A century ago today the Great War as it was known then, and World War One as it’s known now, came to an end. Four years of bloody conflict saw millions die. For generations their deaths were remembered not as glorious sacrifices with many surviving soldiers refusing to wear the poppy, the symbol used for remembrance ceremonies because they couldn’t face living with the lies that took them to war. Today the act of remembrance itself is drifting away to be replaced by a triumphalist mix of British exceptionalism and imperialism that helps resurrect the lies that saw millions join up in 1914 only to die in blood, mud and shit somewhere on a battlefield.
A generation lost for nothing. They didn’t die fighting for survival as in the Second World War; they died for Britain’s imperialism and after the war to end all wars, many wanted nothing to do with fighting.
Those are the ones who came back. Millions didn’t. The street where you live could be full of those boys and men who died during that war. We’re all familiar with the stone cenotaph’s that are in virtually every British city, town and village, but do you know the names of those who died where you live?
Thanks to the website, A Street Near You, you can look and put names to buildings, assuming those buildings still stand after a century.There’s people like this near me.
Second Lieutenant Walter Daniel John Tull
Date of death: 25/03/1918 (aged 29)
Son of the late Daniel Tull; brother of Edward Tull-Warnock, of 419, St. Vincent St., Glasgow. Former professional footballer with Tottenham Hotspur and Northampton Town, he was also previously a FA Amateur Cup Winner with Clapton FC. He played more than a hundred first team games for Northampton Town before the First World War intervened.
But most are sad wee memorials for people who died decades too young.
Private Joseph Ayton
Date of death: 16/04/1918 (aged 19)
Son of Jane Ayton, of 51, Dorset St., Glasgow, and the late George Ayton.
Private Robert Hardie
Highland Light Infantry
Date of death: 25/09/1915 (aged 19)
Brother of Mrs. Elizabeth Porter, of 135, North St., Whiteinch, Scotstoun, Glasgow.
With these people you have an idea of a life led, family and even community as it is entirely possible these boys know each other living streets away from each other. There’s the cases of people who don’t even have a first name which may well be lost in history.
Royal Field Artillery
Date of death: 16/05/1917 (aged 24)
Son of James C. Donaldson, of 89, North St., Anderston, Glasgow.
There’s around 30-40 names in a five minute walking distance of where I live. In all those names only one has a face to go along with the name. That’s the man below.
Second Lieutenant William George Teacher (HU 118927) Second Lieutenant William George Teacher. Unit: DCompany, 15th Battalion, Highland Light Infantry. Death: 14 May 1916 Killed in action Western Front Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205389533
Second Lieutenant William George Teacher
Highland Light Infantry
Date of death: 14/05/1916 (aged 22)
Son of William Curtis Teacher and Eliza Rowena Teacher, of Kilarden, Dowanhill Gardens, Glasgow.
There’s a bit of information about William. We even know where he’s buried. We know he died at the height of the war. We know his death was utterly and totally pointless and seeing as most men who fought in the war didn’t have the vote, they were unable to change their future or current circumstances. Many of those conscripted were fearful of being shot or suffering the dreaded white feather which bullied men and boys into joining up.
And here we are in 2018 with the sound of Rule Britannia bouncing down the streets of the Cenotaph in London. There’s annual outrage at footballers refusing to wear a poppy because of what Britain did to their countries in the past, and Remembrance Day becomes a celebration of war, imperialism and exceptionalism for many. Meanwhile soldiers die in our streets a century on because now, as then, men (and now women) are thrown to the wolves once the British state has done with them.
We seem to have turned full circle. Imperialist songs play their tunes of glorying war as the very act of being a pacifist is again seen as ‘traitorous’. Flags are flown triumphantly while men and women die in overseas wars of conquest and their comrades return to be abandoned by the very state which sold them a lie. Of course the people who sent them to war, or bullied them to war, have their descendants today doing the same things only slightly differently.
100 years on the streets are lined with the dead and we’ve remembered little and learned nothing from their deaths. We’ve let past generations down for what? That’s what I’ll be thinking about today, not selling war as a price we have to pay because most of the time, it isn’t.