Is the Great War now just a numbers game?
‘ The value to the council of revenue from parking is laid bare in its response to calls for two hours free in Longton
PARKING is always a contentious issue. Finding a space and then having to pay for it. And often how much it costs to do that drives motorists to distraction. It sparks debates between those who run car parks and those who use them. Should parking be free and if so would that be a way of bringing more people into a particular area? It’s very rare to find anywhere, these days, where parking is free of charge. And the story on page two of today’s newspaper explains just why.
The value and importance to Stoke-on-trent City Council is laid bare in their response to a 500name petition calling on councillors to provide two hours free parking in Longton on market days. The petitioners claim Longton is becoming ‘increasingly desolate’ due to shoppers using the free Tesco car park and ‘not venturing further into the town’. But the council produced data to show that the main Longton Exchange car park was well used by around 118,000 motorists a year, paying £1.60 to park for two hours. So the cost of providing two hours of free parking in Longton would be £100,000 to the authority. As the city council increasingly has to find ways of coming up with its own cash, it’s clear how valuable income from car parks is. And those figures relate to just one car park. The danger is that as fund ing from Central Government continues to decrease, then increasing the cost of parking could be seen as one way of offsetting that. That, we would venture, would benefit neither the authority or the communities served by those car parks.
TOMORROW, we should think only in numbers, mind-blowing numbers. For example, 65 million men were mobilised worldwide between 1914-18. Of these, around six million British civilians went to war. The average life expectancy for soldiers serving in the trenches was no more than six weeks.
The government in 1924 put the total number of military deaths or missing for Great Britain and its colonies at 743,702. In addition, the number of wounded stood at 1,675,000.
The total number of military casualties in all war zones was 23 million military dead and wounded.
Such awesome numbers speak for themselves, don’t you think?
Think also about that date – Monday, November 11, 1918.
At 5am, nine men sat down to sign the papers of Armistice in a railway carriage in a mist-filled forest 37 miles north of Paris.
Although the war was over, ceasefire didn’t take effect until 11am.
In those final six hours there were 10,944 casualties, of whom 2,738 men were killed in battle.
American Private Henry Gunther was the last soldier of all the armies to be killed in action, at 10.59am.
Augustin-joseph Trébuchon, a peacetime shepherd, was the last French soldier killed at 10.45am.
Private George Ellison was the last British soldier to be killed in action 90 minutes before the Armistice.
Such madness, in the poetic words of Wilfred Owen, is ‘the pity of war’.
I remember opening a sideboard drawer in the parlour of my grandfather’s terraced house. I was seven in 1945, and the even more monstrous Second World War had just ended.
Poking around among a dusty jumble of period curios, I came across a box of ribbon-tagged medals.
One was the British War Medal, 1914-18, known as ‘Squeak’, awarded to British and Imperial Forces who either entered a theatre of war or entered service overseas between August 5, 1914, and November 11, 1918, inclusive.
Next to this was the Allied Victory Medal, also known as ‘Wilfred’.
The third was the 1914-15 Star, also known as ‘Pip’, awarded to all who served in any theatre of war against Germany between August 5, 1914, and December 31, 1915.
Pip, Squeak and Wilfred was a strip cartoon published in the Daily Mirror from 1919.
The medals were irreverently named after the cartoon, ironically aligning them with children’s playthings.
My grandfather never wore his medals either at home or in public. He never referred to them: he didn’t have to as every other man in his village had a similar collection hidden away in sideboards.
You’d think these neighbours would have been friends. And yet they seemed to be strangers, separated by some unspeakable mental block.
Grandfather neither attended an Armistice Day parade nor went to the local cenotaph on Remembrance Day; but I remember he always stood alone each year in his blue-brick paved backyard at 11am on November 11.
He, like the majority of veterans, refused to consider the killing fields, speaking of his lifelong respiratory illness caused by ‘trench fever’ as “something to put up with”.
Was he lucky to have survived? His response was simple – “Survival wasn’t lucky, it was the dead that were unlucky.”
My grandfather moved house three times before he died.
I asked him about his medals. “Oh I don’t know,” he wheezed irritably, “chucked in the bin where they belong.”
And what of the medals belonging to all those other men?
There must be a million ‘Pip’, ‘Squeak, and ‘Wilfred’s’ knocking about in collections averaging £50 in exchange value, their worth assessed these days only by collectors, or pinned to the right breast of a second or third generation relative at a memorial on Armistice Day.
As the Great War memory continues to recede, its defining slogan the ‘war to end all wars’ remains counted only in a paradox of numbers.
AWARDS: The war medals nicknamed, from left, Pip, Squeak and Wilfred.