The First World War Centenary: Lest We Forget

14 Nov

Sunday 11 November 2018 marked the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, which lasted from 28 July 1914 – 11 November 1918.  The war was initiated in Europe with the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, but was fought globally by the opposing sides of the Triple Entente and the Central Powers.  It was, in one sense, the clash of empires as the European nations coalesced into two large blocs who ultimately mobilized over 70 million military personnel from around the world.  The bare facts on the detailed Wikipedia page state that roughly 15-19 million individuals died (9-11 million military and roughly 8 million civilian) and many more were injured throughout the conflict.

On Sunday I visited the cinema to watch the newly-released documentary They Shall Not Grow Old, directed by Peter Jackson, which focused on the experiences of soldiers on the Western Front and on the notorious trench warfare in which they served.  The documentary was notable for the colour restoration of original archive footage and the implementation of technology used to speed up or slow down the footage rate equally to help create a modern look.  Alongside this Jackson’s team artificially created frames to make the footage run even smoother.  The result was visually stunning and brought into sharp focus the individuals within the footage; it felt like you could reach out and talk to them.

Whilst watching the question and answer session after the documentary, what struck me most was Jackson’s point regarding the voices that are missing from the footage: those of the individuals who had died in the course of the war.  They are the silent record of the war and its impact.  This was a war unlike any previous, in both mechanization and in its geographic spread.  Time for many simply stopped.

Shrapnel from a shell embedded within a clock. This was the result of the maritime bombardment of the Hartlepools by the German navy on the 16 December 1914 which killed over 100 people. Among those killed were Private Theophilus Jones, aged 29, who became one of the first soldiers to die on British soil by enemy action during the war. A seamstress named Hilda Horsley, aged 17, became the first civilian to die on British soil by enemy action during the war as she ran from the bombardment. Image credit: Hartlepool Cultural Services. The clock is available to view at the Hartlepool Museum.

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6 Responses to “The First World War Centenary: Lest We Forget”

  1. Jessica (Diverting Journeys) November 14, 2018 at 6:55 pm #

    I watched They Shall Not Grow Old when the BBC played it on Sunday night. I’m sure it wasn’t quite as visually stunning as it was at the cinema, but I still really loved it. After spending so much time researching the war for the project I used to volunteer on, it was incredible to see it brought to life in that way. And I still have “The Madamoiselle from Armentieres” stuck in my head!

    • These Bones Of Mine November 14, 2018 at 10:37 pm #

      Indeed it was, that pop-out moment when it goes into full screen and colour still amazed me when I watched it back on the TV – utterly enthralling and horrifying at the same time. Yes, that was a great song!

      I was a bit nervous typing this post as the figures on death and injuries from the war are in quite a range dependent on source, but I think the wiki article is probably the most coherent and well-sourced that I found. Oddly found some far higher (double) on friend’s status from the Sunday and I still wonder where they were pulled from.

      • Jessica (Diverting Journeys) November 14, 2018 at 10:43 pm #

        Yeah, I’m not sure how the figures could be double what you’ve put, although given the way so many were buried or just disappeared into the mud, and the fact that so many of the soldiers’ records were subsequently lost, I’m sure it’s very very difficult to know exactly how many were killed. Also, CWGC counts deaths up to 1922 as WWI deaths, so there are definitely different numbers out there depending on who’s doing the counting!

        • These Bones Of Mine November 14, 2018 at 10:46 pm #

          Yes, I think it must have been horrendous to have to try and go through the records to figure out just how many individuals died and/were lost. I did not know that about the CWGC, very interesting! Is that from injuries following or due to some other matter?

          • Jessica (Diverting Journeys) November 14, 2018 at 10:55 pm #

            I don’t know the exact reason why, but from my experience in using their records to research combatants, it seems to be primarily people that later died from injuries or illness that they potentially sustained/contracted during the war. I doubt it’s a comprehensive listing beyond 1918 though, if they were primarily relying on the families to report. To be honest, a lot of the workings of the CWGC are a mystery to me, but I do get a little choked up every time I go to one of their cemeteries and see how well everything is still maintained, and all the people that make that happen.

          • These Bones Of Mine November 15, 2018 at 11:52 am #

            That is really interesting and something I’ll also have to have a look at. I can only imagine its compounded by the famines, Russia’s civil war, and the Spanish flu in 1918 to name just three things that compound the figures. Indeed, it is very moving to see how well maintained the cemeteries are to this day.

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