Monday, May 26, 2014


Like most communities up and down the land, here in Dibley the Parish Council are planning to mark the centenary of World War 1.   And in common with most other communities, we have our very own memorial outside the village church in memory of those service personnel who died in that dreadful conflict.   However, there are possibly six names missing from the war memorial and the Parish Council is attempting to establish a definite link with the village and to seek relatives to obtain their permission for names to be added.  

It`s then proposed to produce a booklet giving brief biographies of all residents of the village who are recorded by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as having perished in the Great War.  This initiative would then be followed by producing a brief history of the village during the conflict and, finally, to include on the war memorial the names of local residents who have died as a result of service in any of this country`s conflicts since the end of the Second World War.

Now for good reason I may have been a tad critical of the Parish Council in the past but this initiative is well founded, wholly admirable and heartfelt and I hope it gets the support it needs to make it succeed.

Now all of this has the effect of making us reflect yet again on the appalling events that beset the world 100 years ago and at this distance it`s impossible to really imagine how things must have been.   But perhaps at least a flavour of those times may have been captured by my old school friend, the late William Scammell, in his poem `Remembering the Great War:-

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 christening, 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.

Bill`s poem, like those of so many others, gives us a chilling glimpse of the almost indescribable horror that we, 100 years on, are struggling to comprehend.   And it has long occurred to me as surprising that it is still referred to as The Great War, but perhaps in name only, for in reality it was - and should be remembered as - the Most God-awful Horrific War there has ever been.

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