In October 1914 in Canada, Maclean’s magazine wrote, “Some wars name themselves. This is the Great War.”
On Monday 4th August 2014 precisely one hundred years will have passed since Britain declared military action against Germany following a period of sustained political unrest in Europe, escalating a conflict which would alter the course of world history.
The outbreak of the First World War at 11pm on August 14th 1914 was a watershed in British, European and world history which affected lives on a global scale. The centenary of this tumultuous and catastrophic event is not a case for celebration but heralds a four-year period in which to better remember, reflect upon, understand and learn from the Great War, to thank and honour those who fought in it and to salute the men and women both in Britain and around the world who continue daily to make sacrifices in order to protect us and safeguard the freedoms and privileges we value.
August 4th 2014 marks the beginning of a four-year programme of events in the UK and worldwide to coincide with the four-year duration of the Great War and to commemorate its centenary with national acts of remembrance and cultural and educational initiatives.
Revisiting the sites of The Great War
Towns close to the Western Front battlefields of Belgium and France were often occupied by German or Allied troops and became heavily defended ‘fortress towns’, used for strategic planning, hospitalising the wounded and receiving military supplies. Such towns would naturally become targets for enemy bombardment. Consequently historic towns and villages in France and Belgium such as Ypres, Arras, Reims, Peronne and many others were almost entirely destroyed during the Great War, to be painstakingly rebuilt and restored in peacetime.
Today, many of the battlefields, towns and villages of the Western Front can be visited. Great Rail Journeys provides tours to some of the most educational and emotionally-stirring destinations associated with the First World War. Some are home to poignant War memorials and cemeteries dedicated to specific countries which lost men in the Great War. Others, such as the Lochnagar Crater in the Somme, France have been preserved as they were when the war ended. Others feature atmospheric ‘living’ museums that recount the story of the First World War whilst attempting to accurately recreate the sights, sounds, living conditions and experiences that those who fought in the war would have encountered on a daily basis.
How will the Great War be commemorated between 2014 and 2018?
In the UK, a fund of £50 million has been committed to commemorating the centenary of the Great War.
A programme of national events spanning the four-year commemoration will begin with a special service in Glasgow Cathedral followed by a wreath-laying ceremony at Glasgow’s cenotaph for Commonwealth leaders.
Glasgow is to host the Commonwealth Games in 2014 and the World War I centenary commemoration commences the day after closing ceremony of the games on Sunday 3rd August 2014.
There will also be a commemorative event taking place at the Saint Symphorien Military Cemetery in Mons, Belgium; the site at which both the first and the last Commonwealth casualty of the Great War are said to be buried.
At Westminster Abbey in London, a candlelit service of prayer and penitence will end at 11pm on August 4th to coincide with the moment at which Britain’s declaration of war with Germany was issued.
Following the extensive refurbishment of the First World War Galleries of London’s Imperial War Museum, these will be reopened as part of the commemoration.
Subsequent initiatives taking place across Britain in the four years from 2014-2018 will include the laying of special paving stones dedicated to those awarded the highest military honour for valour ‘in the face of the enemy’ during the First World War and the provision of support to local communities for the restoration of Great War memorials.
The Royal British Legion will be promoting a scheme to plant millions of Flanders Poppies – the flower historically associated with the remembrance of those lost in World War I – across the United Kingdom.
Museums throughout Great Britain will be hosting special exhibitions dedicated to recounting and exploring every aspect of the Great War covering aspects as diverse as the delivery of call-up papers to the vital role that women played during the conflict.
As part of an education initiative, two pupils from every state funded secondary school in England will participated in battlefield tours of the the Great War’s historic Western Front from spring 2014 to March 2019.
The list of national and regional events to commemorate the centenary of the Great War continues to grow daily. Comprehensive and regularly updated information regarding nationwide and local commemorations taking place between 2014 and 2018 can be found at: the UK Government’s website, The Great War and 1914.org
In Europe, similar programmes of national ceremonies, events and services will take place between 2014 and 2018 to commemorate the Great War’s centenary. The official website detailing Belgium’s programme of commemoration is here.
The Government of France has committed to producing a programme of commemoration “organized around six great national and international events. This programme will emphasize passing on the memory of the Great War [to young people], cultural and scientific development, and remembrance tourism”. More information regarding France’s Great War commemoration events can be found here.
To discover how the centenary of the Great War will be commemorated by other countries that were involved around the world, information can be found at: The Great War and Centenary News
This article has been written by contributors from Great Rail Journeys.
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