Wednesday, November 06, 2013


I think I`m right in saying that HM Gov. is proposing to spend more than £50million over the next four years with a programme to `commemorate` the First World War - The Great War as it became known once it was over.   In making the announcement, Dave Cameron expressed the hope that remembering the `sacrifice` of British troops would "capture our national spirit in every corner of the country, in every school, workplace, town hall and local community in a commemoration that, like the Diamond Jubilee in 2012, says something about who we are as a people." 

Politicians and officials in Westminster and Whitehall are beavering away on detailed plans to mark this pivotal time in our history and already an extensive list of events has been drawn up.   Now it`s clearly true that occasions such as this do provide an opportunity for us to reflect on "who we are as a people" but if the only purpose of remembering The Great War is to provide us with a warm glow of national pride, especially when compared to the Diamond Jubilee by the Prime Minister no less, then I fear that the reality of that conflict will be buried in a welter of sentiment.

In searching for a more realistic reflection of The Great War, I was reminded that my old school chum, the late poet and critic William Scammell, wrote one of the most raw and evocative interpretations of what it must really have been like:-

Opaque and resonant as sacred texts
the names alone sound out a litany:
Passchendaele, Ypres, the Somme, Verdun...

Some dropped perfect but for a sweet
smudge of gas - others, dispersing, spanned
earth in the wildest hug.

Men flashed hissing to their elements
like spit gobbed on a stove.  One officer
in nomansland apologised to his troops

behind for lasting in such loud slow screams.
Four men unwound their lives to staunch
his uproar - failed, like the concerted knuckles

hammered round his teeth.  Gowned neutrally
for christenings, deaths, history thumbs
its cheap editions, weltering in echoes.

I think of Sassoon`s tall heart, contracting
fiercest love for his own men, one of whom
shot him from excess of zeal;  of Graves`s

stretched contempts.  The fires they grazed rot down
in village squares.  On memory`s floor words rut
and root, nosing blind and ghastly at the tongue.

Instead of four years of superficial tub thumping which runs the risk of merely creating a trivialised sideshow, surely our time, energy and resources would be better spent on a truly meaningful celebration of the centenary of the end of the Great War in 2018.   And  in the meantime, we should tread softly and respectfully in memory of the countless millions who perished or whose lives were changed forever.   We should remember them, rather than making the centenary of the start of the Great War an excuse for us to feel good about ourselves.


Ray Turner said...

A rare instance where we disagree slightly Snopper.

I wholeheartedly agree that it will be the anniversary of the end of WWI that is the more significant event, but I think it is also important to remind everybody how WWI started and the consequences of that decision (and countless other poor ones) once the hostilities had kicked-off.

And there's that famous Yuletide International football match, which always helps to bring War into perspective.

Overall, £50m isn't a great deal for Government to spend these days, in the overall scheme of things. Actually, it doesn't seem like enough to me...

Finally, bearing in mind that we still buy Poppies for Remembrance every year, a tradition that stated after WWI, to let the event go completely uncommemorated by Central Govt would be a disservice to the memory of all those who served in the conflict or were otherwise affected by it.

Sorry to disagree. Normal service will soon be resumed, I'm sure...!

Snopper said...

I don`t think we`re too far apart, Ray, and I tend to agree that £50million may not be enough, but my basic point is that stringing events out over the four year period is likely to reduce impact and significance, given the `mindset` of modern day British `culture.`

I suppose my hope (despite what our Teutonic chums might say) is that we really go to town on the celebrations in 2018. Anyway, I think Billy Scammell from Hythe and Hardley schools along with me, got it about right.