Wednesday, 6 August 2014

"Oh, it's all gone quiet over there..."

Actually, it’s a football chant, but you can imagine the same taunt being used by soldiers of the Great War during any period of let-up from the shelling of their trenches.  I feel like saying it now, about a number of things – the Wimbledon final, the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games, the (brief) hiatus between the end of our “Arcadia, Armageddon, Aftermath” at Heytesbury and our next SSF event, but most of all the lull following the frantic activity of 4thAugust, when politicians, actresses, historians and journalists vied with one another to see who could find the most to say on the subject of the outbreak of the First World War.  

Some people are probably breathing a sigh of relief as well.  Thank goodness, they may be thinking.  No more press coverage of the centenary for another four years or so.  Others, however, will have revelled in the events of recent days (and weeks and months).  Having reluctantly removed the candles from their windows on Monday night, they may be waiting eagerly for another opportunity to commemorate.  I feel sure they will not have to wait long.  They could, for example, come along to the English Association’s major conference on British Poetry of the First World War at Oxford on the first weekend of September.  I suspect there are places left, since it is not exactly competitively priced at over £100 for the cheapest one-day ticket (in case you’re wondering, panel speakers have to pay for themselves and there is no remuneration).

There are many more economical events to choose from.  You could, for example, go along to the Fashion Museum in Bath to hear an expert talk about what people were wearing in 1914.  At Preston Manor in Brighton, you can go on a guided tour of "the 1914 house".  Finborough Theatre in London is putting on a music-drama, The Immortal Hour (first performed at the inaugural Glastonbury Festival in August 1914), and, if you fancy something more quirky, Arnos Vale Cemetery Trust in Bristol is offering a "Great War Iconography Stone-Carving Workshop".  For poetry-lovers, the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Edinburgh is staging Forever Young, in which a troupe of music hall performers create a show out of letters, memoirs, war poetry and songs.

For no charge at all, you can go to Leicester’s New Walk Museum and see an exhibition on Life in the Front Line.  St John's House Museum at Warwick has a free exhibition on Warwickshire at War, and Worcester Cathedral is offering "World War I tours" this coming weekend, while Reading Museum hosts the First World War Family History Roadshow.   

At the same time as you are enjoying these events and activities, and thinking how lucky we are to live in a Europe at peace, spare a thought for the people of Libya, Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, and other countries where the Western powers have intervened on the basis of the uninformed opinion that they are better-placed to know what government those countries should have than the people who live there and have to take the consequences of our interference.

In a 1939 letter to Edmund Blunden, Siegfried wrote, “Is there such a thing as human progress?  I begin to doubt it.”  He certainly knew what he was talking about.
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