From the Editor’s Desk
Over the past few years I have been researching my family history; perhaps some of you might have embarked on the same quest. As anyone who has ventured along the genealogical trail will tell you, it is one of those addictive pastimes — a never- ending journey that brings surprises, intrigue and frustration in equal measure. Little did our ancestors know how we would scrutinise the official records of their lives as we trawl, and attempt to decipher, censuses, certificates and registers. It is like being a detective seeking vital evidence to solve a case; you have to weigh up people’s motives, there is the occasional red herring, but your efforts will be rewarded.
What I love about family history is that we can connect with the past in the most personal, powerful and emotional way possible. History comes vividly to life. Making a link with a name on a centuries- old document or identifying a previously unknown relative in a sepia photograph is a moment of triumph. That person immediately becomes part of you, and is someone who you care about deeply. Joy can sometimes turn to sadness, though, as you discover your ancestors’ circumstances and their destinies. Fatalities in wars or from illnesses that have now been eradicated are particularly poignant, while seeing the word “workhouse” fills you with dread. Climbing higher up your family tree, you inevitably contrast the lives of previous generations with your own. There is no comparison, and when you consider the advances in welfare and medicine you realise how fortunate we are.
Looking at the past gives us a valuable perspective for the present and the future. We gain a real appreciation of our ancestors’ legacy and how they successively shaped our world. From labourers to landed gentry, all walks of life have worked, campaigned and fought for what we have today. Finding your connections to salient events and chapters of history is fascinating as you see how each family’s story is woven into the tapestry of time. Throughout this year, the sacrifices, struggles and significant achievements
of past generations will be acknowledged with three notable centenaries: the end of the First World War; the creation of the Royal Air Force; and the first parliamentary votes for women.
The signing of the Armistice, on 11th November 1918, ended one of the most brutal wars the world has known. Yet, even with the solace of peace, life would never be the same again — for the survivors, bereaved families and loved ones. Those who returned home had to rebuild their lives after witnessing unimaginable destruction, loss and suffering. Like many others, my grandfather lied about his age when he volunteered to serve King and Country. Thankfully, he survived, but I often wonder about the painful, unspoken memories that must have haunted him.
Family ties and historical research are the foundations of our knowledge of the conflict. Personal recollections, documents, artefacts and photographs, together with the work of war poets, correspondents and artists, bring it sharply into focus. We can now see the seismic impact of those four traumatic years. It was a time of immense change that echoed through subsequent decades. Although the war evokes harrowing images of trench warfare, with soldiers and horses amid mud and ravaged landscapes, this was the first conflict involving tanks and aircraft. Warfare was changing as the Royal Naval Air Service and Royal Flying Corps carried out reconnaissance, bombing and fighter missions. In April 1918 these merged to create the Royal Air Force, which would serve and safeguard the country so bravely in the future.
Changes on the front line were reflected by those taking place on the home front. Many women had answered the call to fill the wartime labour shortage by undertaking jobs that, traditionally, were only open to men. According to estimates, more than a million women were employed in work including munitions, transport and agriculture, or volunteered for nursing and the services. On the outbreak of the conflict, women’s suffrage groups suspended militant action, but continued to campaign peacefully. They actively encouraged women’s recruitment to the workforce to help the war effort. This provided women with new opportunities, increased public awareness of their capabilities and furthered their advancing cause to win the vote. Eventually, on 6th February 1918, the Representation of the People Act, gave women householders over the age of 30, and all men above 21, the right to vote. Later that year, women could stand for election as MPs and, in 1928, they would finally gain equal voting rights with men.
All these centenaries will highlight the courage, tenacity and resilience of our ancestors. They were the ordinary — and extraordinary — men and women whose selfless actions gave freedom, a vote and a voice to future generations. It is our duty to never forget.