It was one of the very worst, most destructive, and most pointless wars in the history of the world. Untold millions died, or were maimed, or were hurt, yet their sacrifice achieved almost nothing. So ineffectual and inconclusive was the end of World War One that it led inexorably, two decades later, to the start of World War Two, which was even more destructive. Yet, the First World War would be spoken of with pride by the politicians of its day as “the war to end all wars”. No, it wasn’t.
I have a family connection to the First World War. My mother’s father was gassedduring one of the major battles, and never fully recovered his health. His lungs and bronchial tubes were permanently affected. As a very young child, I can recall him coughing, and coughing, and endlessly coughing, day and night, while he waited to die. I can’t have been more than a few years old when he finally went to his rest. There was no argument among my parents, of course. They saw it as their job, their duty, to support him in his final years. That’s just the way it was. No welfare state, no government facility for disabled veterans – just family to take care of family. I’m sorry we seem to have moved away from that sense of duty in these more affluent, but less compassionate times. I think we’re the poorer for its loss.
At any rate, here’s one song, and one poem, to sum up the two sides of the World War One coin. First, the human side, expressed very poignantly by Eric Bogle.
And then, the patriotic side, which remains very real even though it’s denigrated and mocked by so many today. There was, and is, a value to patriotism that we seem to have forgotten – more’s the pity. Let Laurence Binyon speak for it, both for England and, by extension, for all the nations involved.
May all those who died in, and because of, the First World War, be forgiven their sins, and rest in peace.