The harsh re­al­ity of the trenches

Sunderland Echo - - Armistice 100 -

in Army life, from forg­ing friend­ships amongst sol­diers to help­ing main­tain fit­ness and de­vel­op­ing skills such as team­work and strat­egy. In makeshift dusty pitches in Afghanistan, foot­ball was often played be­tween us and our Afghan and Euro­pean al­lies.

Bri­tain’s Armed Forces still have a huge global spread and take on de­ploy­ments in ev­ery con­ti­nent of the world. Right now, there are troops help­ing to train Afghan, Ukrainian and Iraqi al­lies. There are troops in Africa teach­ing skills that can help take on ele­phant-poach­ers. In Es­to­nia we have a per­ma­nent pres­ence re­as­sur­ing our NATO al­lies. Al­most ev­ery coun­try where our forces need to en­gage with a lo­cal com­mu­nity you can bet that one of the first things we do is ar­range a foot­ball match with the lo­cals.

It is there­fore fit­ting that this Novem­ber the Army Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion is proud to or­gan­ise the Games of Re­mem­brance. In Not­ting­ham two com­mem­o­ra­tive matches (women and men’s) be­tween the Bri­tish Army and the Ger­man Army will be played to hon­our the sol­diers from both sides who lost their lives in the First World War. A cen­tury later, foot­ball’s grip on the Army is go­ing strong and I’m cer­tain that a round leather ball will ac­com­pany our troops wher­ever they are in the world for some time to come.

As we near the cli­max of the cen­te­nary of the First World War, a nag­ging ques­tion re­mains: how and why did the Bri­tish peo­ple en­dure four and a half years of such blood­shed?

The war in­volved the whole of Bri­tish so­ci­ety. From Boy Scouts run­ning mes­sages to gran­nies knit­ting socks for sol­diers in the trenches, al­most ev­ery­one had a place in the war ef­fort. Men who were too old for the army joined or­gan­i­sa­tions such as the Vol­un­teer Train­ing Corps, a sort of ‘Dad’s Army’ for the First World War. Women took over jobs pre­vi­ously re­served for men, as bus con­duc­tors, work­ers in mu­ni­tions fac­to­ries mak­ing weapons of war, and in many other types of em­ploy­ment. Men vol­un­teered in their mil­lions for the armed forces. From 1916 th­ese vol­un­teers were joined by roughly the same num­ber of con­scripts.

Those left at home en­dured con­di­tions we nor­mally as­so­ciate with 1939-45, such as food ra­tioning and bomb­ing. And ev­ery home in the coun­try, whether grand coun­try house, mod­est sub­ur­ban villa, or humble work­ers’ cot­tage, feared the ar­rival of a tele­gram bear­ing the news that a loved one in the ser­vices had been killed or wounded.

So, how and why did the peo­ple of main­land UK cope with such hard­ship, and carry on sup­port­ing the war ? Not all coun­tries did. By the end of the war Ger­man so­ci­ety was deeply di­vided, which helped en­sure that the coun­try was un­able to re­cover from the mil­i­tary de­feats of Au­gust-Novem­ber 1918. In Ire­land, then part of the UK, much of the pop­u­la­tion turned against Bri­tish rule in 1916 to 1918. This led to a bit­ter war end­ing in par­ti­tion of the is­land.

Yet Bri­tain was dif­fer­ent. For a start, the Royal Navy’s dom­i­na­tion at sea en­sured that sup­plies of food were al­ways able to reach Bri­tain. Ger­many’s use of U-boats (sub­marines) to sink mer­chant ships was a grave threat but there were too few to halt sup­plies com­ing from over­seas. Food was some­times short, but the

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