A bit of family research by a cousin indicates my grandfather, George Childs Noonan, Sr, was being held as a POW by the Germans when World War One ended. He was involved in the Battle of the St Quentin Canal at the end of September, 1918, and he and his unit were captured after an epic stand against odds when they got cut off from their main body. My family was well represented in the War, with one grand uncle flying with the RAF and the rest in various American military units.
The War, when not simply forgotten, has a reputation of being nothing but a waste. But, it wasn’t. It was a war that had to be fought – the world couldn’t allow Imperial Germany to carry out its program of using unlimited military force to secure national ends. It is true enough that the Kaiser wasn’t nearly as evil as what came after him, but he was setting in train evil, and it had to be stopped.
And stopped it was. Though at a cost so high, as Churchill pointed out, that victory was indistinguishable from defeat. That is the real tragedy of the war – that the sides were so evenly balanced in power and military skill that no one could ever gain a decisive advantage until technological advances in 1918 made it possible for the superior mass of the Allies to just overwhelm the Germans with brute force.
No great Captains emerged from the war – no Rommel or Patton or MacArthur (though all three fought in the war). There was no spectacular victory on the field to fire the imagination. Just an intense, six weeks shock at the start of the war and then four very long years of grinding away at each other until one side quit.
It is worthwhile remembering them. They were very brave soldiers, on each side. They stuck it out in horrible conditions, year after year, and hardly a murmur of complaint arose. They were men, and they did their duty. And, now, 100 years later, that is all that really matters.