Yesterday I watched much coverage of the commemoration ceremonies for the Battle of the Somme. I realised how little I knew about more modern historical events. My main knowledge about this huge event in the First World War consists of that famous Blackadder scene that ended the series.
Ask me almost anything about Tudor times and I can answer you straight away, but ask me about UK history from the last century and mostly, am lost. I don’t remember being told much about this in history classes at school, it was mostly Romans that we learned about (we did live on a town on Dere Street!). I wonder exactly how much is taught to children in school now?
The thought of almost 20,000 men dying in one day at the Somme, is difficult to take in. It is such a big number. In modern warfare, that would be almost the full amount of men that would be deployed, with the use of tanks, airplanes, etc. But in 1916, that was the amount killed in only one day !! The youngest, I heard, was only 15 years old. To send these boys (a 15 year old is not a man in my eyes, sorry) to fight for their country, is almost stupid to my modern brain. Did they even know what they were doing? Or what they were fighting for?
They volunteered to defend their country, would teenagers of today do that? I have said on more than one occasion that I would fight against the government sending my boys to the wars they engage in today. The World Wars were fought for the freedom of the people in our own country, modern wars tend to just bomb innocent people, I don’t think anyone really wins those wars.
There was a strong nationalist sentiment in those days, which some say there is today after the Brexit vote, but I don’t think I can agree with that. The country was under threat back then, the EU was not threatening us with anything.
The wish to defend your country from what seemed like an imminent invasion of troops from Germany, was true nationalism. It was the wish to make sure of a safe and better future for the following generations. ‘They died that we might live.’ It is an old line but a true one. We live in a free country where we can vote in our ‘democracy’ becuase they gave up their lives for us. I think this is forgotten, way too easily in our modern society.
As a history fan, I don’t think of myself as a historian, I think more lessons should be taken from such recent history. How many of you would die for your next door neighbour?