A Thundering Good Read

The 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War and the recent annual remembrance parades have touched us all and each in our own way.

The casualty lists are desperately sobering though with up to 5,000 names appearing on some days.

The casualty lists are desperately sobering though with up to 5,000 names appearing on some days.

I’ll admit to a life-long interest in the conflict and like to think I’m fairly well and broadly read on the subject. I’ve taken though, to following the war  in a slightly different way. I subscribe to both digital versions of the Times and the Telegraph. The Times though has a simply awesome archive of past papers and it is through these that day by day, I’m following the war a hundred years on.

True, some of the reporting may obviously be sanitised but I can tell you it’s massively more comprehensive than anything we’ve been fed in recent decades from Iraq and Afghanistan. I find it interesting on multiple levels, not least that the war is reported from all fronts and naval actions too are very well covered.

 

Typical obituary notice in the Times; Lt Arthur Collins, 628 not out at Clifton when 13

Typical obituary notice in the Times; Lt Arthur Collins, 628 not out at Clifton when 13

Major H G Powell, the fifth CO of the 1st Loyals since the outbreak of war; "With a hail of shells and bullets falling around him he directed the operations of his detachment from the chair in which he sat until he was wounded."

Major H G Powell, the fifth CO of the 1st Loyals since the outbreak of war; "With a hail of shells and bullets falling around him he directed the operations of his detachment from the chair in which he sat until he was wounded."

Short obituaries of some officers are listed every day and the vast majority are regular officers, most having seen service throughout the Empire with names such as Omdurman, Ladysmith and Mafeking often recurring. That will change as we move into 1915, mostly because there wasn’t much of the pre war regular army left. Each though has a story such as young Lt Arthur Collins above who scored a remarkable 628 not out as a 13 year old schoolboy at Clifton and the commanding officers of the 1st Loyals below that.

The articulate and colourful 1914 equivalent of being dumped by text

The articulate and colourful 1914 equivalent of being dumped by text

We'll never know if she made his day.

We'll never know if she made his day.

Anyone looking for the opening line of a novel need look no further

Anyone looking for the opening line of a novel need look no further

The paper exudes social history. I’m finding the personal notices both desperately sad with parents making public enquiries about the well-being of their sons at the front, “may be a prisoner of war,” and entertaining with romantic notices, “meet me under the clock…” There are too a great many notices in French, reflecting the wave of refugees in London, (not unlike today you might think!), and as the war goes on, a growing number of “disengaged,” servants seeking work, houses and flats for rent or sale and auctions of possessions. I expect all of these will clearly grow as the war goes on.

Personal notices placed in respect of the "football" debate.

Personal notices placed in respect of the "football" debate.

The letters page also reflected the "football," debate.

The letters page also reflected the "football," debate.

There are a few running debates in the paper with one of the most strident surrounding the decision of the Football Association to continue with professional matches. This attracts lively criticism with complaints about the lack of volunteers stepping forward to enlist at league matches. There are some who defend the game asking what separates the football players and fans from those who go to the theatre, horse racing or other sports and activities.

It’s a heart tugging journey each day punctuated only by the odd uplifting piece. It’s going to be a long four years but I’m nonetheless finding it rewarding and look forward to sharing the odd piece with you.

Having discussed the Great War I should end by mentioning the publication today by the Telegraph of a "virtual memorial" to our 453 dead from the conflict in Afghanistan from 2001-2014. Their average age was 22. The obituaries from family, friends and comrades for each of the 450 men and three women are warm and friendly as befits the changed times but actually, you feel the pain in the reading. God bless them all. We will remember, always.