REMEMBERING THE GREAT WAR
The Great War, from 1914 to 1918, was one of the greatest catastrophes of our age. Millions died, and millions more suffered from its effects. Towards the end of that terrible period, Spanish Influenza struck Europe; it killed more people, yet we do not dwell upon it in the way that we do the war. We in the United Kingdom are probably placing more emphasis on remembrance over the next four years than any other nation. Why is that? We suffered fewer losses than any of the other main protagonists – three quarters of a million dead, compared to Germany's two and a quarter or France's million and a half. I believe the chief reason is that, unlike other nations, it was the first war since Cromwell's time in which the middle classes of this country were involved.
My aim is to discuss briefly the causes of the conflict, analysing our role, and asking the question – could we have done more to avoid it? In particular I wish to emphasise the contrast between causes of tension and causes of war, and to examine the actions of Sir Edward Grey, Foreign Secretary at the time.
I will then review the preparedness of the main players for the conflict. The huge gap between the strength of the German and French armed forces and those of the British Empire at the outset of the war will be examined. The enormous scale of Britain's achievement in raising and preparing an essentially citizen army will also embrace a brief description of its structure, which I hope will be helpful to those who wish to research their ancestors' part in it. I will give out a fact sheet giving details of the somewhat arcane terminology of the period, which can be so difficult for the uninitiated.
The final section will be a summary of the main campaigns of the war, again with the emphasis on how the interplay between the politicians and the military shaped the fortunes of units and individuals.
I hope to explain rather than complain. I should declare at the outset that I believe that we should be extremely proud of our ancestors and the struggle that they waged, but there are many lessons to be learned from those years that are very relevant now.
Kindle Centre, Hereford @7-30pm
Friday 17th September 2014