Friday, 16 March 2012
Could anything have prepared them for Flanders?
Had another day walking in the Chilterns yesterday and discovered, high on the ridge overlooking the small market town of Princes Risborough, the remains of what turned out to be World War 1 practice trenches. It's quite a poignant place to visit. I couldn't help thinking about the young men and boys who would have practised going over the top here in these benign surroundings, perhaps within sight of their home village. They must have thought, "well it don't seem that bad. I'm sure we will be alright." The reality of what was in store for them is told in the long list of names that adorns the war memorials of even the smallest settlement. How many shattered lives and broken hearts were prepared for here in these practice trenches I wonder?
One of the great enigmas of the twentieth century is how in 1914 the European working class turned it's back on any thoughts of internationalism and embraced the jingoism of whichever empire they happened to live under. For many of course, going off to war would have seemed like a huge adventure and even later, when the truth was known, the social pressure to march off to the horrors of trench warfare must have been overwhelming.