Today at church, one of the main themes was remembering the outbreak of World War I. Celebration really isn’t the right word but remembrance fits. It struck me that the so-called “Great War” has almost passed from direct living memory. The oldest person I know, a neighbour we visit quite frequently, recently turned 99 and, even for him, he was far too young to have memories of the conflict.
However, it had a lasting impact on the countries involved. In Britain, we lost a swathe of people particularly from among the ranks of young men. Shortages of labour, exacerbated by WWII less than 30 years later, led to things like greater opportunity for women and the call for labourers from other nations that have had a profound impact on what this nation is like in the 21st century. Those are good things but it also left scars and I think the pain of WWI is not entirely passed from living memory. Even when I was a youth, there would have been a much larger number of people alive who remembered the war directly or who remembered the gaps it left in familial and social groups; even today, there are still quite a few people who grew up under the shadow of that conflict.
Will it be marked at 125 years, 150 or 200? Possibly not. I don’t think there will be such a big emphasis about the Battle of Waterloo next year and I don’t recall ever meeting anyone who carried the Napoleonic wars as a particular burden. For 2014 though, I think it is a fit time to remember. The politics of the age seems distant and it was not a war to end all wars but perhaps there are still lessons we can learn without having to relive and re-die them ourselves.