The war had been a hammer wildly swinging into the families of those who were sent to fight, reshaping and defining them for generations to come. The children of the 1850s and 60s grew up with a vision of the British forces as lords of India, heroes of Africa, explorers and defenders of the Great Empire - well, that was the Boys' Own version, anyway. Victorian campaigns would see a handful of British casualties to show for a battle, ten or twenty, maybe a few hundred for a disaster such as Isandlwana or Maiwand. The Boer campaign gave a hint of what was to come, but still nothing could have prepared that generation for what they would be sending their own children into when the ego of Empire boiled over in 1914: banks of machine guns, barrages of shells that fell like rain, gas, snipers, mud, and the sharp end of a bayonet. Twenty-thousand British soldiers were killed on the first day of the Somme alone - industrialised death.
By its end twenty million young lives had been wiped from the face of the Earth, with the roughly 900,000 British dead immortalised in stone monuments in almost every town and village across the land - 205 names are engraved into the memorial on the High Street of my own home town.
A big part of my family history research over the past nearly 20 years has been researching those who served in the 'Great War', and I've currently identified almost 100 individuals within my wider family, many of whom were injured, a handful captured as prisoners of war, and 28 who lost their lives.
For me, it was my great-grandparents' generation who were tipped into the calamity of the conflict. Of my four great-grandfathers only two actually served. My grandfathers' fathers were a teacher and a coal miner, reserved occupations, and they lived on into their 70s. My grandmothers' fathers both joined up: Peter Cameron into the Royal Army Service Corps in December 1915, and Charles Hodgkins into the 4th North Staffordshire Regiment in September 1914. They both survived the war, but died young in the 1920s.
Peter died aged 41, in 1923, after a botched operation on a gastric ulcer. My Gran was just nine when she lost her father. At the time of his passing none of the family knew that another child was on the way, born almost exactly nine months later. Charles died in 1925, aged 34, the day before his little girl's (my Grannie) sixth birthday. The story that came through the family was that he had been gassed during his time in the Dardanelles and had never fully recovered, but my subsequent research revealed something different - gas was not used on the Turkish peninsula, and while it was a respiratory condition - pleurisy and pneumonia - that sent him back home in 1915, it was septicaemia from an oral infection that eventually ended his life.
Most of us are here today because our own forebears survived - only seven out of the 28 fatalities on my family memorial had children - but we all have tales of a much-loved uncle who never came back. Charles' younger brother survived the war, and he had three sisters, one of which, Lottie, married into a family where all seven brothers served, two of whom were killed. A first cousin with the same name, Charles Hodgkins, was killed at Ypres.
Peter Cameron had three first cousins killed in the war, in May, June and December 1916 - each the son of three brothers. Of his own brothers, Peter had three who served - all survived, though one was a prisoner of war in Germany for nine months, and another was severely injured by bullets to the chest and shoulder (he had no children and family lore connected this with his injuries, but I don't know if that's true).
Another family devastated by the war was that of my gg-grandfather, Andrew Phillip. He lost his youngest son to a shell while another was poisoned in a gas attack - but survived. His eldest daughter lost two sons and his eldest son lost one. His older brother lost a grandson - one of four to serve from that family. The stories could go on to fill a book, and there will be yet more to uncover as I continue my research.
As a child growing up the 1970s, it was the Second World War that was closer to home - my parents were born in the middle of it and my grandparents lived through it. I consumed its story through comics and films, and played it out in the school playground and with dolls, plastic soldiers and model aircraft. The family stories of the First World War were barely there at all - whispers, mangled truths, guesses and rumours inferred from the silence of a shell-shocked generation that was fading out of sight.
It was an old Edwardian postcard album that ignited my interest in family history - here were faces I didn't know, many in uniform, the wives and sisters and mothers, postcards that pleaded 'remember me', 'thinking of you' and 'until we meet again'. The emotion, sadness and hope that flooded down through the decades was palpable and helped fuel my drive to understand the effect this scar of history had on the lives of my ancestors.
But if it wasn't for the First World War, I might not be here at all. Great-grandfather Charles, having been sent away from the trenches of Gallipoli, ended up at Whittington Barracks hospital near Lichfield where my great-grandmother, a local farm girl, delivered eggs to the recovering soldiers. Here they met, fell in love and married, and two children, nine grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren, and even more great-great-grandchildren have been the result.
On this 100th anniversary of the Armistice, here's to the memory of those who were sent to fight - on both sides, from all nations; those who came back and those who didn't; to the parents who had to send their children and then read the casualty lists in the local paper and dread the clatter of the letter box every morning; to the sisters, wives and sweethearts who lived on; and to the children who wondered at the dark silences of their parents and grandparents, only to find the answer by being sent to fight in the next world war - hopefully the last generation to have to do so, despite the simmering waters of nationalism and isolationism that threaten to bubble up once more.