The First World War sto­ries that live on

i Newspaper - - WEEKEND - i@in­ @andy­jey Andrew John­son

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.

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