Monday, 4 August 2014

Mayor: Commemoration of the First World War

I was invited as Mayor to say a 'few words' to open the St James Flower Festival marking the outbreak of the First World War:

A hundred years ago this weekend – the European Powers, including Britain, were stumbling into the Great War – dragging the rest of the world with them. This was supposed to be the ‘War to end war’ - but it wasn’t – if anything, it was the first ‘modern war’.

Every community, every family in Britain – every community & family in Europe – was directly affected by the loss of a whole generation of young men.

The Morpeth War Memorial recognises 233 soldiers from this town who died in the Great War – but beyond these are:
  • those who died later of injuries – physical and mental - sustained in the war
  • those who did not die, but lived the torment of their wartime experiences for the rest of their lives
  • the families who lost their sons and brothers
  • the children who lost their fathers
  • the young women left behind who lost the chance to raise a family
Most Morpethians will be able to put a name and memory from their own family tree to some or all of these.
Countries on all sides of the war now praise those who died for their courage and self-sacrifice – and quite rightly, but we should recognise that the sacrifice was not just made by those who died.

This is the centenary of the start of the Great War: but it continued for four years and three months - so I hope that this commemoration will not just be a one-off, but over the next few years, we’ll be remembering the events of that War – for example (not in any particular order):
  • The Somme, First Ypres, Second Ypres, Paschendael, Gallipoli
  • The first wholesale use of automatic weapons
  • The first use of chemical warfare
  • The first use of aircraft in war
  • The first tanks
  • and the Christmas Truce – which I hope we will be remembering in four months time.

So, let us remember, this weekend, the Great War, those who died in it and those who did not die but whose lives were shattered by it.

And – let us remember the atmosphere in the country and in Morpeth at the start of that war – a hundred years ago this month:
  • the messages about duty and self-sacrifice coming from the government and in the press
  • the social, community and family pressure on young men to volunteer wholesale
  • and the total lack of awareness of the horrors that the war would unleash