Saturday, 9 August 2014

We will remember them

The First world war started on 4 th August 1914 in Britain. In Italy it didn't begin until November. Some historians say it was a bonfire waiting to be lit. Others cynically say it was a way of dealing with unemployment. Whatever the reasons were we all know it was horrible for everyone and that the seeds of the Second World war were sown in the Armistice agreement.
We will never know how things would have worked out if it hadn't happened. We will never what that generation could have achieved if they hadn't been destroyed. There are two books by Ken Follett which I think give a moving perspective of what ordinary people suffered . The Fall of the Giants and The World in Winter both follow the lives of families in Britain, Germany, Russia and The United States.
One of the most poignant ways of realising the horrors is to read the poets of the lost generation. Wilfred Owen was born in 1893 in Shropshire, the son of a station- master. By all accounts he had an idyllic childhood. He grew up in a happy family in a beautiful part of the country. After studying at London university he went to Bordeaux to teach English at the Berlitz school and so was in France at the outbreak of the First World War. He enlisted in 1915 and in 1917 was sent to a hospital near Edinburgh to recover from what we now call shellshock . There is a limit to how much suffering and pain the human mind can bear, just like the human body. Wilfred Owen met and befriended  fellow poet Siegfried Sassoon while recovering. There is a book and film called Regeneration about the process of treating shellshock- seen from through the eyes of Siegfried Sassoon who survived the war.
Wilfred Owen was killed a week before the Armistice. 

Anthem for Doomed Youth

What passing- bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,-
The shrill demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing- down of blinds.

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