So yesterday was the big day, the 100th anniversary of the start of The Great War – The war to end all wars until of course WW2 at least.
Like many other people I spent much of the day watching the live ceremonies from around the country and in France and Belgium. Reading extraordinary accounts of how burial parties on the western front would encounter nests of wild and fearless rats living inside the chest cavities of the dead soldiers.
In my book Lest We Forget, I mention how one unfortunate fellow got stuck in the deep mud just a few feet from the duck-boards his colleagues would run across on a daily basis. He was just out of reach and after initial valiant attempts to rescue him, it was deemed impossible and so day after day the poor man sank lower and lower. A week later he was quite mad before he at last disappeared under the mud.
I thought that account was bad enough but it is surely equalled by the unfortunate chap who suffering from dysentery, after a series of events ended up falling face first into a pile of his own excrement where he drowned. Depressing stuff and something worth being depressed about.
Memorial events were held all through the day from Glasgow to Folkestone and as well as remembering those who fought, there was a spirit of forgiveness and friendship as the Kings, Queens, Princes and Princesses, Presidents and Prime Ministers of Germany, France, Belgium and the United Kingdom came together in reconciliation remembering the past together as friends and allies. War now in any part of Europe is unimaginable except of course for Russia and for that we can thank the sacrifices of those that came before us.
When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say,. For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today.
Around the Tower of London, volunteers have planted 900,000 ceramic red poppies, one for each of the British deaths of WW1 and they will remain there until Armistice Day. In Folkestone a new ceremonial arch has been built on the route that the men marched on their way to the ships that would take them across the sea.
At Bovington Tank museum (home to the very first tanks amongst hundreds of others), 1 million poppies were dropped above men in WW1 battle-kit as WW1 planes played out a pretend dog-fight overhead.
During the evening we watched the 3 hour memorial service at St. Symphorien military cemetery at Mons. It was a beautiful event to watch as the great and good read out testimonies and letters from WW1 soldiers.
Then a soldier played ‘The Last Post’ which as my wife put it, made her very sad. I’m sure she wasn’t the only one as I like that tune too and everyone from the Royal Family members downwards seemed to become upset at one point or other during the day.
I can’t find the Last Post video from last night but here are two from the annual Festival of Remembrance and also the nightly remembrance at the Menin Gate in Belgium. Held every night at 8pm, it is said that it will be in the 27th century before the ceremony has played out by local volunteers as many times as equal the British deaths in the war.
I’ve been to Menin Gate before and it is incredible, as big as it is, it was found to be not large enough for all of the names to be inscribed. In fact the stonemasons were still putting on the finishing touches to the memorial when the hostile forces arrived at the start of WW2.
Then at 10pm, attention switched to Westminster Abbey. Where a service was held and one by one the candle lights were put out leaving until the last, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
There are countless tombs of Kings, Queens, Generals and Poets on the floor of Westminster but only this tomb is one that you have to walk around, just inside the giant doors to the old building.
Households across the land switched off their lights and lit candles or small lamps. Entire villages and towns switched off all their lights and the great public buildings and works of art were put in darkness.
Buckingham Palace remembers