The Moment of Silence - Whom Do We Remember


REMEMBRANCE DAY 2012

My grandmother was a great woman.  Born, Lillian Groombridge in Ramsgate, England in the winter of 1906.  The onset of the Great War in the not so distant future was not felt yet.  She was the youngest of 6 children to her mother Martha and father Thomas.  Her father Thomas Groombridge worked hard in the shipyard in the Ramsgate Harbour.  At that time, Ramsgate was a small but beautiful town with a good port, located downtown.  Above the marina, there was  a chandelery, a sail loft, several marine shops and the Royal Temple Yacht club.  

Lillian loved to swim in the harbour, she told me.  I knew she must have many stories to tell about World War I, and before she passed on, I was able to document everything into a story about her life.  I can't share it all with you now, but in honour of Remembrance Day, I will share with you some of her memories leading up to Armistice 1918.

Lillian was 8 years old when she recalls a family friend coming over to have breakfast with her father.  She never understood at the time what conversation had transpired but the year was 1914, and Oscar had with him a newspaper that brought some bad news to her otherwise jovial father.  It was the first time her father had asked her to leave the table before she was finished eating.  (The Daily Mail and the Times report the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand..)

My grandmother had told me that within weeks there were so many changes in all of their lives, and those changes would only get worse over the next several years.  

Within weeks of the assassination, Austrian authorities arrest and interrogate three members of the 'Black Hand' in Sarajevo.  It was discovered that three members of Serbia were behind the whole plot to have Franz Ferdinand killed.  Germany announces full support with Austro-Hungary if they wish to take reprisals against Serbia.  But Austro-Hungary decide that they will take it one step further, and made 15 demands on the Serbian Government to which Serbia refused saying it would be against their Constitution, and criminal in law.  So Serbia reaches out for Russia for help and Russia agreed.  Austro-Hungary declared war on Serbia.  Russia mobilizes its forces supporting Serbia, and Germany then declared war on Russia.  This is how it all began...

My grandmother recalls: (taken from the excerpts of my book,"Lillian")



(The sunshine reflected on the corner of the kitchen cabinet, bouncing light onto the small table from where Martha and Thomas were in a somber discussion.  The year is 1917 and the war escalates worldwide)


THOMAS

"This is serious, Martha.  Very very bad.  The children will be told – tonight when I come home from work.   And no swimming, period!  They aren’t allowed to cross the fence by the beach.  Lillian’s been asking me lately, to come down to the Harbour and I can't allow that, you know.  It isn’t even safe there any more.  We’ve been given instruction in case of an air raid.  Well, I’ve got to go."(raises from the chair and kisses her head)

MARTHA
"I don't see how the war between Germany and Russia will affect us here!  I can't understand all of this.  I am  sure that England won’t get involved.  Surely this won’t affect us here"

THOMAS (buttoning his work shirt)
The Germans declared war on France, and Sir Grey, Britain's foreign secretary, warned Germany that Britain would go to war if Belgium is invaded...
---

She told me she was only 6 years old, when one of her teachers had taught her how to swim.  From that day on, she remembers swimming each and every day, during windstorms and even rainfalls.  But the rusted out 'Danger' sign and the barbed fence had kept her away but sometimes she defied the rules and went into the waters anyways but not without punishment.  On this very warm day in July of 1917, when Lilly was 11 she had set out to the beach without telling anyone.  Her father's pleasant countenance had long been gone replacing it with a bitter and scowling man.  As she left the house, her father had yelled for her to once more to stay off the beach.  Then it happened:



Suddenly it came..that crushing, horrifying sound of the air raid siren blasted throughout the house

These are the times when a mother cannot dare speak to her children.  When she cannot show her real self.   When she needs to be stronger than she is.  For to give yourself truly to them would frighten them, perhaps even more than her own fear.  War is something that Martha was unprepared for.  Something all of us are never prepared for.  The uncertainty of what she felt, wanting to lock herself and her family in a world of protective love, never to let them out of her sight, until peace upon the earth once again.  


(Martha insipidly holding a tea towel looking out the window)  The children all huddle in the center of the parlor room, looking to her for answers)when suddenly she realized Lillian was missing..

She was in the water of the Ramsgate Harbor when the overhead planes had flown.  The air raid sirens could be heard in the distance and grew louder and louder as she came up from under the waters depth.  She saw streams of bullets land across the water making a sound like, "pa-choo-choo" that she recalls.  She saw men land to their knees and fall forward and others screaming in pain holding wounds.  Shocked and afraid, she lowered herself under the water and wished it all away, swimming quietly away..

For months to follow, Lillian and her family were sensitive to every crack, sound and siren and took cover and shelter at school, on the streets and at home. In the end, everyone in her family was spared, but she had already lost friends, neighbours and teachers at such a young age.  

Final piece taken from my book, "Lillian" 


-         ACT III – Scene I

Fall/Winter – 1918 - Armistice
   

Armistice was called on the German government for a cease-fire on 4th October, 1918. After talks had taken place, the Armistice was signed at Compiegne in  France, on 11th November, 1918. Once signed, it was agreed that there would be a Peace Conference that would be held in Paris to discuss the post-war world. From January 12, 1919 to January 20, 1920, leaders representing 75% of the worlds population attended meetings in various locations in and around Paris. Life was finally becoming whole again.  

It was up to all of them to pick up the pieces now.  The war was finally over.

  


As for my grandmother? She went on to live through two world wars.  She raised 5 children of her own and died at a young age of 94.  There are a great many stories about the Great War that we will hear that will be told.  Its up to us to listen and pass them on and on this day to say We remember.

Good night grandma, where ever you are, I remember.