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Remembered Today:

The Times today 27/4


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The Times seems to be the 'go to' newspaper for the centenary celebrations. A double page spread today 'One last Battle how we mark the First World War' and a leading article. Some interesting observations (often rehearsed here) but insights into various committee members ideas.

Unfortunately online it's subscribers only but if anyone is interested.


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I thought it was a very reasonable opinion. Hope those with authority in these matters read it.

Old Tom

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Page 1

The sound of fighting is still distant, but drawing closer, as an almighty battle looms over how to commemorate the start of the First World War in 1914.

That brutal four-year conflict claimed some 16 million lives, and left a permanent scar on both the British psyche and the landscape of northern France and Belgium. It was supposed to be the war to end all wars, but almost 100 years after it started there is little agreement on what the war meant, why it happened, and how it should be remembered.

A budget of £50 million has been allocated to commemorate the First World War, with a flood of exhibitions, memorials, books, and television and radio programmes. Unveiling plans for the centenary, David Cameron promised a “truly national commemoration”.

But already a public debate has erupted over what shape the centenary should take and what message about the war should be conveyed to a younger generation.

Even the panel set up to advise the Government on the First World War commemoration is divided about how to portray a defining event that is now on the farthest tip of living memory. The battle lines have been drawn. On one side stands what can best be described as the “poetic” view of the First World War, which holds that the conflict, in which more than 700,000 British soldiers died, was squalid, futile, avoidable and unnecessary, a colossal, cruel blunder made bloodier still by the incompetence of the generals.

The war poets — most notably Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves — brilliantly articulated what Owen called “the pity of war”, a conflict of pointless, inhumane waste and bungled leadership. Rudyard Kipling, who lost his son Jack on the Western Front, offered a typically blunt indictment in an epitaph for the war dead: “If any question why we died/Tell them, because our fathers lied.”

The view of the war as a vicious folly was cemented in popular culture by Joan Littlewood’s hit musical Oh! What a Lovely War, and Alan Clark’s 1961 book The Donkeys, a scathing indictment of the generals. Even the television series Blackadder Goes Forth, in which Stephen Fry plays the archetypical dunderhead general, reinforced the idea that the war was a monumental mistake.

That image has been challenged by many modern historians, who argue for a more nuanced approach to the war. Germany was a militarist, imperialist autocracy, bent on European domination; Britain did not seek war, nor eagerly embrace it. From this perspective, while the war was a vast human disaster, it was neither accidental nor fruitless: Britain had little choice but to fight, and the defeat of Germany was a moral as well as a military victory.

That view is strongly held by the military historian Sir Max Hastings, whose new book on the First World War, Catastrophe, will be published in September. “Far from the struggle having been futile, it was fought in a just and necessary cause,” Sir Max said. “Posterity has every reason to be grateful that the allies prevailed.

“There is a real prospect that the Government and BBC will treat next year’s centenary as an occasion merely for regret, lamentation, even apology. While the war was an unquestionable tragedy for Europe, there were vital issues at stake, which had to be defended.”

Sir Hew Strachan, Chichele Professor of the History of War at Oxford University and a member of the advisory board, fired the opening shots in the debate, warning against turning the centenary into “Remembrance Day writ large”, without addressing the strategic and political issues behind what many historians see as a just and justifiable war.

“This country went to war for good reasons, conscientiously, and the outcome must be seen as a victory,” Professor Strachan said.

The Government, however, is acutely aware that any hint of triumphalism risks upsetting Germany, where the crimes of the Second World War are openly acknowledged but attitudes to the First World War, in which more than two million Germans perished, are more ambivalent.

“Germany itself is schizophrenic about the war,” said Professor Strachan. “They accept that they are guilty of causing this war, but don’t want the centenary to be another opportunity to bash the Germans. Angela Merkel doesn’t even want to address it. But as a historian, my answer is that we have to address it. We get nowhere if we are frightened of debate — and this Government is.”

Andrew Murrison, the minister selected by Mr Cameron to oversee the commemoration, insists that there is no agenda. “It isn’t for government to set a particular narrative, but rather to set the framework for the public to commemorate the war,” he said.

