And we shall remember them

As the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month approaches again and our PM is busy making arrangements for the 100th anniversary of the Great War, just how does the current and not current generation respond to this huge slice of history and the consequences thereof?

I find it very difficult to engage in various state funded “jollies” for lack of a better word – what happened in WW1 and part two that followed was mass slaughter on a scale that is unimaginable, thirty seven million people in the first episode alone, and still it wasn’t enough, with no survivors left now from WW1 and a rapidly dwindling amount left from the second episode.

It becomes ever more remote to the current generation to whom all this was something that happened in another time.

Whether a centenary commemoration will have any lasting impact on those that were not involved or have any links back in family is a mute point, certainly all schoolchildren should have an uncorrected history of the time laid before them warts and all, but how will it be received would they understand that WW11 was largely allowed to happen because the Treaty of Versailles was signed but never properly enforced allowing Hitler to start invading neighboring countries or will the current generation treat it all as some version of a video game?

It’s difficult to tell, time turns what was recent history into a faded memory, however much effort is put in to keep it all fresh.

On a personal basis, I have never been one to dwell on such things or to participate, but I do internally appreciate the sacrifice all those made long ago and I still stand at the given hour, that is the least I should do. My family members were well scattered around the globe in WWII and all thankfully, bar one, came back unscathed.

The one who didn’t, my father’s brother, was blown up when strafing a V2 site in Holland and joined those buried in foreign lands, but it all is a long time ago even the last war.

So when our PM suggests all schoolchildren should visit the sites of the Great War – I never have found out what was “great” about it – who would actually benefit, on paper I would concur that it would be good for people to see the horrors at first hand and man’s inhumanity to man and all the appalling waste of lives that went with modern industrial warfare – it may make a difference, but an ever increasing section of our population doesn’t relate to all this, so I have my doubts.

This year, on my return from France, I had to break the journey on a few occasions and decided to stop at Arras and visit for the first time one of the WW1 sites the one at Vimy.

Although it’s sanitised to a degree with no mud, just grassed over trenches and shell holes, it and a very good visitor centre does it, despite all of this being well documented and retold. It gives you a little more insight into what those poor souls had to endure.

During our time there, there were two coaches containing schoolchildren from the UK which turned up. It was difficult to assess what they made of it but at least they treated the place with the respect it deserves and were being given a description from the accompanying teachers and from little I could hear, was a good fist of what had happened there.

So who knows – there may be hope yet.

16 comments for “And we shall remember them

  1. November 11, 2012 at 09:47

    Thanks, Wiggia – the type of thing I was thinking of saying too.

  2. November 11, 2012 at 10:42

    It strikes me as interestingly disappointing, if we are to commemorate (in 2014) the start of WW1.

    Ignoring all the detailed arguments, it seems to be that it would be much better to simply wait until 2018, to celebrate the centenary of its end.

    Best regards

  3. November 11, 2012 at 11:06

    But not 1919 [Versailles], which began it all again.

  4. Amfortas
    November 11, 2012 at 11:49

    And we will forget. It will pass into ‘tales’ like Agincourt. The constantly invented and erzatz present will erase the reality of the past and the stories that few will even bother to read. Even Jimmy Stewart winning it almost single-handedly will be forgotten when the last bit of celluloid behind the filing cabinet gets swept out.

    It is for us to ‘not forget’. And I won’t. Thanks for the timliness Wiggia.

  5. Amfortas
    November 11, 2012 at 11:56

    What else shall we forget? I bring these two snippets from people I know.:

    1. In 1913 Emmeline Pankhurst, whose statute now stands close to the Houses of Parliament, went on trial for a bomb attack at the home of David Lloyd George (Prime Minister 1916 – 1922). On this day | Total Politics Mrs Pankhurst was sentenced to three years penal servitude (feminists never mention this). One of the main perpetrators of the attack was Emily Widling Davison who remained at large but died later that year under the hooves of the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby.

    Despite the attempt on his life, Lloyd George, then Minister of Munitions, paid Emmeline Pankhurst, a convicted terrorist, £3,000 ( £710,308.80 in today’s money) in 1915 to support “The Order of the White Feather.” The suffragettes got what they wanted, and the British government got it’s cannon fodder!

    2. Many years ago, I was fortunate to be able to sit and talk to a very gentle man.

    My Great Uncle Bob – from Bolton (Lancashire). Quietly spoken, kindly and with genuine humility. In his ’80’s then. I don’t know how it came about, but we were talking about the film “The Four Feathers”.

    He became very animated – not like him at all – and told me of “those vile young women” he had encountered whilst waiting for a train at Bolton railway station. This was in 1916, before the battle of the Somme.

    Evidently he was home on leave from the Western Front, wearing civvies and minding his own business.

    A group of well dressed young women approached him and offered him a white feather – which he politely declined. They essentially called him a coward and walked off with “their noses in the air”.

    Now Uncle Bob had volunteered for Kitchener’s army in 1914 and joined the Loyal Lancs. regiment.

    Later, my father told me he fought on the Somme as a sergeant in his platoon. Won the MC. (or it might have been the MM – being an NCO?). You would not believe it if you met him!

    My Dad used to go and stay with uncle Bob when he was a lad. Dad said that on every Poppy Day – Nov. 11th. he would stand to attention when the (maroon) gun sounded for the minute’s silence, with tears streaming down his face.

