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Tuesday, 11 November 2014

The Great War Remembered

Part 1

Many thousands of people have been to the Tower of London to view the growing number of poppies in the dry moat.  Between 4 August and 11 November 2014 a total of 888,246 hand-made ceramic poppies were planted.  “Each one represents a British military death during the First World War”.  It was called ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’.  The very many people there walked quietly along the path above the moat taking photographs.  Described erroneously by someone on television as “pretty” it was a thought provoking piece of art.  The poppies were offered for sale at £25 a time.  All have sold.  (See also http://poppies.hrp.org.uk/ and https://poppies.hrp.org.uk/buy-a-poppy/ ).

These photographs were taken on 1 November 2014.

Part 2

Sir Tony Robinson came to the Essex Record Office in September to speak at an event jointly organised by Ancestry, the family history website.  The Lecture Theatre was full.  In an entertaining and informative talk he spoke on the subject of researching the Great War.  

The Internet has given unparalleled access to archives. “It is now a million times easier to research [family] history”, Tony said.  (He does not like being called Sir Tony.)  His grandfather fought in the Great War but never spoke of the hardships endured and sights witnessed.  “There are whole stories we thought might be lost, but we are starting to re-find them”.  So we can now celebrate “the rediscovery of these stories”.

Sir Tony Robinson gave four reasons why we should remember the Great War. 

“Firstly, there is the ‘never again argument’.  We should observe history and not repeat past mistakes. 

“Secondly, ‘war is a massive engine of social change’”.  The First World War saw the movement of people on a scale not seen before and inventions of weapons of mass destruction.  It was a mechanical and industrial war bogged down in the trenches of the Western Front. It was a different type of war with junior officers leading the charge and senior officers doing their best to organise in the face of mayhem. 

“Thirdly: ‘the impact of a major war stays and stays’”.  The breakup of the Ottoman Empire and the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 devised by the major powers which arbitrarily redrew boundaries to create Syria, Iran and Iraq, but ignored cultural ethnicity. 

“Fourthly: ‘to honour our dead’.  We know that our ancestors had the same characteristics, same humour, same DNA as ourselves”. They are remembered in the 120 war grave cemeteries, the 20 million WW1 records on Ancestry (with more photos added as they are being discovered) as well as our War Memorials.

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