When I started work on The Spider and the Sparrow, I began a ton of research about World War One. I enjoyed learning new things and gained a better understanding of what the people who lived through that time endured. But most of the people I read about were from not only a distant time but also a distant place. Some of their memoirs tugged at my heartstrings, but I didn’t have a personal connection to them beyond what I read.
In July 2015 one of my grandmothers passed away. She was ninety-one and eager to be reunited with my grandpa who died a few years earlier than she. I miss her, but I’m confident she’s much happier now. While I and several extended family members were visiting for the memorial service, we went through a few of my grandparents’ things and found pictures of both my grandma’s and my grandpa’s fathers. They were both in WWI Marine uniforms. I had a closer WWI connection than I thought.
The US officially entered WWI in April 1917. But 100 years ago, the US was hardly a military power. It took a long time for the US to recruit, train, and ship an army to Europe. In fact, we had to rely extensively on the British and French to help transport our men overseas and equip them for war. Few US troops were involved in battles prior to the last year of the war, 1918.
During the war, about half of the men in the US armed forces went overseas. Half remained in the US. That was partially a result of difficulties with transportation, and partially a result of how rapidly the German army crumbled at the end of 1918. With my great-grandfathers, one went overseas and one stayed in the US.
When he was fifteen, my grandpa’s grandpa (my great-great-grandfather) was killed while in the line of duty as a sheriff. My great-grandfather had to quit school to help support the family. A few years later, he joined the US Marine Corps and served on Parris Island during World War One.
My grandma’s dad went to France. Since he was good with animals, he was in charge of a mule team that brought supplies to the trenches. He left France and sailed home in the spring of 1919. Pictured is a postcard he wrote to the girl he married in the fall of 1919. My first name is her middle name, so I’ve always felt a special connection to her, even though she died when I was an infant.
Their service in WWI wasn’t a family secret—it was simply a story I hadn’t heard. After researching the time period for a novel, I was better able to appreciate it.
This post is probably better suited for Memorial Day than for Veteran’s Day, but November 11th has a special connection with WWI, so I posted it today instead.
Thank you to all our veterans, both those still living, those who gave their lives in the service of their country, and those who, like my great-grandfathers, served when they were needed and then returned to their normal, everyday lives.