MCMXIV


Those long uneven lines
Standing as patiently
As if they were stretched outside
The Oval or Villa Park,
The crowns of hats, the sun
On moustached archaic faces
Grinning as if it were all
An August Bank Holiday lark;And the shut shops, the bleached
Established names on the sunblinds,
The farthings and sovereigns,
And dark-clothed children at play
Called after kings and queens,
The tin advertisements
For cocoa and twist, and the pubs
Wide open all day–And the countryside not caring:
The place names all hazed over
With flowering grasses, and fields
Shadowing Domesday lines
Under wheat’s restless silence;
The differently-dressed servants
With tiny rooms in huge houses,
The dust behind limousines;

Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word–the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages,
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again.

Philip Larkin (1922-1985)

The First World War arrived at the climax of an era of unprecedented growth and achievement in Europe, shattering people’s faith in king and country, and putting the lie to the popular notion that man and society had been progressing and improving right in step with the giant strides of the industrial revolution. This was total war. This time everyone would be affected: laborers, tradesmen, public school boys, Oxbridge graduates, and women.

Initially, the war was not called the First World War, for no one could believe that there would ever be another war after this one. It was “the War to End All Wars,” “the Great War.” Unfortunately, the Great War became the prototype, ushering in the 20th Century, and establishing the now familiar model of mechanized war and mass suffering that still plagues us at the end of the century. At the end of the Great War, what seemed to be a restoration of peace and the balance of power, in fact bred a legacy of bitterness between the former enemies that eventually lead to an even worse Second World War only twenty years later. The Great War was a fissure that wrecked forever the continuity of progress, and changed everything in the West: in addition to nine million lives extinguished, the war exhausted treasuries and bankrupted both winners and losers; in the war’s climate of suffering and despair, revolutions toppled venerable monarchies and brought Communism to Russia, and Nazism to Germany. Even the arts would never be the same.

http://net.lib.byu.edu/english/WWI/newmain.html

In 1914, the Public Schools Officers’ Training Corps annual camp was held at Tidworth Pennings, near Salisbury PlainLord Kitchener was to review the cadets, but the imminence of the war prevented him. Smith-Dorrien was sent instead. He surprised the two-or-three thousand cadets by declaring (in the words of Donald Christopher Smith, a Bermudiancadet who was present) “that war should be avoided at almost any cost, that war would solve nothing, that the whole of Europe and more besides would be reduced to ruin, and that the loss of life would be so large that whole populations would be decimated. In our ignorance I, and many of us, felt almost ashamed of a British General who uttered such depressing and unpatriotic sentiments, but during the next four years, those of us who survived the holocaust – probably not more than one-quarter of us – learned how right the General’s prognosis was and how courageous he had been to utter it.”

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