The First World War stories that live on
Every 110 years the ancient Romans would mark the end of a Saeculum. The period is the maximum lifespan of a person so a Saeculum marks the point from an event when everyone connected with it has died. The term brings to my mind the events this weekend. There is something grand, yet final, about the memorial of the 100th anniversary of the Armistice.
And yet not. I, and my colleague Eleanor Doughty, have spent the week reading the many letters and emails sent in by readers describing their family connection to the Great War. The stories of ordinary men and women are fascinating – those who lied about their age to sign up, trawlermen looking for mines, priests tending the dying, lucky escapes, unlucky deaths. I’m only sorry we could not publish them all (you can read a selection on page 12).
I have often wondered why the Great War continues to hold such a fierce grip. The slaughter was shocking. It also gave birth to the modern world, and it was the first where photography and film were mature enough for us to identify with those often cheerful faces that stare back at us through time.
But it is the wonderful trail of human connectivity that keeps alive the memory of these soldiers who died a lifetime ago. The stories you sent are first hand tellings, to grandchildren, great grandchildren and still living children.
Words such as courage, sacrifice, heroism, are bandied around a lot. They are apt, but I have such empathy with these men because they really had no choice. Caught up in overwhelming events, there was no alternative but to summon the best of themselves, and that is evident from your stories.
Will Remembrance Sunday still have significance in 50 or 100 years – when another generation has had its turn on the earth?
I don’t doubt it will. The Great War did not end all wars, but the echo of those guns will continue to warn us of the need for peace and co-operation.