The Past Is A Foreign Country…

… they do things differently there.  L.P. Hartley

I, along with thousands of my generation, learned about The Great War at school. And what a boring subject it was. The Schlieffen Plan. Gallipoli. Trench Warfare. Who cared? If World War Two (which my parents lived through) was ancient history, then World War One was positively prehistoric.  What relevance could it have to my life?

It’s probably only as one grows older and – I hope – a little wiser, that one starts to realise that EVERYTHING that went before influences the lives we live now.

In commemoration of the Centenary of The Great War, the BBC has commissioned a four-year project of 130 programmes and 2,500 hours of TV and Radio Programming (documentaries, drama, children’s, news, arts) exploring the period from 1914-18.

The opening programme was Jeremy Paxman’s four-part TV series Great Britain’s Great War – with accompanying book. I have to say, this is the first time I feel I’ve ever ‘got’ the First World War, and it’s a fascinating story.

Of course he talks about the politics and battles of the war,  but he also examines the personal stories behind the conflict:  The notice that appeared in the personal column of The Times:  Lady, fiance killed, will gladly marry officer totally blinded or incapacitated by the War; The stories of men, so hideously injured either physically or emotionally, they remained within the walls of the hospitals where they were treated for the rest of their lives.

But stirring stories too. Of unscrupulous landlords who tried to take advantage of the male population’s absence at the front to raise domestic rents – only to be beaten down by a rebellion of women.

The war years laid the path for so much change that it’s interesting to think that the Britain of 1919 would be more recognizable to someone from the 21st Century, that someone from 1913.

So what had it all done to Britain?  Men who had fought together in the trenches – and women who had worked together in the factories – had first-hand experience of what ‘the other half’ was like… The efforts made and the risks taken by all classes meant that proper democracy in Britain could be denied no longer.  Jeremy Paxman.  Great Britain’s Great War.  p 285

Even if you don’t live in Britain, it’s worth checking out this book as I’m sure many of the experiences were shared by those living in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other countries around the world.