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Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Living Memory

My father used to say he once knew someone who remembered a man who fought against the French at the Battle of Waterloo.

How could this be? I doubted it at first, but, considering it more carefully, it is easily possible. It would have been a memory from around 1940. Those who fought at Waterloo in 1815 would have been born not much later than 1795. If they had survived into their eighties we come to around 1880. And someone born in the eighteen-sixties could have met them and still have been around in 1940.

Deaths of the last Waterloo veterans

In fact, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that even my generation, born around 1950, could have known someone who remembered someone who fought at Waterloo. The last British veteran died in Canada in 1892, and one French veteran lived until 1898. I knew people born in the eighteen-seventies who could have met them had their paths crossed.

Projecting this forward, I used to know people who fought in the First World War, such as my grandfather who was in the Hull Pals. If I said that to someone young today, they might still remember it in 2100. In fact, those who cared for Harry Patch, the last surviving First World War veteran, who died aged one hundred and eleven in 2009, could still themselves be alive in 2080. So, conceivably, there might be people born around 2070 who in 2160 will be able to say they once knew someone who remembered a man who fought in the First World War.

Second and third order living memory is astonishly long; sometimes as much as two hundred and fifty years.

4 comments:

  1. What was impressive about Harry Patch was that he became a lifelong peace campaigner

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  2. It is interesting to think how we're all connected over time. I have a friend whose father attended the premier of The Third Man in London. I know that that was not so long ago, but I was duly impressed. He'd also 'fought the Japs' and was really an interesting person to talk with.
    -very upbeat and loved life.

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    Replies
    1. I had to look that up - 1949. Your friend might mention that to someone who is still around in 2100.

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