I should not have listened, just over a week ago, to the comical Roy Hudd and his colleagues bringing us songs from the 1914-18 War. Those songs came from the music-halls of the time, and reflect so many aspects of how the general public viewed that terrible “War To End All Wars”.
A lot of them – most, perhaps – were, of course, chirpy and bright and rather jingoistic. I suppose that was the way we had to be taught to envisage the slaughter which was going on in our collective name. And, anyway, when the first British shots were fired at Mons, Belgium, in August, 1914, everyone in Britain believed “it’ll all be over by Christmas”.
It was not. And many of the later songs echo a pre-War sentimentality for home, for loved ones and for the British way of life
But those songs, both chirpy and sentimental, reminded me of the history of The Great War which I studied in detail some years ago. I read just about every book ever published on the subject, some of which were autobiographical stories written by the soldiers of every British class who’d served in the trenches and seen the carnage.
In my youth, too, there were men who had served in that War and who told me their tales of the trenches.
My learning of that piece of history was prompted by my Dad’s Dad who had been killed in the trenches at the age of thirty-two when my Dad was only eleven years old. And Roy & Co’s rendering of all of those songs made me so, so sad.
My Dad had died before I ever got round to asking him about lots of things in his life, including how he’d felt when the news of his father’s death was conveyed to the family in what was then their not-very-large market town. How did he feel, I still wonder, when the War was over the medals “won” by his father were duly delivered?
Roy Hudd’s show was followed by Radio Three having Britain’s greatest composer, Edward Elgar, as its “Composer of the Week”. The feelings of that sensitive man on the outbreak of the First World War were mentioned as part of the introduction to each piece of his music. Elgar deplored the War and its dreadful slaughter of decent men from towns and farms from all over these Isles. His music reflects that.
And the programmes increased my sadness – though “sadness” is too weak a word for my feelings.
Then came the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, which is when Remembrance Day was originally observed. It did not help my sadness to recall that, due to losing so much productive time by the working-class, the boss-class had moved that day of national remembrance to “the nearest Sunday to the actual date”. And that all for the sake of financial profits.
Like many people, I observed the two-minutes silence on the real Remembrance Day: at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. That is always a moving experience for me. I mourn not only the Gran’dad I never knew, but all those innocent folk – military or otherwise – who die in wars large and small.
Then, on Remembrance Sunday, I stood with a not-very-big group of people at our village War Memorial and remembered again.