First World War Poetry Digital Archive

The Somme: Going white overnight

All families have stories that get told and retold so often that they become a kind of legend. My grandmother used to rather matter-of-factly quip that my grandfather, Joesph (Joe) Moorcroft.(d.1968) whom I'd never met had returned from The Somme with white hair.

He had gone to the Front, a young man with brown hair and returned home prematurely grey/white. I had begun recently to doubt the veracity of this story (and all family 'legends' due to my own experiences of mixing up elements of different stories whilst trying to recount another familiar tale);and this story was especially important to me as I nearly always told my A level English Literature students it in an attempt to illustrate the grim reality of the killing fields of the Somme in 1916. Therefore I checked with my dad to make sure I hadn't imagined it, or that it was an exaggeration on my grandma's part.

He confirmed it as a story that he too had always been told (and always believed- having no reason to doubt it). My father is now into his sixties and his hair has only now gone completely grey so genetically there is nothing to challenge (or, I know, support this story).

Interestingly, Joe, my grandad, never spoke about his wartime experiences (selective mutism I believe this may be called). So my students and I must rely upon second, third and fourth hand stories.

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