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Marking the Centenary

The the centenary next month of the end of the conflict sometimes described by those alive at the time and/or both shortly afterwards as ‘the war to end all wars’ – and otherwise generally known as either ‘The Great War’ or ‘First World War’ – is rapidly approaching and no doubt hundreds of historians and researchers, together with the National Archives, Imperial War Museum and everyone else professionally-concerned with the subject, never mind every media outlet, are even now putting the final touches to their programmes of commemoration to mark the occasion.

It is not uncommon for people to remark upon the fact that the First World War continues to remain so vividly in the nation’s consciousness. This is, of course, is against the background of the numerous conflicts (not least WW2) that have taken place since for which (for obvious reasons) the raw evidence and records – e.g. documents, photographs and film/video/digital footage – are arguably more comprehensive, accessible and (most importantly) ‘easier to digest’ that those of 1914-1918 in terms of both technical quality and immediacy.

Personally I subscribe to the view that part of our enduring general fascination withthe First World War is because it has felt to later generations simultaneously ‘so near and yet so far’.

Like I suspect all those born in the 1950s, I can remember my parents and their contemporaries talking about ancestors they had met, or others that their parents had known, who had taken part and/or even been wounded or killed in it.

That’s not difficult to understand when one considers that arguably the First World War was the first conflict which could truly be said to have involved every family in every nation that took part in it.

I refer here to both its technological advances in every aspect of warfare – on land and sea and in the air, never mind communications, observation and even the scale and speed of logistical manoeuvre towards and on a battlefield – and the sheer number of combatants, and indeed the civilian population left behind at home, who became directly involved in one form or another.

And yet the records that exist – the fading black and white photographs, grainy and jerky film footage, diaries and letters, military memorabilia and administrative files – can tend to seem tantalisingly old and ‘remote’ – just beyond our own (current, in the moment) ability to fully appreciate.

And it’s in that ‘close, but yet still just out of reach’ feeling that I think some of our lasting connection with the First World War resides.

To be completely facile about it, I invite readers to try and imagine how the First World War might have looked if it had been covered by the technological means available to us in 2018.

In another context I suspect that this is also why – for all those interested in the history in the history of the USA – the American Civil War of 1861-1865 is a similar case in point.

To conclude today, I present links to two recently publicised  First World War-related initiatives:

Firstly, to a review by Peter Bradshaw of the Peter Jackson-directed and produced documentary They Shall Not Grow Old, as appeared recently upon the website of – THE GUARDIAN

Secondly, to a report by Robert Hardman upon a recently-rediscovered remarkable First World War-related artwork going on display in the Potteries Museum in Stoke-on-Trent, as appears today upon the website of the – DAILY MAIL




About Henry Elkins

A keen researcher of family ancestors, Henry will be reporting on the centenary of World War One. More Posts