    He survived the Somme, but only two of his platoon walked back out with him. Most of his batallion of the Lancs. was destroyed. (all volunteers).

    Going back to our quiet talk – he said that another common ploy by these “vile women” was for one of them, individually to walk up to a victim (young man not in uniform) in a very public place with a smile of welcome, hold her hands out and then cut the victim dead as she walked by. Thus trying to mortify the young man.

    His platoon members used to get very angry about this treatment when together trying to survive in the trenches.

    He said their worst problem was tiredness. Relentless stand – to’s in the front line or fatigues when in the rear. The mud wasn’t so bad – the lack of sleep was worst – shortage of manpower and trying to replace their losses. He was so thankful when the USA joined in – they finally had a breather for a bit.

    I think his words about what those evil women did should forever be branded into the hearts of feminist lobbyists.

    Bob passed away in 1979, but I shall always remember his quiet gentle manner – and also what he endured not only in the trenches, but on Bolton railway station.

  6. wiggiatlarge
    November 11, 2012 at 15:26

    Just a little follow on, most people involved in the war are for good reasons not keen to talk about their experiences unless there is a point to make, my father who was in the far east with RAF Transport Command rarely spoke of the war out there itself rather the everyday life they all encountered.

    It was only many years later when a program on the concentration camps in Europe was being aired on Television and in response to something my Mother said he told us about how they were the first people to help in the relief of Changi jail and were there when the gates to that appalling place were opened, the scene he described so well of people so emaciated that they could barely stand crying as they wandered about outside the gates in little more than a dirty loincloth, many who never recovered or were sick for the rest of their lives has stayed with me.

    At school I had a friend whose father I never saw, he had been shot down and captured and ended up in that same jail, he was permanently ill and lived on forms of soup as his stomach could not adapt back to normal food.

    Whilst I was to young to remember anything about the war other than being taken into the garden by my grandparents to see a V1 going over and everybody waiting for the motor to cut out (it did), as Amfortas has has said it will all pass into legend or an altered historical perspective but those of us who have even such a tenuous link to it all as myself should remember, they may be our Glorious Dead but there is nothing glorious about war itself.

  7. james wilson
    November 11, 2012 at 22:35

    I don’t know which war Jimmy Steward won singlehandedly, although I haven’t seen all his films. What I do know is that he piloted a B-24 on the Ploesti oil field raids, among others, and that he was virtually incapable of speaking of the war. A good friend of mine was witness to one failed attempt at that. He even refused to resume his acting career until Frank Capra talked him into “It’s a Wonderful Life”.

    But, yes, there is a great disconnect between patriotic film and war. When John Wayne, Hollywood marine, went to visit the marines on Guadalcanal, they booed him.

    My own father never spoke of the Pacific war, and he was involved with the last sea battles in history as well as the kamakaze attacks. My father in law, a marine on Guad and all the way through, related stories only of boot camp and Japan. He and two other marines, in a ward for dysentary for two weeks–one of them a locomotive engineer from Nebraska–became stir crazy enough to sneak out one night, steal a locomotive, and drive it backward twenty miles to Nagasaki. They rounded a hill and saw the city in moonlight for a few minites, and returned to the ward undetected. He is still with us.

    Military historians claim that the problem with eyewitness testimony to war is that they suspect that it is precisely the very men who have accurate testimony who are the ones who won’t speak to them.

    When the dastardly British burned Washington in 1812 Madison was shocked to see the reaction of his countrymen in flight, who couldn’t possibly have been related to the same stock of thirty years before.

    This was bound to happen, although curious exceptions remain.

  8. November 12, 2012 at 00:32

    As long as there are enough people who are prepared to teach/explain history to the youngsters of today all is not lost…

    My great uncle suffered from what now would be called ‘Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome’. He served in the Royal Army Medical Corps in WW1 and the Home Guard in WW2. I can’t even comprehend what it must have been like to deal with casualties during WW1. He dealt with the casualties from both sides and a German soldier expressed gratitude for his compassion.

    An incident during his time in the Home Guard pushed him over the edge. He shot his wife and then himself. The inquest blamed it on the incident that happened to him whilst he was in the home guard.

  9. November 12, 2012 at 01:01

    Following on from JD…

    Close your eyes and listen!!

  10. November 12, 2012 at 04:17

    I remember hearing a history professor (who had fought in the First World War) give a special lecture on the topic of 50 years since the First World War and 25 since the Second. That was, of course, in 1964. He spoke on how they had changed the world.

    And now his lecture is nearly as long ago as the events he was talking about.

  11. wiggiatlarge
    November 12, 2012 at 08:40

    James Wilson re James Stewart, I was going to mention him but thought it was of beam, he was based at a local airfield just a mile away from here, it is now used by a gliding club and light aircraft, when they were seeking funds to buy the airfield he came over and donated a large sum as saving the airfield he felt was a memorial to all who had perished flying out of it, his photograph next to his B-26 hangs over the bar.

  12. Amfortas
    November 12, 2012 at 08:43

    OK Guys and guyettes, it was my ‘fault’ choosing Jimmy Stewart as the example. Fine fellow, sound chap.

    Mea culpa. My round at the pub.

  13. November 14, 2012 at 18:18


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