by Brian C Hewitt, MBE, Gloucestershire County Chairman,  President Stoke Gifford Branch,  The Royal British Legion. 

At Eleven O’clock, on the Eleventh Day, of the Eleventh Month, 100 hundred years ago, all the Leaders of the Warring Nations during the First World War, met together in Compiegne Forest, north of Paris, in a Railway Carriage part of Marshal Ferdinand Foch’s train, to witness Germany signing an unconditional surrender.

The date was the 11th. November, 1918, the War lasted nearly four and a half years. An assassination in Sarajevo Main Street, in Bosnia, on the 28thJune 1914 started the first world-wide conflict ever to have happened.

Britain and the British Empire declared war on Germany on the 4thAugust 1914. When the last gun was fired Britain and her Empire had lost one million, one hundred thousand mainly men to the War.

1,001,000 died and a further 1,750,000 were injured to degrees that required medical, feeding and caring.

Let us bring those horrific figures forward and try and equate them to today’s horrors.  If we divide the 1st World War figures by 4 (four years) it equates to 687,750 being killed and wounded every year over four years. Can you wonder at our Nation being horrified, as they learned and understood the real cost in lives.

Bear in mind, the largest majority, by far, were young men. Is there any wonder that all over the UK and within our Empire, Monuments  (War Memorials) were erected by Village and Towns people using money from their own pockets to honour all those killed in action? Is there any wonder that all the small Charities for aiding Servicemen, with Government approval, joined together and in 1921 to form the British Legion? With 1,750,000 injured, again mainly men were seeking help in all sorts of ways, what a massive job faced the new Legion.

Now can you imagine what would happen today if that number of injured, asking for help, suddenly hit our Television screens tonight or appeared in tomorrow’s Newspapers?

What we also have to understand is how this constant killing of these young men, Fathers, Sons Brothers, Uncles, Cousins and Nephews, affected Families throughout the Land. The population of the British Isles was nothing like the number of people who now live here, (today c65 million).  100 years ago, during the 1914/18 War, the census said we had 46 million recorded for the whole of our Kingdom, 40% less than today. This means that the figure of 2,751,000 killed and wounded would have had a much greater effect on the Families living at that time than anything we can compare the figures with today. Nearly every Person living in 1918, throughout the UK, would be affected by the War’s death toll.

In my own Family, my Father’s Dad and my Mother’s Dad both came home from the War wounded, my Dad’s eldest Brother was badly knocked about. My Dad and two other Brothers came home in one piece.

Check your own Family. Who went to War? Who came home, who didn’t or came home injured?

There are many Families in the Country where Servicemen came home from the Great War in 1918 and 1919 on discharge from the Military and didn’t want to talk about their experiences. Their relatives could not understand or imagine the horrors they had witnessed.

The Newspapers and Television, especially these last two months, have been giving the Nation a much more vivid and graphic concept of what happened to our Servicemen in the First World War. This media information has done much more than our Relatives could have done, even if they had wanted to, a lot of men couldn’t bear to talk of their experiences.

We, all of us, have to thank all of those who gave of their all, the supreme sacrifice of their life. We have to thank all those who suffered from wounds and the millions of those who grieved. Without what all the Members of our Nation at that time did for us, in that early quarter of the nineteen hundreds, the World as we know it today would not exist. Despite all that happened in the twenties and thirties when, although we won the War, it seemed to many we had lost the Peace.

The Legion has been leading the Nation to say “Thank You” to all who suffered and that is the right thing to do, but we must also help people to Remember. 

The Royal British Legion is the National Custodian of Remembrance and, as always, with Parades, Services of Remembrance and continuing to give aid of all descriptions to both serving and ex-Service People who are in need, this will help people remember. But let us not lose sight of the fact “That we must not forget” and the best way is to pass on to everyone the knowledge of the sacrifice that recently has been freely given to us.     The young are a very good group to pass on what we now know to fact. Trips to France and Belgium to witness the vast Military Cemeteries will leave life long memories and understanding.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old,

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.                                                                                

At the going down of the sun and in the morning;  

We will remember them. 


Brian Hewitt,           04/11/2018.

For details of the local Remembrance Services and Parades visit out What’s On section of the website, they are also listed on our Facebook page.

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