Why Should We Remember The Great War?
Although there is no shortage of history to learn, seldom is there a time in history that you can say that one moment in time, those seconds, minutes, hours, months or years changed the path of the human race for ever and it will never be the same again. The Great War is one of those times.
A hundred years ago today something started that changed the course of the world forever. An event that should have been over by Christmas, but lasted four long, bloodied and traumatic years. A war that did not finish at its end but continued to send ripples of consequence through many more years to come, even up to the present day.
Over the next four years you are going to be told stories, shown images and given accounts of men that, as far as we are aware, are no longer alive to tell the stories themselves. You are going to be asked to remember the lives of men and women that you don’t know and probably bare no relation to you, your family or your friends today.
Four years is a long time to remember, and over time there will be a lot of people that will become disillusioned with the meaning of the commemorations. Some will not understand why so much emphasis, and come to that money, is being placed on the memory of men that died long before they were born and don’t believe that they had an impact on their lives today.
So why should you remember these men? Why should you listen to their stories? Why should you give a damn about anything that happened back then, I mean it didn’t even happen in this country… did it?
The truth is that you don’t have to. You can if you want to ignore the posters, the films, the newspaper articles and all the other information that will be sent your way. You don’t have to pay attention to any of it.
But before you do ignore them, I want you to look at this picture. Don’t just glance at it, don’t cast an eye as you read, take your time to really look at the picture and see what is happening.
The men in these pictures are not actors or models. The men in these pictures did not have a laugh as someone snapped the images from behind. All of these men where running towards a line in front of them. They ran over barren ground that didn’t hold firm causing them to slide and fall, a ground that is peppered with broken metal, twisted barbed wire and unclaimed bodies. They are tired, they have witnessed unspeakable sights and probably have done unspeakable things. These men are running at a line in front of them that flashes, not with lights to guide them in safely, but with lights that are spitting out round after round each one trying to kill them.
All of these men are running to their death.
If you think that these men had nothing to do with you, walk to your local memorial that you probably pass every day on the way to the shop. Stop a second and read each name that is written. If your family is from the area you will more than likely see a surname that you will recognize. Each name is a man that gave his life. Each name is a man that was son, a husband or a father. Now think how many of these memorials you see when you travel around the country. On each of these separate memorials each name is different, each name representing yet another life lost.
Some of these men enlisted themselves, such as Private John Parr, who died on 21st August 1914 at the age 15 at Oburg Belgium after lying about his age. Some were shamed into signing up by women such as Christabel Pankhurst as she encouraged the use of white feathers to other women as a means humiliating men that had not yet joined up. And some like George Slater from Ripon were enlisted under the Military Service Act 1916, facing execution if he refused. Each one ended up in a living hell that we will never be able to comprehend.
It wasn’t only the men that suffered though. Women had more and more pressure put upon them to suppress their feelings towards loved ones and send them off to war. If you have a child take a second to think if you could push them towards the recruiting office and then on to a war zone. Look at your partner and ask if you could face the long lonely nights of not knowing if they were safe, if they had been injured or worse killed. There was no internet and no phones so the only communication was by letter. Imagine the feeling of waiting for the post every day to see if you had the only means of communicating with the man you loved. Now imagine the feeling of not receiving any post in a week from them and the dread that must fill your body due to the uncertainty that this would cause.
There was, of course, a lot more going on and sacrifices being made from both the men and women. I am only trying to give you an idea of the most personal feelings that would have been felt during this time.
So why should we remember?
On August 4th 1914 a chain reaction began that tore apart the world as it was. Over the next 100 years events that have taken the world by storm lie with their routes in the aftermath of World War One.
But the biggest reason is those that fought, were wounded or died were our families. They lived in the cities, towns and villages that you do now. They were just like you. They were ordinary hard working people from all spectrums of the social classes and they were all scared. If a family member passes away today, we give them a day of memorial, to do this for every allied man that died in World War One you would have to hold a memorial every day for the next 22,000 years. All the nation asks for now is four.
Please don’t forget the reason for these commemorations. They gave their tomorrow for our today, and we must remember them.