Posted By pferguson on July 25, 2014
Searching for the Great War 100 Years Later
“Some wars name themselves…This is the Great War. It names itself.”
Maclean’s Magazine, October 1914, p. 53
“Every intelligent person in the world knew that disaster was impending and knew no way to avoid it.”
H.G. Wells (Writer)
“…an old world of swords, lances and bugles would be shattered by the machine gun and the howitzer.”
Richard Holmes (Military Historian)
In each town and city, across many nations there are reminders of a difficult past centered on the Great War years 1914 – 1915 – 1916 – 1917 – 1918. Soon these 100th anniversaries will be upon us with many events, exhibitions, gatherings, and acts of remembrance reflecting upon a time that was not our best. How will we chose to remember these times?
There will be the personal stories of men and women who went to war, the stories of those left behind to wonder when, when, when…when will it be over? Then there are those whose anguish and desperation brought hardship to their days and yet they had the ability to rise each day and carry forth. What of those left behind to remember…or the children raised without a parent or parents..the families who lost one, two, three or more family members? What of the place names where these souls were lost caught in the tumult of this whirlwind? Have you been to Vimy…have you been to the waterfields of Passchendaele…have you stood at Maple Copse in the shadows amongst the trees and headstones of history?
The most effective way for any of us to have some understanding of what it is that this earlier generation encountered is to explore wherever and whatever we can. Is it a diary or a box of things left over from Great Grandfather’s past? Is it a Great War postcard addressed to your relative from someone you never heard of and yet the tone of the card carries a voice of familiarity? When you kneel upon the ground of the Somme and cast your eyes across the horizon towards another feature in the landscape what speaks to you? The view is more than what you see and hear it is also what you feel.
I have told many people about my travels across France and Flanders telling my audiences that if you have a chance to visit this now peaceful land it will provide gifts and legacies you will carry forever. The memories will be engrained in such a way that you too will want to share the stories of your experiences, your connections to the Great War. Some visitors, however, will not be sympathetic to the attempts at finding peace in these landscapes with their memorials, cemeteries and commemorations but still these individuals will have come away with a deeper conviction of their beliefs about a time that was not our best, but one that is equally worthy of constant consideration.
When searching for the Great War of 100 years ago you may not have to go too far. Here at home it is not far away. It may be in the churches or in an old building in town. It may be in an old house you walk past everyday where the news of a Great War loss was first heard by the family. It may be a city centre where the community gathered to hear of the armistice and celebrated into the night.
When visiting other communities see if you can locate their memorial, their commemoration of their town folk who did not return to see their community change. Where is it located? Was it easy to find? Was it where you thought it might be? Remember too that these community projects were filled with the contemporary intensity of knowing the many names recorded and of their families. During the unveilings many will have recalled when they heard, how they heard, where they heard these familiar names and each year afterwards they would continue to gather at this record thinking upon a time before the Great War when junior or Robbie sauntered along the road filled with the hopes and dreams of tomorrow not knowing of the years ahead 1914 – 1915 – 1916 – 1917 – 1918.