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Remembered Today:

1914 in 2014: a retrospective.


Muerrisch
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How was it for you?

The usual suspects and organisations did what was expected of them. Commemorations, statues, films, interviews. All well and good, and no doubt educated some folk, confirmed others in their prejudices, and left yet more others totally unmoved and ill-informed.

Some fine books, and some turkeys, were published. By and large the post-revisionist revisionists [those who insist on the evidence being followed, even if icons and sacred cows are to perish] prevailed. For which I am grateful.

The WFA "specials" were very good indeed, with more promised.

And the Forum shone light into important and neglected corners, with more than a few threads attracting superb contributions. I believe that this Forum has enduring value for those coming new to the study of the Great War, and now has added value enormously to the collective wisdom regarding the first tumultuous and tragic events of the war.

Thank you to all the contributors who have enriched our knowledge and inspired our empathy.

And, beyond thanks, the mercenaries who held the sky suspended, by a thread.

Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries’ AE Housman

These, in the day when heaven was falling,
The hour when earth’s foundations fled,
Followed their mercenary calling
And took their wages and are dead.

Their shoulders held the sky suspended;
They stood, and earth’s foundations stay;
What God abandoned, these defended,
And saved the sum of things for pay.

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How was it for me ?

Better than expected.

The dross outweighed by some superb stuff.

On the whole, an encouraging experience.

Phil (PJA)

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I take away for the year what seems to have been an upsurge in community interest in the war. Several communities round Stockport have held commemorative events and I've been pleased to have been part of several of them. I doubt whether there will be continued interest throughout the centenary years - although I'd expect there to be more "stuff" than usual around 11/18.

On a wider look at the year, the "big names", like Paxman and Adie, have got their books out so I assume any further over the coming years are going to be from the historians well known to us.

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We have had plenty of community commemorative events all over Ireland organised and contributed to by relatives of those who served or have an interest on a level not previously seen. We remembered them throughout the 1920s but had selective amnesia for the next 80 odd years. At least it means all the newly published books are in new areas of research not covered before but we still cant work out how many were killed. It was always 49,000 Irishmen, went back down to 35,000 for a few years and now we are rapidly getting back up to 49,000.

Still waiting for a decent book on artillery however!

Mark

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Interesting you should choose Housman as your epigram, when the emphasis of this year was on the 'citizen' soldiers, the Kitchener volunteers and conscripts rather than those who 'saved the sum of things for pay' at Ypres.

Time will tell but I did feel that this emphasis in 2014 meant we had done 'the Great War' and in spite of media overload, I think I still have half a dozen series on my TV hard drive to watch. The overall impression I have is that's done and dusted, move on - 2015 the General Election; 2016 Rio Olympics I just can't see the same level of coverage, in the UK until 1918.

As far as the books no doubt they will continue but I found it difficult to keep up and wondered how many variations there were on the same facts.

The most disappointing but not unexpected aspects were the sentimentality of most of the coverage and the lack of consideration of the sacrifice of other nations.

There were gems to be found among the doss, often away from the mainstream and the repetitive clips of that soldier falling back in the 'trench' but the impression at the end of the year compounded by the hijacking by the football industry was that it England v. Germany and just as in 1966 in the end we prevailed.

In spite of the saturation coverage it was barely mentioned in everyday conversation though the poppies at the Tower caught the public imagination, and it seems the level of interest took everyone by surprise and like the Cenotaph became in 1919 the installation and it's imagery will probably become the enduring symbol of the year. I do hope it's not football.

George Coppard writing about Christmas 1915 said, 'we felt no joviality towards Jerry after what we had been through', perhaps in 2015 we too will see less sentimentality (except of course in the Southern Hemisphere) and a more realistic interpretation of events.

It would be good to see more recognition that those who fought and survived are as worthy of our attention as those who died and can now be found on internet databases as well as war memorials and each memorial seems to deserve a book. To quote another poet, 'It is easy to be dead', but is their story to be the whole story?

Ken

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Most of the TV coverage was mawkish nonsense but fortunately forgettable enough that I have, well, forgotten it.