Recent histories have tended to focus on individual stories of the men at the front, but the historian Michael Burleigh, another member of the advisory panel, believes there should be a balance between the personal and the political aspects of the conflict: “It should not focus exclusively on the ordinary soldier. You can’t ignore the political and diplomatic causes of the war.”

The novelist Sebastian Faulks, who is also on the panel, argues that the commemoration should reflect the successive stages of the war.

“1914 was a political and diplomatic failure at a high level and that has to be recognised,” he said. “So in 2014 there has to be a degree of breast-beating, a sense of mea culpa and an acknowledgement that this was avoidable.

“In 2016, the year of the Somme [commemoration], the theme should be lamentation. And by 2018 a modest sense of achievement and a feeling of ‘Thank God we got through it, and thank God we won’.”

The poets’ horror of war has ingrained the perception that many in the trenches were ideologically opposed to the war, and that the price in bloodshed was not worth paying. But that view was by no means shared by all soldiers, or all poets. Rupert Brooke’s sonnet Peace, embracing the opportunity to fight, was probably closer to the general sentiment in 1914: “Now, God be thanked Who has matched us with His hour/ And caught our youth, and wakened us from sleeping.”

Some six million British men served in the First World War and many returned home traumatised by the experience, but convinced that they had contributed to an honourable victory. “Many British veterans in their lifetimes deplored the notion that Wilfred Owen or Siegfried Sassoon spoke for their generation,” said Sir Max.

He cited the words of Henry Mellersh, one old soldier who flatly rejected any suggestion that the war had been a “pitiable mistake”. Mr Mellersh wrote in 1978: “I and my like entered the war expecting a heroic adventure and believing implicitly in the rightness of our cause. We ended greatly disillusioned as to the nature of that adventure, but still believing that our cause was right and we had not fought in vain.”

The caricature of the bone-brained British generals sending men to their deaths from far behind the lines — donkeys leading lions to slaughter — has undergone substantial revision. More than 70 British generals were killed in the fighting, and while there was evidence of incompetence during the early part of the war, the quality of leadership improved markedly as tactics adapted to an entirely new form of warfare.

Another source of debate is over which of the war’s many battles to commemorate. Some have pointed out that while events synonymous with slaughter will be marked, such as Gallipoli, the Somme, and Passchendaele, military successes are likely to receive less attention. The Battle of Amiens in 1918, a stunning tactical victory that ended the stalemate and hastened the end of the war, is not expected to be marked by a national commemoration.

Britain fought the First World War as a global empire, and the contribution of other Commonwealth countries will be recognised. There will be distinct commemorations in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

Page 2

Among the events planned to mark the centenary are six “state occasions” and a re-enactment of the football match between British and German soldiers that took place in no man’s land during the unofficial Christmas truce of 1914. The Imperial War Museum will open new galleries on the First World War, as part of a £35 million refurbishment, and a delegation from every state school in the country will visit the battlefields of the Western Front.

The BBC is planning a mass of programming, both factual and drama, across BBC TV, radio and online, to commemorate what Martin Davidson, commissioning editor for history at the BBC, calls “an extraordinary phenomenon with seismic consequences”.

“There is a huge amount of explanation and illumination to be done, and we need to draw as many different parts of our audience into this as possible,” Mr Davidson said.

Faulks argues that the commemoration plans still lack a central, defining event, comparable to the Olympics opening ceremony or the Jubilee pageant. “I would like to see some large, spectacular moment in which the mind of everybody is focused on the war: lights, candles, poppies, human chains or even a commemoration medal for everyone under 18.”

“All ideas welcome,” he added.

More than 65 million people found themselves in uniform during the First World War. There was not a person in Britain whose life was not affected by the conflict. Yet, unlike the Second World War, the first war does not fit into a straightforward moral framework. Contradictions and complexities still colour our attitudes not only to this war, but to war in general. There are multiple ways to remember the First World War: with anger and regret, but also pride; as a victory, and also as a calamity; as a war of poppies and great poetry, but also as a conflict caused and shaped by international politics, futile and mismanaged in some respects, but necessary, even heroic, in others.

