From the Edi­tor’s Desk

Evergreen - - Contents - An­ge­line Wil­cox

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.

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