Tuesday, 19 August 2014

The Great War

The project I have been working on to blog the First World War day by day as events happened one hundred years ago went live on the 4th of August, the centenary of the declaration of war between England and Germany. I am working ahead so have 1914 pretty much finished and will start on 1915 next month. If you want to follow along you can find my Home Front blog here and my colleague's Front Line diary here.

It is a long term project. The aim behind it is partly to provide an educational resource for local schools, partly to highlight the collections we have that relate to the First World War and partly to make their contents more accessible. It is also a project that matters a great deal to me on a personal level. The Great War has pulled on my heart strings since I watched the BBC's adaptation of Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth as a teenager. My parents were teenagers themselves during the Second World War and it largely passed them by, whereas my grandfather fought and was gassed in the Great War. He survived, but I believe his health never fully recovered. And even without that personal connection seeing (and later reading about) the war from the perspective of Vera Brittain, an articulate young woman bereft of her beloved brother, her fiancée and their close friends, meant that I could never again see or hear about the carnage of the trenches without some understanding of just what was suffered and lost on the battlefields of France and elsewhere.

The First World War was not only a conflict on an unprecedented scale, it was the first to leave behind so many first person accounts and records that keep alive so many of the voices that were silenced. Blogging about the War is a chance to let some of those voices speak again. The young men whose names survive in long lists on village war memorials, cut down, many of them, before they even reached their prime - many just teenagers; the women and girls who served as nurses, or knitted socks and scarfs for unknown soldiers, or worked in munitions factories, and stayed home waiting for news of brothers and lovers, husbands and sons; the courageous men who fought through their fear; the youngsters who saw their army training as a kind of jolly Boy Scout camp before reality hit, often fatally, those who had the courage to refuse to fight (the Quakers have begun a project to put diaries of conscientious objectors online). So many voices. I hope I can manage to do even a small amount of justice to them. The dead, those young men butchered on an industrial scale in the cause of patriotism and duty, should not be forgotten. Many, many projects are underway across the country to make sure that they are not. I am proud to be part of one of them.

1 comment:

ellie said...

Thank you for posting the link! :-)