The harsh reality of the trenches
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