With more than a year to go before commemorations start, the struggle over the memory of this terrible and fascinating war has already started.

And it will not be all over by Christmas.

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There was also a panel about how Germany's attitude,

Germany, still consumed by guilt and fascination with the Nazi era, has no grand plans to mark the First World War. The 1914-18 conflict seems largely forgotten.It is not taught in detail in schools and is not commemorated with any specific act of remembrance.

Totensonntag (Sunday of the Dead), the last Sunday before Advent, dates to Prussian times and is used as a general memorial for all those who died in war.

The main event being prepared for August 2014 is an exhibition at the Bundeswehr Military History Museum in Dresden. Curators have decided to concentrate on the complicated relationship between Germany and France dating back beyond Napoleonic times which created the atmosphere for war in 1914.

It will recreate the experience of the Alsace-Lorraine region annexed by Germany in 1871 following the Franco-Prussian war, giving a very continental focus to the anniversary.

“We will not forget about other countries like Britain, Turkey and Austria, but our main focus will be on the German-French relationship,” said Major Sebastian Bangert of the military museum.

“The First World War is not that much in the minds of people, so it is important for us to show what it was about and how it started.”

Die Welt newspaper recently called for more government action to remember the Great War, concluding: “The intense focus on the Second World War is that it has overshadowed previous histories. No other country has such a diminished long-term memory.”

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and finally the leading article


apologies for not cut'n paste before did not want to tread on any toes can't do much about the formatting.

“What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?” demanded Wilfred Owen. The eloquence and controlled fury of a generation of outstanding young poets who served in the First World War have come to dominate public understanding of that cataclysmic conflict. Their accounts of carnage are unsparing and harrowing. But they are also partial. The commemoration of the war from 2014, on the centenary of its outbreak, will require judgment on its causes and consequences as well as attention to the suffering that it inflicted.

While there is inevitably strong debate on rival interpretations, which might be termed the poetic versus the historical, the Government has a duty to ensure balance and fidelity to truth. The commemoration should be not only an act of remembrance of those who fought and died, but also an expression of gratitude and obligation to them. Britain’s engagement in the war was neither senseless nor futile. It was a just war in a necessary cause, fought heroically.

The scale of British losses dwarfed even those in the Second World War. Almost 950,000 servicemen from the British Empire died in the First World War; about 750,000 of those were from the British Isles. The four-year conflict cost some 16 million lives in all. A budget of £50 million to commemorate the war through exhibitions, films and other means of education is money rightly allocated. It should also be taken as an opportunity to enhance public understanding of a defining event in modern history.

Almost since its conclusion, the war of 1914-18 has been depicted as a conflict of generations as much as nations. It pitted the callousness amid comfort of military commanders who sent young men from the trenches to die at Passchendaele and elsewhere. It is the First World War filtered through such outstanding and poignant elements of popular culture as Blackadder and Oh! What a Lovely War.

But that was not all there was. Nor were the catastrophic tactics employed early in the war applied remorselessly to its conclusion. The war was not an apocalyptic blunder fought by old men heedless of humanity. It was a conflict born of the aggression of an expansionist military autocracy. The brutality and bellicosity of Wilhelmine Germany tend to be underestimated in historical retrospect only because Nazism was far worse. But there was an essential continuity between these regimes. Germany was also genocidal — in Africa rather than Europe. And as the Hamburg historian Fritz Fischer argued convincingly from archival research conducted 50 years later, the plans for war were laid at a meeting of Kaiser Wilhelm and his military advisers as early as December 1912.

Britain a century ago was an unequal society with numerous injustices and colonial crimes. It was so far from universal suffrage that women over 30 did not gain the vote until 1918. But it was an emerging constitutional democracy whose war effort was prosecuted for precisely the reasons that its political leaders advanced at the time: to defeat an aggressive and militaristic power, and defend the rights of small nations.

In this nation’s history, the First World War is a matter of pride as well as pity. Schoolchildren who visit the war’s battlefields should know that their forebears fought righteously and not only with valour.

