Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Marking the start of the First World War

Yesterday, I attended two events which marked the centenary of Britain’s entry into the First World War.

The first was held at New County Hall in Truro and included the formal rededication of a plaque containing the words of a resolution made by Cornwall County Council in 1919, which gave thanks for the end of the war. The event also symbolically commemorated the 13 Cornish sailors who lost their lives in the first 48 hours of the war. Well done to Cllr John Wood and his team for a very thoughtful and measured event.

In the evening, I was pleased to be able to attend a talk on the impact of the war on St Columb by the redoubtable Bill Glanville and to then join many hundreds of people for a torchlight procession through the town. A moving scene, 57 crosses were laid by local men to remember the 57 men from the historic parish of St Columb – which included men from Indian Queens and St Columb Road. Well done to the Mayor Paul Wills and his team for organising such a truly memorable commemoration.

I have also covered the outbreak of the conflict in my column in tomorrow’s Cornish Guardian. It will be as follows:

It is heartening that the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War is being marked by so many different projects and initiatives, and in so many communities.

I strongly believe that everyone should learn more about the war which engulfed the globe between 1914 and 1918, and led to the tragic deaths of around 17 million servicemen and civilians - leaving no community untouched.

Looking back, some sixty men from my home area of Fraddon, Indian Queens, St Columb Road and Summercourt did not return home.

The first local serviceman to lose his life was stoker George Henry Billingham. Originally from Netherton near Dudley in the West Midlands, he joined the Royal Navy and ended up in Plymouth where he met his Cornish wife, Gwendoline, a servant girl who was working in the city but was from Indian Queens.

He served on the HMS Monmouth, one of two cruisers that were sunk at the Battle of Coronel, some 40 miles off the Chilean coast, on 1st November 1914. There were no survivors and George was one of 1,570 men who perished.

Many men from my area lie in France and Flanders, but others – like George Henry Billingham – lost their lives away from European battlefields, in places such as EgyptIndiaIraqIsraelTanzania and Turkey.

Each year, such men are commemorated on Remembrance Day, when their names are read out. But I think we need to do more. It is not enough to simply remember the names of the fallen. We should know more about who they were, what they did in their short lives, what happened to them, and the consequences of their deaths for their families and friends. In short, the human story behind each and every name.

I have done some provisional research about the impact of the conflict on my home Parish of St Enoder and, on behalf of the Parish Council, I am presently pulling together a community project about the First World War.

The project will include new interpretation materials for three local village halls, the Parish Church and local Chapel, as well as a book that will hopefully do justice to the life stories of those who were lost.

It is also my view that all politicians and opinion formers, present and future, should properly remember the terrible losses of the First World War – as well as all subsequent wars – and do all in their power to find peaceful resolutions to current conflicts and prevent any further unrest around the globe. 

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