Monday 4 August 2014

Lights Going Out

Andrew Brown writes of the "First World War Ritual that sheds little light."

Well, I wonder.

Obviously we don't want the national unstiffening of upper lips we witnessed when Diana died. For one thing, it was too embarrassing for words. And for another, Elton John is too busy with his new career as a speculative theologian.

See, most of us can't remember the Empire.  The main source of information for what happened in 1914-18 for us is Blackadder. And our yardstick for whether wars are worthwhile is Iraq.

We're going to turn some lights out tonight because 100 years ago, hundreds of thousands of our countrymen - and some of our countrywomen - died. They were fighting for a cause we don't really understand, but they left gaps in our family trees. There are men buried at Cambrai and the Somme who should have been buried in Husborne Crawley, Garforth, Dunstable, Yeovil or Highgate. And we suspect that they were thrown away in someone else's game. 

And while we honour their bravery, we hate the futile way they died. And we're far enough away from it now that we can do both these things without anyone thinking we're being disrespectful to their memory when we say "What a waste".

So turn the lights out tonight. Remember the Boys. And remember that war is dreadful, and most alternatives are normally better.

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine. 
Et lux perpetua luceat eis.


  1. Amen to that. The gap in my family tree is my great-uncle Walter whom I could easily have known into my adulthood and who was a stretcher-bearer, shot while tending a wounded pal. That makes it still personal for me, so I will switch off the lights and know why I am doing it.

  2. tonight I will take a lit candle across to the war memorial which is t the back of my house, then come back and light one here. And remember the wives, mothers, girl friends who watched their men go away, and either not come back or come back changed. I'll think about my Grandpa Lishman who lost his leg at the Somme, and my Granny Crane who lost her husband and a brother. I think today is for thinking about them, rather than the war machine.

  3. I was talking to an elderly resident of Great Linford (age 101), who remembers seeing a Zeppelin shot down when she was a child in London in 1916. Was thinking of that incident today.

  4. You might be surprised to hear that many of us are old enough to remember when our School atlases were coloured Red to show how much of the world that we owned. We were born in the days of King and Emperor before those nice Tory and Labour people gave it all away.

    Some of us remember the high days of Empire, where the second sons of gentry were sent out as missionaries, colonial administrators or soldiers to subdue the empire, to civilize them, to convert them and to enrich the powerful merchants and county families of England.

    The empire had many bonuses for the natives. Good schooling, a legal system, principles of justice and mercy, including the death penalty.

    We left a post-colonial legacy of Anglicanism (in many hues), revolution, dictatorship and in the lucky places, democracy of the powerful and a lingering longing for the old days, when everything was ordered, they grew enough to feed them and when Bwana was the sole authority in the area, with a nod to the local chief/Emir/Caliph/Sultan.

    When we had an Empire we had the largest Navy, the Largest Merchant Marine and were able to trade with our colonies without any kowtowing to those pesky European centralists. In fact, they were truly the good old days.


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