Lost Generation

15 02 2010

We missed the latest Bangor City match due to the fact that we were on a tour of the first world war battlefields in Belgium and northern France.

When you see the death toll from the “Great War” you are partly insulated by the fact that statistics are matter of fact. You can obviously tell that the First World War was one of the most destructive wars in human history but the amount of dead people can appear to be just a number. It is not until you actually see the graveyards and monuments that you can begin to truly appreciate the scale of the figures. 

The weather during our trip was mostly cold and it actually snowed at points so you could say it  was a very atmospheric trip, providing a real sense of the conditions that the soldiers faced. Of course this empathy could only go so far as it’s pretty hard to  imagine the landscape of  no-man’s land; mile after mile of mud, barbed wire and bodies. It’s also difficult to imagine the terror of waiting for the whistle to go over the top, the fear of gas and the boredom of the trenches.

After travelling around the Ypres Salient and the Somme it’s not hard to visualise the amount of carnage; you cannot travel very far without seeing a monument, a graveyard or a roadsign for these. You cannot help but be affected by the scale of human loss or destruction.   When you  gaze at the Thiepval or Menin Gate monuments or spend time in the graveyard at Tyne Cot it becomes easy to question the point of the war. This is especially true when you can argue that nothing really changed in British society as a result of the first world war, unlike the second world war. In reality thousands and thousands of people died to prolong the control of British Society by those who controlled it before the war.

Whilst gazing at the Menin Gate we were also drawn to the names from the Empire; the Canadians, the Aussies, the New Zealanders, the South Africans, the Indians, the names from the Caribbean. The losses suffered by these groups further highlighted the utter futility of this conflict, why were these people expected to travel several thousand miles to put themselves at risk of death in the northern European mud? What was it for? Dying for the quaint ideas of serving one’s queen and country or “Seeing the World” sounds more than callous, barbaric is more apposite. The fact that these  brave people died for a nebulous idea (“Empire”)  and a person (the King) they probably will never have seen is more than obscene, it’s a truly monstrous concept.

Take the example of the 1st Newfoundland Regiment (at the time Newfoundland was not part of Canada). We visited the monument to them (and a preserved trench system) so the idea of futility was reinforced. Of the 780 men who attacked the Germans on the first day of the battle of the Somme only 68 were available for roll call the following day. Approximately 90% of the regiment was wiped out in one day, or to put it another way, roughly 2% of Newfoundland’s population.

While the commanding officers were in their plush headquarters, sipping their brandies and refusing to acknowledge the need for a change to better tactics, the men under their command were in the process of being butchered, or butchering the other side in return. “How could they let the slaughter continue?” was the question at the forefront of our minds.

Returning to the 21st century; yesterday the tabloids were preoccupied with Neil Warnock’s conspiracies and Sky Sports News was delighted to tell us that JT had flown into Britain fresh from his “crisis talks” with his wife. The world continues to turn.




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