The drama of trauma

Idler on a hammock

At the beginning of the First World War, my grandfather, Gwilym Jones, was a medical orderly and stretcher-bearer at Ypres in Belgium, where some of the fiercest fighting took place. I imagine him, knee-deep in waterlogged trenches, struggling to lift a wounded man or staggering through shell holes, trying not to trip on the rotting bodies of the already-dead. I have to imagine this because he told us just the briefest facts, and those years of immersion in death and dying did not appear to cause lasting mental scars. My father describes him as a happy man with a keen intellect and a passion for education and radical politics. There were no moods or nightmares, and the only time he got drunk was when the Labour Party took over government in 1929. The ability to cope appears to be a family trait: at the height of the Blitz in London…

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