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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Morbidly fascinated ?


dah

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'Tis a sad fact that many of my contemporaries, including my wife, have very little interest in WW1 - and regard me as rather odd as a result. Still, I'm allowed to indulge my passion with 1-2 trips over the channel each year with others who are similarly odd to myself (God bless 'em)

But I got a recent and disturbing insight into how my wife and supposedly others can sometimes view this interest.

Whilst on a brief family holiday in South Wales last weekend, we were passing close to Aberfan - and I expressed a desire to stop to visit what I imagined would be some kind of memorial to the lives lost in the 1966 disaster. She would not hear of it - saying I was not to spoil a family holiday by inflicting my morbid fascination with visiting places where large numbers of people had died - upon anyone else.

I'm not asking for Pals advice on marital harmony- but curious to know whether others had encountered this accusation of morbid fascination. There may be a grain of truth in it I suppose. I find that I use WW1 as some kind of reference for obtaining perspective on many different aspects of life - including the finite and often fragile nature of it. Is that wrong or unhealthy? Obviously I'd prefer to think otherwise.

Interested in any other views.

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Yes Dah,

I had the same experience at work today. I was talking to a German colleague about my passion for collecting WW1 German deathcards when another colleague who is Dutch happened on the conversation. Both thought my interest was rather MORBID. Perhaps so, but it's interesting. Dah, we are keeping the memories alive, remember those who don't look at the past are doomed to repeat it.

Go on your own mate next time..much more fun to be had.

I'm curious as to whether you get comments re the amount of time you spend on the computer. A single life for me - much less complicated.

Robbie

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Yes, me too dah,

My husband moans if we have to look at more than one " mouldy old bone yard" when we have visited the western front. I got about 10 minutes at Tyne Cot for example!!

You are not alone - whenever we go away I tend to visit at least one graveyard if I can - they tell such stories I think or maybe I'm just nosey?

regards

Jayne

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It's a trade off. She comes with me to see forts/graveyards/battlefields, she brings a book and sits and reads as the kids and I walk around. I go to her things, home shows, womans stuff.

Most people can't relate to history or don't care enough about it, and that's what we are exploring. It would be sad to think of the millions who died, and then just to be forgotten.

I drive by Col. John McCrea's house almost daily. and when I see it...I remember what it's all about.

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My other half is much the same. On a weekend, if I've got nothing better to do, I'll ask if she has any plans for the rest of the day. Usually none - so I reply with, OK I'm off down to ??????? cemetery to take a few more pics.

She takes great relish in telling her (and my) work colleagues what I get up to in my spare time..... i.e. wondering around graveyard in a long coat whilst carrying a camera!!

Les

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dah:

'Morbidly' fascinating - naaaah.

Fascinating & Inspiring - yep. And it does sharpen your perspective on the world up, I agree. Would be unhealthy if you collected dreadful piccies & nothing else (for example), but dont imagine that happens on here often!

Like Robbie, I am blessed with the single life, so cant claim that difficulty at the mo (now Ive said that, you just know what'll happen...!). That said, when I was married many moons ago, I 'Tabletop Wargamed' for a while, competitions & all sorts. Caused a few raised eyebrows as doesnt really fit the image people get of me apparently (but throwing a few curve balls at the world now & again has gotta be done!).

I usually find a good old burst of 'Of course the military aspect is fascinating, but the psychological aspect of what humans can endure is nothing short of incredible ...' works well. The number of people I meet that I really wouldnt expect to be interested after a chat, yet ask me about something (and genuinely, not politely) when I speak to them later is great!!

Still, if we all understood & empathised with everything, it'd be an odd world - or 'odder', I should say.

Jayne; 'moudly old boneyard'? Like that!! :lol:

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I usually find a good old burst of  'Of course the military aspect is fascinating, but the psychological aspect of what humans can endure is nothing short of incredible ...' works well.

Exactly Steve. Works every time..eyes glaze over, mouth slightly open..but nothing comes out! :P

Robbie

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There's a school of thought (mine) that suggests many of the people who have an interest in the Great War have a particular fascination with the dead.

