This morning I watched the final episode of Jeremy Paxman’s “Britain’s Great War”, a four part documentary, produced by the BBC, which covered the years from the start in 1914 through to the armistice of 1918. I found it a very insightful telling of the events both on the battlefields of Europe, as well as the home front.
At the 11th hour, of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 the guns fell silent. It is said that soldiers didn’t know how to react. They had been in the trenches for so long they remained afraid to look “over the top” finding it impossible to believe that there wouldn’t be a snipers bullet winging past their ear.
Equally back home people were disbelieving. After so long could it really be over? One symbol of the truth was that at 11am on the 11th November 1918 Big Ben, the huge bell over the Houses of Parliament in London was rung for the first time since war broke out. The distinctive sound of the bell which is known the world over for marking the hour, was a powerful message to all that heard it that day, and I believe is still so today.
At the end of the road where I live is a memorial to the men of the village who paid the ultimate price during both the Great War and World War II. It was erected in 1921 by the grateful villagers to ensure that they would never be forgotten. Regularly over the past 10 years I have made the effort to attend the remembrance ceremony and I still find it an incredibly moving experience. Many of those taking part the first time I was there are no longer with us, but their places have been taken by new faces who make sure that they and their comrades will always be in our thoughts.
At the appointed time, Big Ben sounds out across the assembled crowd and it is impossible not to be moved remembering those that laid down their lives to ensure that we have a secure future in this land we call home. At that moment if you look out over the old men on parade, some who struggle to even stand unaided, they are tall and they proud. They are young men again reliving their experiences during those days so long ago, remembering friends and family, and they have tears in their eyes.
It is 100 years ago this year that what became known as the Great War started. No one is left who took part in those events, but there are still those that recall them from their childhood; who remember immediate family members who never came home; who remember the grief and suffering that the war inflicted; who remember the incredible changes to our country in the years that followed.
As we know, the Great War didn’t prove to be “the war to end all wars” as many predicted and probably prayed. Just over 20 years later Europe was at war again. Far from the lessons being learned, the events following the first war, and the actions of the allied governments, led to the second great world conflict, and wars have been part of the world’s history ever since. I believe it to be a fact that at no time since the Great War has the world been free of conflict. Will it ever be?
So in this year of remembrance it is important that as a race we find a way to look back and try and understand what war actually means and remember all those that took part in the Great War and all conflicts since.
Last year Lauren and I made a visit to the World War II D Day landing sites in Normandy, details of which can be seen in my blog post, “The Battle Fields, France”, as well as the battle fields of the Somme. It is only by seeing these places, and the huge war cemeteries, that you get any idea of the scale of the events; although even then it is not possible to comprehend the hardships that had to be endured by all concerned. It is possible to see some of the trenches and get a feel for the place, but that is all.
As educated people we don’t need to feel the hurt and suffering of war in order to appreciate its effects. Therefore it is perhaps only education which could ever see wars finally brought to an end.