Tonight across Britain the landmarks and Homes of Britons will be shrouded in Darkness.
It was a century ago that Sir Edward Grey remarked that “The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time”.
As we sit in the dark a time to remember those details of The Great War passed down to us.
Several are personal to my family, others, to vast swathes of the Empire. All will no doubt come to mind during that hour tonight.
There was the ambulance-driving Great-Grandfather who may have met several future relatives on the Western Front.
There is the Indian section of the family, calling to mind the Imperial unity which made Britain’s war effort possible.
Another Great-Grandfather who lied about his age to join up (as did many in those days), and took up smoking in the Trenches. He died in his fifties, one arm badly damaged during the war, of lung cancer. His body still held shrapnel which had hit him in the fighting.
The curious name of one of the units our family served in. The London Scottish was formed of the Scots living in London who wanted to “do their bit”.
The story of an officer who led his men with a handkerchief tied to his staff.
The ways the war came to the “home front” such as air raids linger in the mind too. King’s Lynn was bombed on the first night, a local story tells that the lamps were being turned out by the “lamp boys” by hand, it had been decided turning off the gas at the source might cause a panic.
The first bombs to fall on Lynn landed in Marsh Lane, the 9th to be launched by “L4” which had already targeted various places along the coast from Sheringham. These included the Church at Snettisham and the vast bringer of terror was seen by the Queen at Sandringham. Today Marsh Lane is called Tennyson Avenue. More bombs then hit the town, including Bentinck Street, where two were killed. Further bombs fell in East Street, Albert Street, the Alexandra Dock and Cresswell Street.
From the beginning it was the areas with smaller houses that were targeted. It has also been suggested that the bombers followed the railway line, as they would in the Second World War.
Then there are the thoughts of the cemeteries. Those miles of neat stones, so many marked with “A Soldier” with details such as regiment where they could be known. The different marks on the graves, crosses, crescents, stars, this wasn’t political correctness, it was honouring the dead.
The hospitals too come to mind. Great houses, even the palace of Brighton Pavilion, turned into places for the wounded to recover. Including various members of one’s own family. The women who served as nurses, or came to try and relieve the horrors of a hospital with music and entertainments.
The women who took up “men’s work” to help the war effort, dangerous jobs in munitions factories, and jobs it would have been unthinkable for them to do before the war, like cleaning railway engines and working as bus “conductoresses”.
The way the whole country put arguments aside. Women who had fought for the vote helped the fight to save the country, Irish nationalists who’d been prepared to lose the Crown, in 1914 were determined to save it. Clerics who went in amongst the troops to bring the comforts of Christ, and those who arranged more worldy comforts, like chocolate and cigarettes for the soldiers.
The railways which were swiftly built to keep the supplies moving, the engines sent to France by British companies, and the “standard” type built to keep production efficient. All those who left what would have been considered “essential” occupations to go and fight.
The memorials all over the country. From Railway Stations and Churches to the old photographs on a mantelpiece, always beside a favoured flower of the person pictured, tended by a woman who would always be “a spinster of this parish”.
The Blessed relief of peace. The thankfulness that we are so far from the days of conscription now. Not yet a century separates us from them, but it is coming. That we can sit at home, and light a candle to remember, is thanks to those who fought.