Both my grandfathers fought in WW1 - and both survived. They had very different experiences: one had already joined the army at the age of 14 (his rank being the then usual 'Boy') and was part of the original British Expeditionary Force to France, in August 1914. He was 16 years old.
My other Grandpa volunteered after hostilities had been declared - but not until the age of 18, the minimum age for wartime conscription.
In those two short paragraphs lie a host of untold stories. For nearly a century we have heard again and again how young men and boys lied about their age in order to 'join up' - declaring they were indeed 18 when they were really only 17, 16 or even 15 years old. One of my great uncles told that same lie - but, like so many, he didn't survive the war.
It's perhaps easier to understand some of what led to those lies knowing that, only a few months earlier, they could already have been in the forces at those younger ages.
Neither of my Grandpas spoke much about the war: one made a point of avoiding the British Legion and the Remembrance services, saying he didn't need reminding of the large number of friends he lost. He did tell, though, how their commanding officer - fresh from public school and with no military know-how - was shot in the back by one of his own men. I doubt his was the only story of its type.
Some of the other Grandpa's wartime diaries survived - and what's most striking in those are the repeated entries of 'Nothing doing'. Nothing happened - not for days, and sometimes weeks, on end. No action, no reaction - just the constant tension of waiting for something that didn't come.
Next year - 2014 - is the centenary of the outbreak of that War - the Great War. There will be many events, services, exhibitions in the UK - all telling and re-telling the stories of what happened.
We tell stories about ourselves our whole lives, trying to make sense of what we've experienced so we can say who we are. I've been listening to stories told to me by people older than myself for as long as I can remember. I'll be sharing some of these in this blog: The Stories I've Heard .... and The Lessons I've Learned. Enjoy.