Photo copyright Louise Yates ℅ The Argus newspaper
100 years ago today, 4 August 1914 the United Kingdom declared war on Germany after Germany invaded Belgium. Sir Edward Grey, the British Liberal statesman who was Foreign Secretary at the time of the outbreak of the war made the famous statement “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime”. The second half seems rather at odds with the popular notion that “it would all be over by Christmas”.
At momentous times in UK history I am very glad to be living back in the here. This is my heritage, my culture and my history and I want to share in it and play my part of rememberance.
Countries all over Europe are marking the occasion in their own way and there are events in South Africa, Australia and Canada on 4-5 August too. In the UK, the Lights Out campaign http://www.1914.org/events-calendar/?id=EVENT474295 is encouraging people to turn off lights between 10-11pm, leaving on just one light and using the time to reflect on the war in all its aspects. Wreaths are being laid at cemeteries and on war memorials up and down the country. There are civic and religious services as well as torchlit processions happening in many villages and towns including my local town.
Art exhibitions including this particularly poignant one at the Tower of London are a very visual representation of the war. http://www.thisiscolossal.com/2014/07/tower-of-london-poppies/ I found this especially moving given the bloody history of the Tower itself. Titled “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red,” the final work will consist of 888,246 red ceramic flowers—each representing a British or Colonial military fatality—that flow through grounds around the tower.
So what does it mean to me? It means I am one of the lucky ones. My maternal grandfather was 20 in August 1914 and went to war with his two of his three brothers and his best friend and astonishingly they all survived. We think his youngest brother also went later once he was old enough. The friend then married my Grandad’s sister.
Here is his service record.
Rumsey. J A Pte. RAMC. He joined in 1916 and was drafted to Malta where he was for some time engaged as an orderly in the operating theatre. Later he was sent to Palestine and remained there until January 1919 when he was transferred to France. In October 1919 he returned to England and was demobolised. He holds the General Service and Victory Medals.
This is him in his RAMC uniform and this is him with his three brothers and his sister after the war.
It also means that my 17 year old son is living in an era where although war is still rampant across the globe, he is not at risk of conscription. Conscription in WW1 had a minimum age of 18 but at 6’4″ my son may well have been one of those young men caught up in the gung-ho attitude of the time who chose to lie about their age and sign up.
So what have we learned from “the war to end all wars” ? The UK is still selling arms, companies still make vast profits out of war and men and women are still dying.
This photo from Oxfam is a stark reminder of how far we still have to go…..