There were darker moments too. Nothing humorous about curtains being drawn after receipt of a telegram. For a small boy the war involved running around, arms outstretched, uttering strange noises; or taking part in 'Germany calling' contests with a nasal voice. To mothers and grandparents, it meant waiting from letter to letter, with the terrible feeling of not knowing.
Today there are no telegrams. No-one forgets receiving that slim bit of yellow paper with its built-in sense of dread. It looked like something produced by a child's printing set, yet it could devastate a family. A telegram could be good news, but it never was. The entire street would know within minutes that a telegram had been delivered. One neighbour would take the children, others would produce sugared tea and sit in silent support. Nothing really could be said.
A genealogist can sometimes catch a reflection of this human tragedy. A certified birth, perhaps a marriage, and then .. nothing. Newspaper archives complete the circle: missing or killed in action. Simple words, but a devastated family.
Later would come a letter from a senior officer. What a thankless task that must have been. Was human loss ever eased by the knowledge of how much respect was left behind?
What and how to tell the children. The parents. The realisation that not enough photographs had been taken. The desperate recollection of the last conversation.
People did carry on. I don't know how. Sometimes when pursuing family connections I'm shown a ageing photograph of a shy young man in uniform, a boy really, looking out with proud and trusting eyes. (That's one of your uncles.. he didn't come back).