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Many thanks. I have a folder re media and the Centenary and can now read this and add it to it.

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12 November 1918: F. Foch, Marshal of France, Commander in Chief of the Allied Armies:

"After bringing the enemy's attack to a stand by your stubborn defence, you attacked him without respite for several months, with inexhaustible energy and unwavering faith. You have won the greatest battle in history and have saved the most sacred of all causes, the Liberty of the World. Well may you be proud! You have covered your standards with immortal glory, and the gratitude of posterity will be forever yours".

2013: novelist Sebastian Faulks, member of the advisory committee on the centenary, advises that by 2018 the commemorations should show "a modest sense of achievement".

Make of that what you will. I know what I think.

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Another cut 'n paste for you Alan (and anyone else interested) from the Sunday Times 28/4


FOR us the war is finally over. Britain and Germany will stand together on a western front battlefield to mark the centenary of the start of the First World War in 1914.

The government has dropped plans to open the commemorations with a ceremony at Brookwood in Surrey, Britain’s largest military cemetery, and will instead stage an event at St Symphorien Military Cemetery near Mons, Belgium, where similar numbers of British and German war dead are buried.

The theme of reconciliation means Britain will begin the commemorations by meeting its former enemy, rather than France and the United States, its western allies in the war.

A document prepared for a government advisory body, which includes Sebastian Faulks, author of the war novel Birdsong, and Lord Dannatt, former chief of the general staff, says the event “will have a principally Anglo-German focus”. Informed sources say Prince William will be asked to represent Britain.

The document, dated March 20, states: “The cemetery provides a perfect backdrop to a theme of reconciliation given the almost equal number of British and German service personnel that are buried there, and its early history of joint stewardship between the two.”

Rival groups involved in the planning of the centenary have been arguing over whether to portray the war as a futile and avoidable waste of the lives of 900,000 British soldiers or to emphasise the need to defeat the then militarist Germany.

The ceremony will be held on August 4 next year, the anniversary of Germany’s invasion of Belgium and Britain’s declaration of war on Germany. The programme of events, due to be announced by David Cameron next month, stresses “remembrance, youth and education . . . rather than something which might be interpreted as a celebration of going to war”.

Michael Burleigh, the historian and a member of the centenary advisory board, said: “It is right to put the emphasis on reconciliation, but that should not be at the expense of why the war had to be fought, and that was to prevent the central powers from achieving hegemony over Europe.”

Britain went to war as an empire in 1914, and the leaders of India, Canada, Australia and others will gather in Glasgow on the same day, the morning after the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games.

A candle-lit vigil is planned for Westminster Abbey and other places of worship that evening. Candles will be snuffed out at 11pm when Britain went to war, reflecting Sir Edward Grey’s famous words about the “lamps going out all over Europe”. Westminster Abbey will host a Solemn Commemoration on the following morning.

STN2813PICNEW1GB_340709a.jpgGermans fighting at the battle of the Somme in 1916 (Popperfoto)Cameron will also announce details of a £5m scheme to send two children from every state school in England to the battlefields from 2014-19.

Sources involved in planning the national events say the government is concerned that the four-year programme might alienate elements of modern Britain by appearing too white, too Anglican and too obsessed with Eton and the public schools.

One source said: “There are clear political issues here. The referendum on Scottish independence is being held on September 18, 2014, just six weeks after the start of the commemorations, which will highlight the role of Scottish troops in winning the war.”

Another informed source said: “The British government’s preoccupation has been with its own ethnic minorities and the need to think of engaging them.”

This could involve highlighting the role of soldiers such as Walter Tull, the first black officer and a former footballer for Tottenham Hotspur, who died in battle.

There are fears that the government is not doing enough to recognise the role of the Commonwealth countries. Anthony Seldon, master of Wellington College and co-author of a forthcoming book, The Great War and the Public Schools, said: “People of many different ethnicities took part in the war, but those who suffered proportionately the greatest fatalities were white public-school boys.”

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This is quite discerning stuff. There are bound to be flaws, but, all in all, I'm rather impressed with the tenor of that article.

Phil (PJA)

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