Not Brave Heroes - just ordinary blokes

I bought a book last weekend Dolgellau and the Great War by D T Sheppard which gives details about the 107 people whose names are engraved on the Dolgellau Cenotaph. The introduction to the books makes the important point:

"These people weren't statistics but individuals with their own unique stories"

Many of those mentioned in the book were related to my late Grandparents; most were their friends, neighbours and acquaintances. Although, obviously, too young to have known any of those commemorated in the book, many of the names were familiar to me. Attending the Armistice Parade as a Cub and a Scout in the 1960's and 1970's I got to know the antitheses of Binyon's famous poem – those who HAD grown old, all were ordinary working class people, people like my Dad and my Taids - nothing special!

I've looked up some of the names mentioned on the Cenotaph on the Welsh Newspapers site. Where they are mentioned in pre-war stories their ordinariness is striking: took part as a shepherd in the chapel nativity play, or came third in the seed potato class in the village show, even appeared in court for being drunk on fair night.

A term I heard oft used yesterday was heroes; but those lads remembered on Dolgellau's and other Cenotaphs were NOT heroes; they were just young men with the same fears and aspirations, the same strengths and weaknesses, the same hopes and disappointments as the rest of mankind. To laud them as Brave Heroes doesn't exault them it diminishes them by turning them into comic book characters rather than accepting them as the ordinary blokes that they really were.

There are too many names on cenotaphs that share my family names for me to take some moral outrage at the act of commemorating the Great War, despite my misgivings. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, I will remember them; but I will remember them as the real people that they were not as caricatures of imperial propaganda that too much of the Remembrance Industry has already tried to make of them.

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