They say it takes two generations for the emotional connections of war to dissipate; mine is the last generation who heard the stories of WWI directly from those who lived through those times. Stephen and I were both privileged to hear the personal war stories of our Elders; the privations that our families endured during both world wars shaped their lives and continues to reverberate in our own. Whilst the stories that our elders shared were woven in places unfamiliar, within the intimacy of family conversation they became real, imagination filling in the silent moments of frozen stoicism. Those stories formed the skeleton of my identity and gave me a firm foundation which grounds and guides me.
In the image above, my Belgian grandfather Florimond Coucke stands second from the right with some of his regiment. Florimond- which means “flower of the world”- was emotionally and physically shattered defending his homeland. Indeed half the Belgium army was decimated in the first year of that Great and terrible war.
Ypres, Passchendaele and the Somme are place names that populate a familiar narrative; the cruelty of poisonous gas warfare, of catastrophic shelling, the deaths of his brother and many of his comrades, a winter of horror in the trenches; stories of mud and of hunger and of the stench of death. Stories also of the crazy Aussies who would leap from the trenches, bayonets at the ready.
Florimond was astonished that the ANZACS were prepared to give their lives in a war so far from their own golden land. He later married an expat Australian musician living in Paris and migrated here after WWII, with their daughter – my mother Cecilia.
And here I am…mother and auntie to another younger generation, sharing the stories that I grew up with, stories that are the seeds from which “Lives on The Line” has grown.
Images included here are from a personal album of photos and postcards collected by Florimond during WWI.