Last Monday marked the 100th anniversary of the start of Britain’s involvement in World War I, with lights-out events around the UK uniting the nation in memory and gratitude to those who fought and lost their lives in the Great War.
The Imperial War Museum has begun collecting the life stories for more than eight million men and women, stories that piece together in unprecedented detail the dark accounts of struggle and bravery of those who served in uniform and worked on the home front. Whether it survives in a letter or diary, photo or archive…each wartime individual has their own personal story to tell. By the end of the centenary, the museum will have built a permanent digital memorial that will preserve these stories for future generations, forever.
Of course, amongst these tales emerge powerful love stories – glimmers of light and hope amongst the death and destruction of war. Often forgotten for decades, buried in cavernous attics or hidden away in carefully locked chests, love letters were discovered that tell of star-crossed romances that blossomed despite the conspiring fates.
It’s easy to forget in our modern age of smart phones and video calls that this technology just wasn’t available. If they say a picture is worth a thousand words, that’s a lot of love letters needing to be written…but perhaps that’s what made these wartime romances so poignant, so intense and so bittersweet. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, but when it isn’t just distance that separates a love but conflict, every interaction is so much more meaningful. The survival of love isn’t simply down to the individuals anymore, it’s taken out of their control and every moment shared becomes that much sweeter. It’s a love that many of us will never truly understand, and should hope we never have to.
In Never Forget Me (August 2014), a compilation of short stories by Marguerite Kaye, three couples find a love that is powerful enough to overcome all the odds, as war blazes across Europe. Set in 1914, A Kiss Goodbye tells of genteel Flora who, as war looms, yearns to be more than just an observer. She finds a revolutionary spirit in soldier Geraint – but will their love be crushed before it can start to bloom? In Dearest Sylvie, set in 1916, soldier Robbie cannot forget his one hedonistic night in Paris with beautiful waitress Sylvie. But as Europe burns, can these two lovers ever be reunited? Then in Forever with Me, set in 1918, Nurse Sheila discovers that her new colleague is the French surgeon she woke beside after Armistice Day. Fighting for their love will be the bravest thing she’s ever had to do…
Our life as we know it is owed to these men and women of the Great War, and often our very existence to a love that survived against all odds. Yet, as the sea of blood-red poppies spills from the Tower of London this summer, we must remember those who were not so lucky – those who lost their lives in defence of our country. The stories of these men and women will live on, in fact or in fiction, and we will remember them.
We’d love to know the love stories that shaped your own families during World War I, do get in touch on Twitter or on Facebook…!