As we remember all those who have lost their lives in our armed conflicts, I find it impossible to gaze upon the faces of the dead without wondering what might have been, had not all those individual lives been cut short. From what I understand, around 700,000 British soldiers were killed in World War One, while many others suffered such devastating physical and psychological wounds from their experiences that what remained of their lives was blighted, and they were forever denied the opportunity to enjoy their time in a way that the rest of us take for granted.
I can offer nothing new when I say that the sheer scale of the ocean of suffering, misery and grief generated by World War One makes it virtually impossible for us to comprehend it, while the woeful fact that “The War to End All Wars” was followed by yet more civil and international conflicts threatens to obscure the memory and study of countless individual human stories from around the world over the course of the last century.
So, as a means of trying to put it into some perspective, I find myself thinking of a man named William Hope Hodgson – pictured above – at a time like this. As you’ll see if you read the link, Hodgson was a fantastically brave man, but in addition to his admirable personal qualities, he produced a stunning body of weird or supernatural fiction that gained the admiration of other distinguished writers such as H.P. Lovecraft. This genre’s not for everyone, but I became enthralled by Hodgson’s writing over 30 years years ago and it’s provided me with an incalculable amount of pleasure ever since.
William Hope Hodgson was killed by an artillery shell at Ypres on either the 17th or the 19th of April 1918, so I can’t help but wonder at what other stunning literary works he might have gone on to produce had he survived the war. In more modern times, we have the memory of people such as Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Freddie Mercury, who were all prolific creators of music and lyrics that entranced millions the world over before their untimely deaths brought an end to their works, leaving us to wonder what might have been had they lived on.
The same applies to William Hope Hodgson, but of course, one does not need to create songs, poetry, novels or pictures to lead a life that betters us all in some way. My own grandfather survived World War One, then went on to marry and raise a family in what I gather was an otherwise unremarkable life, but without him, I would not be here. So, I’m naturally grateful he survived his service in The Great War and the more I contemplate this subject, the more contempt I have for all those who despatch young men and women to die fighting other human beings simply to further their own agendas.