Friday, 1 August 2014

WWI - a personal reflection

On the 28th June 1914 a young man called Gavrilo Princip , standing beside the Latin Bridge in Sarajevo, shot and killed Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie. Thus the spark was ignited which led to the outbreak of the First World War on 4th August 1914. This 100th anniversary is NOT a cause for celebration. Obviously the interest today is the politics, personal ambitions, royal interaction, military tactics and consequences etc of the elites that wielded power. Moreover a lot of people - businessmen, politicians, & crooks, to name but a few - became very rich from the war and many did not want it to end. That history is also fascinating.

But what we should really remember, with great sorrow, is the devastation wreaked upon ordinary people on all sides and all over the world by this war. It is reliably estimated that some 37million people were directly affected. By the time you add in relatives & friends it is probably more like 200million whose lives would never be the same again. We rightly remember & mourn the 453 British Service Personnel who have lost their lives in Afghanistan since 2001.Nowadays combat induced mental illness is recognised and treated. In WWI 306 British and Commonwealth soldiers were executed after courts-martial for cowardice or desertion.

It is hard to get ones head round the fact that 57,470 casualties were sustained by the British in just one day, ( the first day of the Somme [1st July 1916]). That is almost half the present population of Blackpool and roughly the same as the total population of Lancaster, Corby and others. Perhaps another way of looking at it is to note that of 22 schoolboys who played a game of cricket in 1910 only 6 were still alive in 1920. And to try and grasp the horror one incident, where a young soldier (perhaps 19yrs old?) his body shredded by shrapnel said, in between his screams, to the officer who was cradling him " I'm sorry for making such a noise Sir. I really cannot help it" before mercifully dying.

No, August the 4th 2014 is not a date to celebrate. Whatever else you do, find a few moments to go to a quiet corner and weep.

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