Tuesday, 5 August 2014

August 4th...a century on...

 If you don't live in the UK, you may not know that last night there was a very special ceremony to mark the centenary of the day the First World War began in 1914. It was a brilliantly conceived & executed evening, I thought...it included those in Belgium & France and also Germany...moving readings, music and prayers interspersed with contemporary accounts, film and photographs. The culmination came in the hour leading up to 11pm, the actual time at which the British government declared that this country was at war. At 10pm, we were asked to extinguish all lights...save for one candle. And at 11pm, we were to blow that candle out as a symbol of the darkness that fell over Europe at that moment....
 We went for a walk around the neighbourhood at about 10.30....the air was heavy & warm, as it probably was 100 years ago. It was very quiet...although not as quiet as it would have been then with barely any motorised vehicles in general use...
 World War One has been a special interest of mine for as long as I can remember. I feel so privileged to be around for these commemorations which will continue over the next 4 & 1/4 years, until the centenary of the Armistice...
 As we walked, I thought of all the changes that were wrought by that terrible carnage. Some of them good...the elevation and (in most cases) eventual equality of women in society is one....
 But, of course, what really overwhelms & endures in any thoughts of the Great War is the loss. The millions of men & women from all over the world who were drawn in and cut down by the conflict. The music, books, poetry that were never written because their authors died. The children that were never born. The bereaved mothers, fathers, wives and children whose lives were never the same again. My mothers' schoolteachers who were all 'Misses' because their fiances had been killed & they had never met anyone else....
 The flower and hope of youth, the enthusiasm and passion that was decimated....and the ones who fought and lived to return, but remained scarred by the huge and terrible experience forever. My oldest friend's grandfather who fought on the Somme but never, ever talked about it...my own great uncles & great-grandfather ...Edgar, Walter and poor Sidney who was so shellshocked that he spent the rest of his life a hermit & became a figure of fun for those with no idea...absolutely zero understanding or tolerance of the horrors he had faced week in and week out for years...
 And Cyril. Dear Cyril.Who was posted to Gallipoli in 1915. Who was shot and suffered from enteric fever. Who was sent to France when he recovered, where he was wounded again...and returned to the Western Front until the end of hostilities. And who committed suicide just 9 months later as a direct result of his wartime experience....
This couple stood in the churchyard for the entire hour, each holding a candle. How lucky we are, in this country at least, to know that those we love will not have to march away...perhaps never to return. How must that feel? To read printed casualty lists, sometimes days out of date, to find out if someone you care about more than anything else in the world is still in it?

It's horrifying to think that in so many places this violence and grief carries on today. We can only hope for a time when there truly is peace...because humankind has to really want it to make it happen, and there are too many who don't...who believe that a piece of land or the way in which one chooses to worship a god is really, really worth taking life for. While that is true, there can never really be peace. So sad. And so pathetic.

I can't think about it too much. If anything demonstrates the futility and loss of 1914-1918 for me it is this piece of music....
Its composer, George Butterworth, was killed during the Battle of the Somme in 1916...and this piece is, to me, a perfect and beautiful reflection of the comparative innocence, tranquility and beauty of an England that was lost forever that day in August 1914. I think it is wonderful and I hope you do too.

xx


7 comments:

  1. Beautiful post. We also commemorate WWI by keeping only a candle on for an hour.

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  2. With being in the US I did not know about this. What a beautiful reminder of the many lives lost and the loved ones left behind! I had not thought about the many artists, authors and musicians that we will never hear from again. Very sad and very tragic time for so many!!What a beautiful piece by George Butterworth. Lovely! Thank you for sharing!

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  3. What a special and beautiful tribute, Rachel. I don't think that we in the US can feel the depth of sadness that you feel over there. What I remember most is my Canadian grandmother referring to it, and my Dad being sad that this was supposed to be the "War to end all Wars" But this did bring me to tears. And the beauty of the English countryside is so poignant here. The music is just beautiful. I loved the candle ceremony. I had read about it, and lit one candle, too, though it was some hours behind you. I loved the photo of the young Royals Catherine, and Prince Harry with the Archbishop of Canterbury holding lanterns in the cemetery in Mons,Belgium. We are right to remember. We must never forget. And be thankful. Thank you for your beautiful post.

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  4. Any war is such a horrible loss. I cannot imagine how it must be to have it in your own land. I have thought of how heartbreaking it is for mothers who worry about their sons in battle and how they endure loss if sons are killed. Women who lost husbands, some not long after marrying, and lost the loves of their lives.
    Way too sad.

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  5. Rachel, what a moving homage you've presented ... and food for thought as to what the world might have gained but lost. The Banks of Green Willow is hauntingly beautiful. Thank you for this contemplative post.

    Sharon in Alabama

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  6. Dear Rachel, your post is so thoughtful and moving. We must never forget the horrors of war. Your beautiful country has dealt with these horrors too much! We must learn ,one at a time, to love one another. xo ♥

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  7. This is beautifully said and your tribute to Cyril, moving beyond words. So many of these men were heartbreakingly young-still boys. I can't imagine the trauma they carried within them having survived, but it is right for us to remember them always.

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