And to the casual observer, we (the Forum) spend much of our time researching someone who died in a particular battle, on a particular day, because we've got his medals or whatever.

I suppose the simple answer is that the dead are easier to research than those who survived, but are no longer alive to share their memories. The dead are all mapped out; the survivors often carried the most incredible stories to the grave because they couldn't bring themselves to discuss the horrors they had seen.

We find the dead at Tyne Cot and the Menin Gate; the survivors don't warrant the attention 'cos they're just another grave in your neighbourhood cemetery.

Perhaps the fact that a CWGC headstone is a permanent and definitive marker in a particular story strikes some as morbid. It's no more morbid than the thousands of late-middle-aged ladies trawling your local archives centre for the death certificates of their forefathers. Genealogy is ok, but the study of war, and death is morbid, or so it seems.

And Aberfan is as valid as anything we research here. Lives cut short by some terrible event. Remember them.

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I agree Graeme. Since i was a wee person i have been fascinated by cemeteries, gravestones and now old letters, diaries, postcards ALL related to the dead. mmmnnn <_<

Robbie

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What immediately struck me about the comment is that it’s a value judgment, the condemnatory use of ‘morbid’ suggesting that the writer’s interest is abnormal and unhealthy because the speaker doesn’t happen to share them. I am sorry that such loaded language was used, as it is rarely helpful.

I think that, generally, my own interest is life-affirmatory. I have no curiosity about medals or insignia, partly because I have no wish to own objects with such overt political symbolism; as a Burma Campaign veteran said to me at the weekend, ruefully, ‘It was a cheap way of saying thank you.’ I’m more engaged by how living humans managed to persist for the rest of their lives, decades in some cases, with images burned into their minds and bodies, images which no person should ever have to carry. To me, it’s unimaginably brave, living in:

the long soaking

In the colours of mutilation...

Among jawbones and blown-off boots, tree stumps, shell-cases and craters,

Under rain that goes on drumming its rods and thickening

Its kingdom, which the sun has abandoned...

(Ted Hughes, Out)

Most people are, I think, curious about and awed by the extremes of human experience. The battlefield areas and the cemeteries are places where these extremes happened. They are different. There’s a charged atmosphere and a spirituality about places in the battlefields which can make the experience so deeply felt that you can only communicate it to very close, likeminded, friends. Cemeteries are not necessarily in the location where events happened, though they may be, and they’re close by; but as well as being deeply moving, they have political messages which I won’t go into, though a couple of readers know what I think. Visiting these places where extreme human experience happened, and where a consequence of what happened lies, may help people towards an understanding of the incomprehensible, the unimaginable, the unbelievable.

Faced with the ambiguity of the huge event which was the Great War, its uncertainty, its good and its evil, its bitterness and its joy, its good outcomes and bad outcomes, its disjunctions and its polarities, its raft of muddled and clear interpretations, it’s no surprise to me if people wish to visit the places where it happened, abroad or at home. It’s a way of trying to make meaning of a situation, a world, in which there cannot possibly, ever, be a neat, secure solution.

Gwyn

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"morbid" (adjective)

1. Of, relating to, or caused by disease; pathological or diseased.

2. Psychologically unhealthy or unwholesome: “He suffered much from a morbid acuteness of the senses” (Edgar Allan Poe).

3. Characterized by preoccupation with unwholesome thoughts or feelings: read the account of the murder with a morbid interest.

4. Gruesome; grisly.

Source: http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=morbid&r=67

I guess that's me to a tee :(;)

Robbie

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I think the word 'morbid' does come with disapproving undertones. The normal person shouldn't concentrate unduly with things concerned with death. That's what I reckon is insinuated.

No hope for me then. I can remember avidly looking through Ladybird books, the historical biography kind. And what did I do? First thing, straight to the back of the book, to find out how the person died.

I don't believe I treat the Great War in quite the same way, although why do the dates of 25/9/15, 1/7/16 and 21/3/18 stick in the mind so clearly?

