Drawing on a broad range of personal accounts, this is the first detailed study of siblinghood in wartime. The relative youth of the fighting men of the Great War intensified the emotional salience of sibling relationships. Long separations, trauma and bereavement tested sibling ties forged through shared childhoods, family practices, commitments and interests. We must not equate the absence of a verbal language of love with an absence of profound feelings. Quieter familial values of kindness, tolerance and unity, instilled by parents and reinforced by moral instruction, strengthened bonds between brothers and sisters. Examining the nexus of cultural and familial emotional norms, this study reveals the complex acts of mediation undertaken by siblings striving to reconcile conflicting obligations to society, the army and loved ones in families at home. Brothers enlisted and served together. Siblings witnessed departures and homecomings, shared family responsibilities, confided their anxieties and provided mutual support from a distance via letters and parcels. The strength soldier-brothers drew from each other came at an emotional cost to themselves and their comrades. The seismic casualties of the First World War proved a watershed moment in the culture of mourning and bereavement. Grief narratives reveal distinct patterns of mourning following the death of a loved sibling, suggesting a greater complexity to male grief than is often acknowledged. Surviving siblings acted as memory keepers, circumventing the anonymisation of the dead in public commemorations by restoring the particular war stories of their brothers.
, formed an ‘inner circle’ within the familial household. 14 A lateral focus on familial relationships shows the agency of siblings in planning, resisting or initiating change. 15 The cushioning effect of family culture at times of upheaval has obscured the role played by lateral ties, particularly the extent to which siblings influenced shifts in emotionalnorms both within and outside the domestic realm. 16 Importantly, C. Dallett Hemphill highlights the crucial role of sibling cohorts as ‘shock absorbers’ during times of accelerated change. Generational solidarity
wide circulation in wartime society. Abiding by these emotionalnorms was an affirmation of their masculinity and a way of restating the values central to their former lives. While imbuing their life stories with these public standards, they were impelled to record their particular losses – a marker of the depth of intimate bonds. Undertaking this responsibility required a degree of ‘emotion work’ as men attempted to locate the war within their own life stories and those of their siblings and wider families. Through these complex acts of interpretative labour, men
, the war news, and that he did not go down to the beach until the post had come in. When it had come, and had brought no official envelope for him, then he seemed his old self again for the rest of the day. 7
With enlistment imminent, any news of war had particular pertinence for Percy. Uncertainty over the timing of his departure piqued his anxiety. In response, he braced himself in isolation. Writing in 1972, a reworking of the landscape of childhood memories coloured Pat’s recollections of that holiday. 8 A shift in emotionalnorms registered in his memory
recent battle, baulked at having their brief moments of respite disturbed by the emotional unravelling of comrades. Lynch circumvented this dilemma by implicitly placing blame on those higher authorities who had created the circumstances that permitted such troubling incidents. Spectators of Paddy’s plight suffered the profound guilt experienced by many survivors of battle. 51 Their solution was to blame not the individuals but the military rules that unsettled the emotionalnorms of the fighting unit. Experience and close comradeship made interventions easier. Sidney
oftentimes conflicting emotionalnorms was eased by sibling support and encouragement. Shared sleeping spaces and nurseries created diurnal routines and a particular bodily intimacy, enabling the sharing of confidences. Brotherly roles learned and performed in childhood or young adulthood continued during wartime, with brothers dispensing advice and protecting and caring for each other. For young men and women whose closest ties were still with their family of origin, the underpinning dynamics of familial support held strong in wartime.
Notwithstanding the constraints of
. These intangible and hidden protectors against public disdain hint at the emotionalnorms operating at community level. The tension between men’s domestic obligations and their patriotic accountability was a matter of public debate in the years preceding the introduction of conscription in 1916. Discussions centred on men’s roles as fathers, husbands or sons, but overlooked their roles as siblings. 119 The experiences of brothers before the military service tribunals highlight the joint economic responsibilities and ‘acts of devotion’ that many men bore on behalf of
passing of years they added poignancy to collective occasions, unleashing an emotional ‘punctum’ that pierced stoical masks. Rather than finding such open expressions of emotion discomforting, men appeared to derive comfort and emotional companionship in collective outpourings of grief. When including these deeply personal expressions of grief within public memoirs, men were not necessarily challenging those societal and martial values that were in wide circulation in wartime society. Abiding by these emotionalnorms was an affirmation of their masculinity and a way of