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How to mark the centenary of ‘War One’

Fig. 1. Mind Map on factors to consider regarding marking the centenary of the First World War

I put this together after visits to the Imperial War Museum and the WW1 display at Newhaven Thought, by way of a lecture at the IWM on Observers taking photographs over the Western Front and several books and part-works, the ‘World War’ series from the 1930s for example and ‘Tommy’ by Richard Holmes.

This is a tough call. Someone remembered the 50th anniversary last night and how people harked backed to Waterloo a hundred years before that, something I caught in the first paragraphs of World War with a caption for soldiers embarking trains for the continent at Waterloo Station.

Are we capable of repeating such folly on such a grand scale?

Of course we are, from the small beginnings of the mess that is Syria, to the rumblings of 9/11 and our relations with Russia, China, Iran and others.

A shame all nations couldn’t simultaneously have leaders with the attitude of Gandhi or Mandela.

Least we forget. War is a horrible business.

Fig. 2. The editor of World War published in 1936/37 said he would not hold back from showing horrendous pictures; this from part one published on 8th November 1936

He didn’t care once he was dead, but he crawled into this thicket with a wound and may have taken days to die and then weeks to rot.

It isn’t hard to find shocking images from our own era.

Reconstructions of a trench give only a tiny sense of it.

Fig 3. Trench reconstruction, Imperial War Museum

Where is the mud?

Where the smell of rotting flesh, of gas and urine?

Where is the black hand sticking out of the trench wall? The torso in No Man’s Land?

Where the fear, something that might be best recreated in a horror film.

My grandfather spoke to me about his experiences at length and I pass these on to my children. A blog, a podcast and photos go towards this memory of one of my ancestors. Not all of us do this, but some of us do, as if we have a need to reflect on the experiences and exploits of our forebares.

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