For me, it's a continuing mission to uncover the stories of as many 'ordinary' men as I can, a mission I am not as proficient at as I could wish.

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Hi, :)

My wife just lets me get on with it and alot of people I know have at least a passing interest in WW1 ( or at least they pretend to ). So I have never really thought about it in that way. Then the other week a friend and his wife came round for a few drinks and after he showed interest in my collection we went through a lot of things i.e medals, photos, etc, after a while his wife looked me straight in the eye and said ' why do you like to surround yourself with dead men's things and wallow in their misery' ? What could I say ?

Cheers

Tim.

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I know that I'm seen as slightly odd by many of my friends...but the slow drip-drip-drip of the History Channel and ever-increasing WW1 library I am developing, seems to be having an effect on my Better Half. Not long ago, she sat me down and said..."Right..enough of me not understanding what is going on...get the map out and tell me exactly what happened in the First World War. All of it. From the start. And don't you bloody dare skip any bits!!"

I think I was hoping for more of a 'tolerance' of my interest - not the Black Chair of Mastermind...still, I think I managed to keep her attention for a couple of hours, though my explanation of Gallipoli had to be reduced to "the dusty Turkish place that Mel Gibson was running around in"...

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... although why do the dates of 25/9/15, 1/7/16 and 21/3/18 stick in the mind so clearly?

Funny how they do that isnt it? My minds usually loaded with dozens of things at any one time anyway, but the dates that crop up seem to recurr, & often in places you wouldnt expect them to!

So as well as the 'usual list' of interesting elements this subject includes, a curious mind is gonna be intrigued by the addition of such 'extra' things without doubt.

All in all, it adds up to a terrific subject that broadens the mind & appears to have a growing interest, but is still pigeon holed by those who havent gone 1 step further & asked themselves 'why is it interesting'? 'The mind is like a parachute; works best when open' comes to mind (def' not saying that anyone who doesnt compris is closed minded of course, before anyone moans at me... :P )

Still, if everyone in the world was as curious as us maniacs, there'd be loads of debating, discussion & learning & not much would get done I suppose! :lol:

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Not only do I like to visit graveyards when on holiday my house actually backs on to one!

Cor blimey Jayne, were you an undertaker in a past life or summat?! Still, at least the dead dont argue back or complain about mouldy old boneyards eh?! :D

Grandson; outstanding achievement mate! You could make a small fortune writing a marriage guidance book based on your techniques!

Tim; praps should have answered 'not in their misery hon, but in their fortitude & achievements' or something similar? ;)

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Not that I know of but interestingly my Mum used to work for one!

So it's hereditary, Jayne. :lol:

Robbie

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Not that I know of but interestingly my Mum used to work for one! The pull is obviously there n,est ce pas?

When its in the blood, dont fight it!! :D

Either that or youve got a secret fetish for Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' video ... :huh: ... aaaah, so the truth's coming out now is it? I can just see you all dancing in the moonlight with funny masks on!!

"Aaaooow ...."

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Hi dah

and all others

Aberfan, the memories of that day will remain, more to some than others,

I now live in the Shetland Islands, moved up from south Wales 25 years ago,

As for WW1, my only memory being of stories from my late grandfather in the 50's & 60's, and they were very few,

However this year, my sister and I, went over to France for a 5 week holiday, and with the little information we had from our late grandfather, decided to have a look around Arras, the Cathedral, a few of CWGC Cemeteries, and Hill 60, as he was gas'd at Hill 60, but recover'd, and also wound'd at or near Arras, we think he was treated at the clearing station in arras, as it was at the remains of Arras Cathedral he sheltered prior to his return home.

When at Arras we were told Hill 60 is in Belgium!. and also told, go to Ieper as Hill 60 is only a few miles SE of Ieper, and you ""MUST"" go to the Menin Gate for the Last Post at 2000 hrs.

Neither my sister or I were prepared for the effect it would have on us, "IT GETS TO YOU". and you go back, time and time again, you meet people, you read books, you learn, and it starts to sink in, the vastness of the ultimate sacrifice.