The Poppies at the Tower were superb.

Max Hastings' tome was Max Hastings' tome - you like it or you don't (I didn't).

Peter Hart's book looks excellent, but I've not read it yet.

Best for me was a superb weekend of commemoration at Messines and Ypres to remember the action of the London Scottish in 1914, followed a week later by taking part with the first-ever Regimental party on the Cenotaph Parade.

Most of the rest was dross, pure and simple.

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Excellent post Grumpy.

The bit that sticks in the craw has been the media focus on casualties; not the causes of the war or why and how it was fought. certainly the casualties on all side were tragic but they are a part of the history and shouldnot be studied in isolation.

Certain poems and authors being lauded as the "Voice of the Tommy" when IMHO they were expressing their own thoughts and feelings.

I've forgotten how many times I have seen a reference to Rupert Brooke being "killed in action". Poems misquoted; if I see in print again "They shall not grow old", or "In Flanders Fields the poppies grow", I shall shout out loud.

.

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Certain poems and authors being lauded as the "Voice of the Tommy" when IMHO they were expressing their own thoughts and feelings.

I've forgotten how many times I have seen a reference to Rupert Brooke being "killed in action". Poems misquoted; if I see in print again "They shall not grow old", or "In Flanders Fields the poppies grow", I shall shout out loud.

.

I couldn't agree more. Lewis-Stempel, in the introduction to his very fine book 'Six Weeks':

"The trenches of the First World War are now almost impossible to reach. It is not just that those excavations on the plains of Flanders and the Somme are buried under the plough of the farmer and the grass of time, it is that they are surrounded by a moat deep with the pitying tears of the war poets".

Separately, the recycling of well established 'revisionist' views as radical 'new' interpretations was perhaps the most irritating aspect of 2014. Hastings was the main protagonist, although he is not alone. One might argue that promoting the 'revisionist' view to the mass market at least raised awareness. My sense is that significantly more people have become interested in the Great War and more interested in their forbears' participation.

The centenary has obviously been a catalyst for an avalanche of books and documentaries some of which were simply appalling. The media's coverage, particularly the TV, generally missed a unique opportunity by simply recycling lots of worn out ideas. Low points included Ferguson's so-called 'counter-factual' debate which appeared to annoy his panel of academic experts more than anyone else. It was Entertaining for all the wrong reasons. High points for me were Paxman's documentary, a very fine book on the Indian Army in France, Mitchinson's last part of his trilogy on the TF and Hart's 'Fire and Movement'. The peak was Private Eye's spoof on Sainsburys' commercial which at least shows trench humour is alive and kicking. MG

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My particular area of interest is the Battle of the Frontiers and although the centenary was largely ignored by the British and French media, I was very happy with the commémorations on a local level in Belgium and France. The centenary attracted a lot more families of the French who took part, many of whom were pleased to share their souvenirs. Once it was passed I had a strange sense of anti-climax for a few weeks.

My low was not been able to attend the French Troupes de Marine (Colonial Corps) commémorations at Rossignol, held later in September. My high was at Ethe: been sought out as an Englishman by the great-grandson of Marechal Foch because "his family had always had a high regard for the English".

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So far I am pleasantly surprised. I found that I can actually have conversations about the subject with friends and family who actually ask me questions and show genuine interest, instead of that glazed look I used to get.

I expected a lot of repeats, but there was quite a lot of new programming on the TV & Radio. I also have a lot of material as yet unwatched on my recording device. Yet to listen to are the debates entitled The War that changed the World, on the World Service. The highlight for me was 37 Days as I knew little about what was going on politically prior to seeing this. I had a full recorded set of the Crimson Field and deleted the lot without watching it, as I think the jury here came to a wise decision. :thumbsup:

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I suspect there may be some events around July 2016.

Sadly, however Sebtember 30th 2018 will probably pass by unremarked, despite being a significant turning point.

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When your eight year old granddaughter asks you questions about the poppies in The Moat, and why there are so many, and then asks you why the soldiers in the Sainsbury advert started fighting again, you know that something has left its mark.

Phil (PJA)

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