I have recently started upon a path of learning and hopefully understanding. Those who know me will already be aware that I constantly crave knowledge; books on cosmology, physics, and quantum mechanics, practicing various instruments and learning to write computer code. This is a diversion from the diverse though; I have been reading up on WWI.
In the town I live (Shepton Mallet, Somerset, England) plans are well underway to mark the centenary of WW1. I confess, I was initially surprised when I found out in Autumn 2013 that we would ‘celebrate’ the start of a war and tried to imagine what kind of firework display could possibly do it justice! I was of course being, not unusually, trite for my own amusement, and gradually the reasoning behind this idea started to come to life in my mind, and the importance of remembering started to hit home.
Starting to look back at a historical event I studied at school, I was immediately surprised at how complicated the circumstances which led to the 14-18 war were. I remembered that the assassination of Franz Ferdinand kind of kicked off the whole malarkey and my mind was comfortable that it was probably the Kaiser Chiefs that did it – such is showbiz. I was surprised to (re) learn that he was actually assassinated by a young terrorist in Bosnia.
The details around it are in fact a bit bizarre; the 19 year old that killed him missed with a hand grenade the first time, injuring some people in the car behind the Archduke.
After a bit of a rest (that sort of thing can ruin your morning) the Archduke decided he would visit the injured in hospital. The driver made a mistake, unaware that the itinerary had changed, and was forced to reverse up a side street. The soon-to-be assassin Gavrilo Princip happened to be sat outside a cafe which the Archduke was being reversed passed when the car stalled. Seizing the opportunity which would be cut from a movie as seeming too contrived, the assassin ran over and shot the Archduke’s Wife, Sophie, and then the Archduke himself.
As I stated up front, I am still discovering the history so I might find out that the Archduke was a bad person, but his concern when shot was for his beloved wife and children, and when asked if he was ok, his last words were something along the line of “it’s nothing”, despite the bullet in his neck.
Those in Germany at the time who were so inclined knew that there was a limited window of opportunity to go to war (basically, before the Russians got their act together) and knew this could be the excuse they needed. Germany apparently envied Britain’s success and believed this was because she had a navy, had colonies which she could send undesirables to and maintained a Conservative ideology with long standing traditions, institutions and a monarchy.
I am at the beginning of this attempt to truly understand what lead to the First World War and how that then set the scene for the Second World War. What I knew up front was that around 10 million military personnel were killed and almost 7 million civilians. I can’t imagine those numbers in terms of MnM’s let alone as pointlessly lost souls, whatever their nationality.
Having a Dad who is a historian, I was brought up with the idea that all the lessons are there in the history books and it’s only when people ignore the lessons or see themselves as different that the mistakes get repeated. For this reason and in honour of those who fought for what they believed in, or simply because they were told to, I am going to do my best to get to grips with those terrible times.
I can’t honestly pretend to be capable of even imagining what it was like, but as the Kipling poem, ‘Recessional’ warns us; “Lest we forget“.