To all you PALS out there, you already know this.

Morbidly Fascinated, NO.

Respect, Feeling, Emotion, for the lost, "YES"

First visit 10-June-04 for a few days.

Returned with partner and girls, age 9 and 10, 8-July-04 for a few days.

The girls wanted the last few days of the holiday 5-Aug-04 at " The Menin Gate Last Post" at the age of 9 and 10, they spent a few hours reading the names on the walls of the gate,

Returned myself for a few days 8-Oct-04.

A little more prepared, with books, battle maps, CWGC maps of Cemeteries & Memorials, walking boots, etc; and went visiting Lochnagar Crater, WW1 Tank at Flesquiers, Memorials, Cemeteries large and small, Offered help and guidance by the Mayoress of Ribecourt-la-Tour, Wined and dined by a family who gave me photos of the WW1 tank, newspaper cuttings of the recovery of the tank, Tommy's cafe, The Shell Hole, and made lots on new friends,

Is that Morbid ?

And I will return early next year for a few days, or weeks!!!

Thanks to this Forum for the help and guidance for Must-go-to places.

Rowly :)

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Steve,

I wouldnt be averse to the odd bit of plastic surgery but I cant dance backwards with white socks on so maybe not...

:D

Robbie,

Definitley hereditary as my youngest daughter loves nothing better than to visit "people" at the bottom of the garden... God knows what her teachers will think of her when she starts school next Easter!!

:P

regards

Jayne

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It comes down to this - a holiday isn't a proper holiday if you don't visit a cemetery somewhere! It does tend to mean that there isn't a rush to see your holiday photos.

As for our interest, it is often surprising how many people will talk about it, mentioning one of their ancestors. A friend of mine who has now probably retired from her battlefield touring days told me how she'd meet a friend of hers in town; he'd always wonder why she kept going back to France, while on the other hand admitting he ought to go across the channel himself as close relatives to him had served in the war. One day, my friend's husband was in town, and met this particular gentleman. What did he say? 'Tell your wife I quite understand why she keeps going back'.

I do sometimes wonder if it's right to get so much enjoyment visiting places that meant so much horror etc to the participants at the time. It's just amazing to see the famous place-names on the roadsigns. And when you find a place to stay that suits you down to the ground (which can be different to each one of us) where you find like-minded people to talk to, who can ask for more? Two weeks lying on a beach in the Bahamas? You've got to be joking!

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Interesting topic....

I suppose that in general I'm interested in the whole WWI experience, and that means the "bad" or "morbid" bits as well as the "honourable" ones.

Primarilly I'm a collector of militaria, but without the human element and the historical context my collection of tunics and helmets would literally be just that -an assortment of objects.

On the one hand I do find the endurance, heroism, stoicism and comradeship of the common soldier inspiring, but I also recognise that war is as much about death, fear and cruelty as it is about honour and sacrifice, whether we are collectors, modellers or researchers. The negative aspects are just as relevent -and just as valuable, indeed desirable, area of study as the traditionally "positive"ones.

I actually don't think that a study of the death related aspects of the Great War is necessarily morbid per se. Collecting death cards, visiting war graves or researching casualties are all valid areas of study which add to our collective knowledge of WWI and it's social and military impact.

In my collection I have weapons used during WWI. If I had them because I wanted to experience some kind of vicarious thrill in handling an object that may have taken someone's life, then this would be a morbid fascination. The truth is that I have them because I'm interested in the physical items carried by soldiers in WWI, and weapons are as valid as helmets, tunics or vintage bully beef in terms of militaria collecting. By studying and handling original artifacts I increase my knowledge of what WWI was like for the guys at the sharp end.

In short, it's not what you're interested in, it's why you're interested in it.

On a related note, my own partner is extremely understanding of my interest -she puts up with cupboards full of tunics and helmets, visits to war museums and the entire series of "The Great War" on DVD. I, on the other hand, endure clothes shopping, pricey cosmetics and handbags (for her that is, not me....) -sounds like a fair exchange....

All the best

Paul.

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