In many countries, the eleventh of November is remembered as Veterans’ Day, the day honoring military veterans of all conflicts. However, many hold it as a day of remembrance and not a public holiday. A century ago, this was the day the Allies and Germany signed the armistice ending World War I. The Armistice went into effect during the 11th hour, of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. The Treaty of Versailles signed in 1919 formally ended hostilities.
What do you hold as the most valuable “thing” in your life? More to the point, what is worth risking the exchange of your life or health: Ideas? Reputation? Property? Human rights and dignity? The lives of your loved ones? Man has been fighting and dying for millennia over territory, religion, and to fight for, or to prevent someone else’s desire for power and conquest. In the last century, the world went to war to prevent genocide, to oppose totalitarian rule, and to secure ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ – ideals enshrined in America. When a continent is plunged into war as Europe was, in 1914, by the war machine of the Kaiser, or in 1939, when Hitler’s Germany annexed its neighbors and started to systematically enslave and exterminate people, alliances called up armies. For the last eighteen years, the premeditated attack upon civilians against the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the fear generated by using commercial aircraft and hostage passengers as weapons motivated several nations to rise against them. Sadly, military men and women, ours and the nationals being trained still bleed and die in ‘suicide bombings’ by agents secreted among them in Afghanistan and elsewhere. For a century and more, the attack upon civilians, whether the sinking of passenger liners by Germany in the First War, or civilian and military targets at Pearl Harbor in 1941 or on 9/11 propelled our nation to defend our citizens and the right to freely travel and trade abroad.
On Veterans’ Day, we remember those who sacrificed their future for ours. Many of those who recognize and remember loved ones particularly on this day have stories to tell. And as far as I have learned about my forebears, in almost every generation I have so far traced, a young man – or in the last half-century, woman relative – has served as a soldier, sailor, or marine. A hundred and some years ago, the War to End all Wars, World War I, was raging in Europe. And one of my distant relatives, a young man in his late teens, gave his life in a bloody battlefield in Belgium.
Edwin Blow Kertland, was the nephew of his namesake, one of the Blow family in what is now Northern Ireland. The Blow family whom I trace one branch of my maternal ancestry, for nearly three hundred years had been merchants and businessmen. In Britain, for hundreds of years, the gentry passed property down from eldest son to eldest son. The younger sons were apprenticed to learn a trade and make their fortunes, some went into ministry, and others into the army or went to sea as crewmen on merchant ships.
Edwin Kertland went into military school and earned a commission in the second decade of the Twentieth Century. An assassination and political alliances plunged the world into war the resulting scale of carnage – in toll of lives – still sets a painful bar. Nearly seventeen million people, ten million military and seven million civilians died, and another twenty million were gravely injured as a result of the conflict. The war pitted men serving the Kaiser and their allies against other Europeans, the British Empire and Americans. Poison gas, mechanized artillery (tanks), aerial bombardment (aircraft), trench warfare, and other weapons technology changed the efficacy with which men can harm each other. Along with millions of youthful Britons, Frenchmen. Americans, Russians, Germans and their allies, the horror of war killed him. He was nineteen.
To the cynic there is no solution to the periodic hatreds that flare between people, and prudently, they prepare, train, and arm themselves to protect home and homeland. And there will be those who are willing to put on the uniform of their nation to defend against tyranny, or more personally, to defend their comrades fighting alongside them in the trenches.