Could the Great War centenary affect Scots independence vote?
LONDON LETTER:The British prime minister says the war must be properly marked given the scale of sacrifice
IN NEARLY each and every village in Britain there is a memorial to the fallen of the first World War, a list of name upon name recording the extraordinary losses.
The few that did not lose men became known as “The Thankful Villages” – just 41 of the 16,000 parishes in England and Wales among their number.
Writer Arthur Mee, in The King’s England, a guide written in the 1930s, recorded the experience of Catwick in Yorkshire’s East Riding: “Thirty men went from Catwick to the Great War and thirty came back, though one left an arm behind.”
Fifty-nine of the sons of Arkholme in Lancashire took up uniform. Each, extraordinarily, came home unscathed.
They were the lucky ones. Nearly 800,000 were killed and 1.5 million to two million wounded. Each death and the suffering of those who returned wounded created ripples of grief that last, often, to this day.
Each November the dead are remembered on Remembrance Sunday, though plans are now afoot for the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the opening of the conflict in 2014.
Yesterday, prime minister David Cameron went to the Imperial War Museum in London to outline plans for the centenary commemoration. “Let me start with why this matters so much. I know there will be some who wonder whether we should be making such a priority of these commemorations when money is tight and there is no one left from the generation that fought in the Great War,” he said.
However, it must be properly marked, he said, because of the scale of the sacrifice, the impact of the war on the century to come, and also “because of the matter of the heart”.
“There is something about the first World War that makes it a fundamental part of our national consciousness. Put simply, this matters: not just in our heads, but in our hearts. It has an emotional connection.”
Guided by poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, or latter-day writers Pat Barker and Sebastian Faulks, the current generation remains “transfixed” by the four years of war.
Despite the brutality, the war prompted displays of humanity, too, he believed, noting the monument erected by the Turks after the Gallipoli campaign, which had led to slaughter for the Australian and New Zealand Corps.
“You, the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries, wipe away your tears, your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace,” Cameron read.
Up to £50 million (€62 million) is to be spent, with each and every community in Britain encouraged to make its own contribution not just in 2014 but for each of the other landmarks of the war, including the Somme.