Postscript to the Stalky Diaries

Thank you for following these diaries as I published each entry (as much as I was able) exactly 100 years to the day after they were originally written.

When I first started this project, I really was aware of just the bare minimum both about my great-grandfather and the history and development of the Great War. Of our branch of the family, Stalky was the last army man; he always wished that my grandfather, his first son Leo, would join in turn, but sadly Leo suffered from short sight and poor health and was ineligible. Leo spent many of his school holidays with Rudyard Kipling at the latter’s home, Batemans, in East Sussex. He became an air raid warden in the Second World War in south Buckinghamshire, where he had settled as a schoolmaster with his Chilean wife and their four sons – five within weeks of the cessation of WW2.

Stalky’s son (my great-uncle) Galfrid went into the Navy during WW2 and later joined Shell, settling in Venezuela in his retirement with his wife Elinor where they went on to discover and document many rare and unknown species of orchid.

His daughter (my great-aunt) Susanna married a Dutch member of the Lindt family. During the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands, she and her family managed to flee on a desperate journey where they could hear the German bombs landing always about 30 miles behind them. Later on, she grew frustrated with being inactive and managed to move to Switzerland where she helped with the Resistance, eventually meeting Lt Col van Doorninck, one of the very few men to escape from Colditz, with whom she settled down and raised a second family in England. Sadly, setting up a new home meant her two Lindt children were more or less abandoned; the family story is that they have turned their backs on the Dunstervilles completely (certainly my attempts to contact Susanna’s daughter Gillian drew blanks) – and, in all honesty, I can’t blame them. I would love to hear their own view on the matter, however.

Stalky himself looms large over the family, with all of us well aware of his ‘adventures of Dunsterforce’ and his Kipling connection. As for his actions in the Caucasus, I have heard conflicting conclusions about its effectiveness. While it is uplifting to hear that a general didn’t allow his troops to become cannon fodder as we are always taught about the generals of World War One (and I have been told that his evacuation from Baku is taught at Sandhurst as a text-book evacuation), it is painful to consider that the local population were left to fend for themselves at a time when everyone wanted the Baku oil. Some have deemed the Dunsterforce mission a useless mess; others have observed that it gave the Allied forces just enough time to prevent the Germans from being able to prop up their failing war machine with Baku’s fuel, which contributed quite significantly to the overall collapse of the German Army.

Still and all, it is essential that we remember the sheer breadth of fronts on which the ‘theatre’ of the Great War was played out. When I ask people about Gallipoli, they recall it as a gross British defeat, but they don’t know where it was or who it was against. When I mention actions in the Middle East, most people are completely blank. Those Flanders fields, for all their heart-breaking (and quite frankly, disgraceful) loss of human and animal lives, were really only a part of what was genuinely a World war. And the Europeans were not the only ones who fought; let’s salute our Commonwealth brothers and sisters from around the world. The Balkans, the Caucasus, the Middle East, Turkey, India, China, Russia – all these places were changed irrevocably. Please take some time to read each of these links and to pay your respects to their war and civilian dead alongside your own. Learn about the Armenian Genocide and the Holomodor. Consider how the humiliations of the Treaty of Versailles and the crushing burden of war reparations led to the rise of extremism in Germany and how that could even have contributed to the Wall Street Crash. The world would never be the same again.

 

Stalky became a bit of a relic from a bygone era after the war. He retired from the Army and settled back in England, trying to make money by a series of lectures about his experiences to a dwindling audience before becoming a motorcycle salesman. What must he have thought about the Second World War? What would he have thought about the rise of nationalism, radical Islam, 9/11, Afghanistan and the Taliban, the Arab Spring, the Russian occupation of eastern Ukraine, the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s, the devastation of Palestine, Lebanon and Syria and the rise of authoritarianism in Turkey? Knowing what I now know about how the British treated these areas at times with what bordered on contempt, I hang my head in shame. Lest we forget? Let’s start remembering what we’ve already forgotten.

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