uncle who was a tank commander fighting Rommel in Tobruk. My own father and his two brothers who were Royal Engineers that spent most of their time during WWII blowing up bridges in various places in occupied Europe. My maternal grandfather, a navy man who was in action at the horrific Battle of Jutland in 1916 and was offered promotion, but declined because he didn't want to give orders to his mates. I remember him very well, sitting beside an open fire, with his rack of pipes on the wall, choosing which one he would puff, taking a tapir to the embers to light his aromatic tobacco, and then slowly recline in his armchair, lost in thought and content. When he finally became bedridden around 1966, I would play dominoes with him. He looked forward to those visits. He also taught me great card tricks, which I would often show to my own children twenty years later.

Is this a nostalgia trip? The point is that we, the baby boomers, those born between 1945 and 1965 have been very fortunate. We avoided the wars, we were surrounded by those who were in them, and they influenced us in so many ways. We benefited from increased prosperity, and we didn't experience the social hardships of the previous generations. Yet we have lost so much. We are not babies anymore, and indeed, the babies are Grandparents now.

It's understandable that there was a social reaction in the sixties. The young movers and shakers like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, et al and their peers rejected the old order, saw the opportunity, realised that the future was for the young, and they took it, played it and set the foundations. Young people embraced the new freedoms, cast off their father's hand-me-down suits, and created the world today. In the sixties, everyone wanted to forget about war, forget about austerity and rationing – they were the new generation.

Today we commemorate but do not celebrate World War I. We look at the outrageous loss of life, the millions who suffered and died and how those events changed the world for good or ill. We can analyse the cause, condemn the politicians, abhor the kings and kaisers, because it is history. What matters is that a whole generation was lost. Young men in their prime were slaughtered in the prime of youth. We haven't honoured them enough. Now is the time to do so.

We, those baby boomers who knew them, but didn't value them, have a duty and responsibility to keep their memory and shout about them. We are the only ones left who lived with them and can remember them. So in this centenary year – lets really shout from the rafters and make sure that they will never be forgotten. We owe it to them, and it may well be our last chance to do so.


January 15, 2014 - Posted by | Culture, Current Affairs, Education, Europe, Events, General, History, The Beatles, United Kingdom, World War I | , , , , , , ,


  1. Thank you for sharing this inspiring tribute, and your friendly reminder that it is our responsibility, as baby boomers, to never forget our elders.


    Comment by charlino | January 15, 2014 | Reply

  2. Thanks Charlino – your comment is most welcome and appreciated.


    Comment by Bar De Ness | January 16, 2014 | Reply

  3. Well done Bar and a fitting tribute to the greatest generation and those before them that stood united for the cause of freedom. The losses were staggering and yes senseless… yet in that time they were viewed through a different looking glass and much like the Light Brigade. War is hell, yet sometimes necessary as there is little doubt that we would be speaking German, Japanese, Russian or Chinese had we not had the supremely united mobilization and actions of both US and allied military and civilians toward the common cause of freedom in WWII… and we must continue to honor them and never forget it was their blood and service that allowed us to grow up in comparative peace and prosperity. God Bless them all!


    Comment by John Sitton | January 16, 2014 | Reply

  4. Thanks John for your valued comment.


    Comment by Bar De Ness | January 16, 2014 | Reply

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