Bravery? I once asked my dad, bottom right on the photo and on his marriage day with mum top right, if he did not think of being a conscience objector. He said there were a few soldiers that had such ideas, but he was not one of them. It had nothing to do with bravery to be a soldier. He said he got his marching orders and so he joined in with the others. Refusing would have been more complicated he found and many were even imprisoned for their beliefs.
And so dad assembled with the others and was transported to the highlands of Scotland for his first training as a soldier. Even that was going abroad as he had never been to Scotland and he said he did not understand a word they spoke. Eventually he was sent to Italy and took part in the landings at Salerno, where they arrived on the beaches in an amphibious craft. Then he had his first meeting with the enemy. He said he and the men were marching and they noticed the earth kept spitting at them, in small pieces. They asked the officer what it was and he said it was enemy fire. Dad said he had never seen the men move so fast into the surrounding trees. Bravery? Yes brave to be there, but everything has its limits. He also remembered the descent from Ravello on the Italian coast. There were German snipers on the way, so the men hid behind the donkeys carrying the equipment. Both man and donkeys showed their bravery.
He told me about the day in Italy when it had been raining and the earth caved in because the local farmer had built an underground cellar for his wine bottles. Again the men showed their bravery by helping to empty the cellar. Dad said there was not a sober soldier left in the regiment and they heard the first Italian swear words from the owner of the cellar.
There was the time when the famous opera singer, Beniamino Gigli visited the troops in their canteen to give a concert. Whilst he was singing the Military police made themselves busy to lock all the doors and afterwards did a paper inspection. Dad said that they found a record number of deserters in the audience.
But that was dad, he never told of the bad things, the things that war was made of. Only when I was older did he once tell me of a march where some of the men walked on a mine field. Many were killed when the mines exploded.
By the way the other two soldiers in the picture are my No. 2 son top left. All able bodied Swiss men are soldiers. They have their first training at the recruit school at the age of 18 and afterwards they are called up annually for three weeks a year for service until they had served their days. I think my son was released around the age of 30.
And the last remaining person on the photo, bottom left, is my grandfather Relf, dad’s dad. He was not in a perfect medical condition when he was called up to serve in the first World War, although again no-one was given a choice For this reason he was in the medical corps and his work was collecting the men that were mortally injured on the battlefields in a lorry. One of the shadow sides of war.
Everyone was brave in their own way. Medals? They all got their medals, but not the medals presented by the Queen. When dad was finished he got his service medals to prove that he was there and did it.
And let me not forget the Swiss side of the family. Here are Mr. Swiss uncles and grandfather as young men, all ready to embark on defending the Swiss borders in the first world war. Although Switzerland has always be neutral in war time, their men were also enlisted to serve, mainly defending their borders. Some saw action, but that is another story.