Remembering the First World War

Everywhere in Britain was, in some way, touched by the First World War. This made it different from wars that had come before, fought by relatively small, professional armies. In 1914–18, the whole country was under arms or affected in some way by the war effort. So many people were involved that most families of British descent have some story of it: great uncles who fought and didn’t return, female relatives who worked as nurses, the desperate stoicism of the trenches, the exotic lands to which some regiments were sent.

It was not, as our forebears had hoped, the war to end wars, but it remains a conflict that most of us can touch, through having a direct family connection. A century may be a long time, in terms of social change, yet it isn’t much longer than the common human span. We feel the proximity this week through the letters and images of loved ones, supplied to us by readers.

They are a remarkable testament and deeply moving. The letters remind us of the many faces of this war. Capt Richard Spencer describes advancing on the Mount of Olives outside Jerusalem, in misty, freezing drizzle. Capt Douglas Miers writes from a funk hole on the Aisne, eight days before he was killed in action. There is suffering, shot through with humanity and, sometimes, a sense of humour. Ernest Unwin, expecting a poison-gas attack, doesn’t forget to wish his sister happy birthday. Nurse Juliet Mansel frets about a treat to give the wounded German prisoners on Christmas Day. Capt William Packe, Royal Field Artillery, finds that a hunting horn is the best means to communicate during the din of battle.

How should such service, such loss be remembered? We support the RememberWW 1 campaign ( being launched later this year. It has a simple message: reflect on the sacrifices of our ancestors and pledge time in voluntary work to improve the lot of our communities today. The soldiers and nurses of the First World War hoped for a better world, but were disappointed. Let’s use the emotion that will be generated over the next four years to try and make one in their name.

What’s the grouse?

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Marks & Spencer’s (M&S) volteface on selling grouse has a whiff of oddness. M&S says the estates it deals with adhere to industry and Defra codes of practice, yet it ‘can’t guarantee a responsible source of red grouse’, a serious and, so far, unsubstantiated accusation apparently made under pressure from a few individuals. Red grouse are native only to Britain, so this is just another blow to the rural economy and the Buy British campaign.

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