My very first blog back in 2010 was regarding the last living veteran of WWI. He has now past away. However, my focus has once again returned to this "War to end all Wars." I am current reading "Last Post: The Final Word from our First World War Soldiers" by Max Arthur. Max is an Englishman who interviewed 21 British World War I veterans still alive in 2004. At the time of the interviews, these men were aged 104-109. Max did a good job capturing their memories of that long-ago struggle. I am also viewing a documentary entitled "The Last Voices of WWI" that interviewed vets from 1998 to 2001.
These veterans served in the infantry, the RFC (air force) or Royal Navy. The accounts of life in the trenches by the 'Poor Bloody Infantry' are challenging to comprehend. The mud, lice, stench, the filth and the times of boredom were mixed with death from artillery shells, snipers, nighttime scouting patrols and possible attach by either side. One vet commented that during the 3 years he was at the front, he bathed only twice. That is just not comprehensible to us today. Another commented that he did not have lice, "the lice had him". He said he could somehow tolerate the constant shelling, the continual threat (and sometimes reality) of the poisonous gas, the mud, the overwhelming odor of rotting horses and sometimes bodies from "no man's land" etc., but the lice nearly drove him mad.
A third vet said he never stopped thinking about (at 106 years old) his brother who was at his side when they "went over the top" in an attach against the German lines. He saw his brother fall but could not stop to help him. He found out at the end of the day that his brother had been killed. "It broke my heart when he died. I would have liked to die with him, but I didn't and here I am today."
In the documentary, one of the vets started to tell about how shrapnel from one artillery shell killed 3 of his friends. As he spoke, this 105 year old man broke down and said he never before was able to talk about that dreadful day in his life.
In reading and listening to these accounts, I am humbled by their sacrifice and greatly admire these old soldiers. Here we are almost 100 years later, and life is so very good for most of us here in the U.S. This is in part a result of what these brave young men were willing to endure to maintain freedom and restore peace, albeit temporarily, within the world that they lived. As I reflect on the almost 120,000 U.S. soldiers that died in WWI, I cannot help but feel that all in all, little has changed here on earth when it comes to mankind's inability to live peacefully with each other. War continues, and men continue to kill each other. Several of the interviewees commented on that fact and made statements as to how useless war really is. Although I love to study history and the wars that raged, I have to agree with them.