There were a lot of medals in my mother’s family including 3 Victoria Crosses (the highest British award -quite rare) and I grew up hearing about them, but this is a story about another kind of courage.
My grandfather took part in one of the WW1 Christmas Eve cease fires so well depicted in “Joyous Noel” (If you have yet to see it this year is the perfect time!) It tells how the war stopped for a while on Christmas Eve and both sides met to celebrate Christmas, play football and show pictures of loved ones, thus realizing their common humanity.
Soon after this he and a friend were trapped behind enemy lines. Unable to break through back to their unit they began to wave their arms above the trench they were trapped in, in hopes of being shot (they’d heard the injured were sent home). Eventually they were captured walking in “no man’s land” still miraculously unscathed despite a hail of bullets.
After two years as a prisoner of war he returned to England and soon after fell in love with a beautiful gypsy girl marrying her against his family’s wishes.( His father was a big land owner and he the eldest son). Refusing to give her up he was disinherited and spent the rest of his life working on the roads rising only to the rank of foreman due to his father’s influence (though much loved and respected). Amazingly I never saw a trace of bitterness either towards the Germans or his father.
He was always special to me even as a child (though I never heard his story till after his death). He was the only one who seemed to understand my anti-war feelings. He had a great deal of quiet wisdom which I always respected. To me this is the highest form of courage to stand for what is right against the flow and to do so without anger or hate.