I find it difficult to write about my subject for the week so I will start where I feel more comfortable; in ancient history. In 279 BC King Pyrrhus of Epirus won the second of two victories against the ascendant Roman Empire, this was impressive except that Plutarch records that he had lost his friends, commanders and so many of his men that his country was all but destroyed. The term, ` Pyrrhic Victory ’ is an expression that loosely means that you might have won something but it has gained you nothing or that everyone has lost. This is very is much an expression that comes to mind when thinking of the First World War.
Friday was the anniversary of the start of the battle of the Somme, infamous as being the bloodiest day in British history. It is said that the opening barrage was heard in London, which sounds incredible, but possible given that much of southern of England was quiet and agrarian. Royalty and heads of state paid their respects yesterday to young men sent to their deaths by royalty and heads of state. Millions of people are still horrified and saddened by the awful unnecessarily prolonged suffering of `men’ still likely to be at school today.
I saw the old film version of the book `All Quiet on the Western front,’ last night, it mirrors the experiences of a German soldier but it could have been written by any soldier at all. Life in the home` countries was never the same again but the brunt was borne by young men.
I suppose everyone has their own way of remembering the past but I am most struck by the village monuments across Britain (and everywhere else). They contain mostly names, not lengthy diatribes because what mattered most were names. Many men did not have graves and so there was nowhere to record their deaths but there is more to the monuments. The stone names were so important because most young men could never have children to carry on their names in living form. It is sad today that we usually cannot put a face to the name on the stone but perhaps we could slow our steps as we pass and see the once hopeful young people beyond the cold, faded lettering.
I should add that even for soldiers old enough to have children there is a sense in which the stone writing is a sad reflection of the fact that they will not be making their mark in the world.
The world where a great number of these soldiers come from were as elaborated on by :
- The Role Of Empire And Commonwealth Troops During The Battle Of The Somme edited by Jessica Talarico .
- Volunteers put the Battle of the Somme in our midst by James Pickford .