To a greater or lesser extent all who are interested in the First World War, myself included, are members of this British cult. Some are fully paid up and will exclude all others. Looking at posts on social media it is easy to see why more than a few think the war was a war in which most British soldiers were killed and the rest shot at dawn on their fourteenth birthday. If you are going to go on a Munro bagging style of tour to put poppies on the graves of VC holders, Boy Soldiers, Shot at Dawn, remember the idea of the graves is every soldier should be treated the same in death. That is why they look the same. Place a poppy on the graves surrounding your own particular Munro. Perpetuated by companies and their agents to endless tours of cemeteries and memorials along the Western Front in the guise of “Battlefield Tours”
First, who are the 11%?
Some are the Missing, buried in unknown graves.
Some are Resting in Peace in Silent Cities. They are buried in Cemeteries.
Some are just resting in France. No, they are not.
Some are sleeping. If you think this, wake them up.
Some are Standing easy. Not my favourite phrase.
They are not “Pining for the Fjords “, but they are all DEAD. Most are buried in cemeteries under six feet of soil, none are asleep, resting, or standing. They are all dead. If you believe in Heaven and hell, for you, that is where they are. If not they are just Dead.
A whole wars narrative based on just 11%. Their stories are important and should be told. But not at the expense of the 89% who survived the war. Their stories need to be told too.
The connection with the First World War needs to be made too. The experiences of the war shaped their attitudes. What they thought of defeat, victory, the future. What happened to them. The leaders who fought the second world war were forged by the first. Churchill just didn’t disappear after Gallipoli and emerge phoenix-like in 1940.
Many of the Generals of the second fought in the first Bernard Law Montgomery did not crawl rat style from the sands of North Africa. The connection needs to be made to the first.
Then there are the ordinary stories. People such as Captain Darling, yes that really is his name. Lived for a while in Folkestone. He was the guide on one of the first tours of Vimy and Arras in January 1919.
People such as Robert Goddard, farmer farmed not far from Folkestone. He knew Ewart Alan Mackintosh. (google him).
George Dore, his regimental number was “1”
Stories, like that of Lewis Gedalovitch, yes Russians did serve in the British Army. Came home and divorced his wife.
Sad stories such as Duncan Mackintosh, died wounds in 1927.
The First World War is not solely the possession of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the Royal British Legion (who appointed them the guardians of remembrance anyway?) or the 11%.
It belongs also to the 89% who survived. It is up to us to remember them too.