Hard to believe it has been two years since the start of Great War 100 Years. In 170 posts, I have documented 50 books read (just under the wire!), over 100 monuments on Mondays, and more interviews and musings.
I have the hindsight advantage of knowing I’m not quite half way through this project. In July 1916, the carnage of Verdun and the Somme – respectively the longest battle of the war and the battle starting with worst day of battle casualties in British Army history – was still going on. The war was uppermost in the public mind and its end was nowhere in sight. News of the war was full of propaganda and not entirely truthful.
Last month, we saw the 1916 documentary film, The Battle of the Somme (the Imperial War Museum’s remastered copy) in a special screening at the Canadian War Museum. See it if you have a chance. In five parts, it shows the troops preparing for what was called The Big Push and action in the first week of battle (some re-enacted). Over 20 million Britains saw it in the first weeks of its release in August 1916 and countless more around the world. In our era of instant information through formal news sources and social media, the film’s immediacy can still shock. Ads for 1916 screenings of the film feature a quote from Lloyd George: “If the exhibition of this Picture all over the world does not end War, God help civilization.”
Truth in advertising: I bill this as “Mostly fiction. Some memoirs, diaries and non-fiction mixed in,” and fiction really has predominated my reading this year. Most of the past year’s reads were written in retrospect by authors of our time. For the next while, I plan to focus on works by those who bore witness to the war. As always, I will take in the range of voices and theatres of war – in the front lines, the home front and points in between.
My thanks again to the authors who have generously agreed to be interviewed, and to friends who have been willing accomplices in my search for monuments. A modest but respectable number of you follow my journey and the monthly views continue to grow. Thank you for your support and your comments, on and off line.
Ten million soldiers to the war have gone,
Who may never return again.
Ten million mothers’ hearts must break,
For the ones who died in vain.
Head bowed down in sorrow in her lonely years,
I heard a mother murmur thro’ her tears:
I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier,
I brought him up to be my pride and joy.
Who dares to place a musket on his shoulder,
To shoot some other mother’s darling boy?
Let nations arbitrate their future troubles,
It’s time to lay the sword and gun away.
There’d be no war today,
If mothers all would say,
“I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier.”
What victory can cheer a mother’s heart,
When she looks at her blighted home?
What victory can bring her back,
All she cared to call her own?
Let each mother answer in the year to be,
Remember that my boy belongs to me!
Al Pianadosi and Alfred Bryan 1915