Relections on Edward Grey

Sir Edward Grey: “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime”

All of us have our own take on WW1.  Our own personal and historic links.  Mine are threefold.  My father was aged 30 in 1914 when he joined up, he was not conscripted (he had a family of 4 children) yet he  joined the Middlesex Regt, fought at the Somme, and was later sent to Northern Ireland  as a motorcycle despatch rider, where he was blown up by the IRA.  Why did he join up? He never talked about it – I only remember only a German First aid kit (Einheits Verband Kasten) as a memento of his service and a Luger pistol . We will all have our own memories tonight.  Tonight is a time for reflection.

Second link – perhaps stimulated to understand why my Dad joined up in 1914, I undertook a research thesis – my PhD – called “The Road to War 1899-1914, Nation Empire and Working Class”. Also, for four years, I headed the teaching department of the National Army Museum in Chelsea.  I discovered that within the first month of war, Aug 1914, 40% of the available male population had flocked to the colours. Recruiting stations were overwhelmed. The army was forced to put up its height limits – from 5’3” to 5’6”, to choke off demand – and in that first rush there were over 10000 underage boy soldiers enlisted! Why had this happened?

  • Working people then , had a particular world view of nation and of the Empire, fed by patriotic and military messages in the elementary schools, the music halls and the early films, fiction and childrens books. of glory and of British supremacy (1 Englishman = 6 Germans – a quote from a scoutleader 1912, before the war)

  • There was an arms race – Dreadnought Battleships against Germany, a whole General Election was fought on that issue

  • 40% of men had previous paramilitary experience in the Scouts, Church Lads Brigade, Boys Brigade and the new Territorial Army

  • Mates Clubs, based on factories or communities laterplayed a great part.

  • Then excitement – in early days down to the Battle of Mons the war was mobile with cavalry, nobody wore helmets, it would all be over quickly

By the end of the war, of every 20 men of military age, 3 had been killed and 6 wounded – nearly half the population of men aged 17-35. So a second reflection.  We cannot judge them, our forbears.  Perhaps they were touched by the wave of pre-war militarism and propaganda against Germany. But by their own lights, all of them were motivated to do great things for others.  Their leaders let them down.

And my third link was that, for 27 years, I was a Territorial Army soldier.  I served through the big NATO exercises of the Cold War, right up to the collapse of communism and the downing of the Berlin Wall.  My reflection here, is to ask just when the lights went on again in Europe.  For the First War led directly, through the Treaty of Versailles to the Second World War, which led to the Cold War.  So I think that the lights only went on again in 1990 as the Berlin Wall came down. (Sir Edward Grey died in 1933!) And I reflect that, again, the lamps are dimming as like Germany, Russia is grabbing land, and the whole area of the Middle East (from Syria, Iran , Iraq and Israel) is in turmoil all over again. If there is anything else we learn from WW1 it is that it is all too easy to get into war, all too difficult to get out of it.

 If we are to keep faith with those who died, we have always and everywhere to work for peace and reconciliation!  That begins at home.  It begins, says Our Lord, with being reconciled within families whenever there is a dispute – he tells us, in our Gospel today Matt 5: 21-24) not to approach the altar if we are in dispute with our brother, we are commanded as Christians to become reconciled with our neighbours, not allowing hatreds and enmities and feelings of revenge to build up.  If everyone behaved in the ways of love that the God of love demands of us, there would be no war.  For us, keeping faith now, means seeking peace and reconciliation in our own lives!


Amen. Come Lord Jesus!

Fr Mike Blanch

Priest in Charge

Hampden Park and Remembrance
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