The First World War 1914-18 and its Centenary 2014-18

November 11, 2018

 The First World War 1914-18 and its Centenary 2014-18

When British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914, few imagined that the war would continue for another four years. However, after the Battle of the Marne in September it became obvious that there would not be a quick victory. Lord Kitchener of Khartoum, Secretary of State for War, recruited men to expand the British Army. Propaganda posters encouraged men to enlist and Rudyard Kipling composed poems and spoke at recruitment rallies. But as wounded soldiers were brought to London railway stations with horrific injuries it became more difficult to hide the fact that this had become a catastrophic conflict.

Hundreds of Who’s Who biographees were lost. These included the first MP to be killed in the war, Hon. Arthur O’Neill. He had already served in the South Africa War and became the Unionist MP for Mid Antrim in 1910. On the same day, 6 November 1914, four other Who’s Who entrants died. Major Hon. Hugh Dawnay, the second son of 8th Viscount Downe, was killed and left a wife and four sons. Major Edward Phillips of the Royal Horse Artillery, Lt-Col Gordon Wilson who had also served in South Africa and Hon. William Wyndham all died at Ypres.

Others gave their services in other capacities: war journalist George Dewar ‘repeatedly visited the British Army’s Front in 1916 and 1917’, and Edward Handley- Read was the first artist to exhibit war pictures. War poet Edward Thomas died on 9 April 1917 and his ‘Last Poems’ were published posthumously.

Families were devastated by the war. Sir Edward Macnaghten, 6th Bt, of The Black Watch, Royal Highlanders died on 1 July 1916. His brother Arthur succeeded to the baronetcy but died just weeks later on 15 September. The 1st Baron Cawley records in his entry ‘three sons killed in war’ (a grandson was also killed in the Second World War). Similarly, the Rt Rev. Lord William Gascoyne-Cecil, Bishop of Exeter, and magistrate Edward Cubitt each suffered the loss of three sons, while seedsman Leonard Sutton records in his entry ‘four sons killed in action, 1914-18’.

Commemorating the lives of those who lived, fought and died in the First World War, a four-year First World War Centenary programme of events began in 2014, led in the UK by the Imperial War Museum. 14-18 NOW, a programme commissioning new artworks, has brought the stories of the First World War to life. The iconic poppy sculptures ‘Wave’ and ‘Weeping Window’ by ceramic artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper have toured the UK, beginning with the installation ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ at the Tower of London in 2014 and finishing at the Imperial War Museum London in 2018. Sir Peter Jackson has directed a new film ‘They Shall Not Grow Old’ using footage from Imperial War Museums’ archive to tell the story of what it was like to be a soldier during the First World War.

In 1918, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, Field-Marshal Ferdinand Foch, Generalissimo of the Allied Forces arranged for the signing of an armistice with Germany, officially ending the war. And on 11 November 2018 the four-year Centenary comes to an end. Film-maker Danny Boyle’s ‘Pages of the Sea’ will invite communities to gather on beaches across the UK to say goodbye and thank you to those who left to fight in the First World War and did not return.