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Toby’s thoughts on the centenary of the outbreak of war

On Monday 4th August people across Chesterfield and the whole country turned out lights in their homes in an hour of reflection for those who died in the First World War.

This tribute – quiet, personal, dignified – was the perfect way to honour the million British and Empire soldiers who gave their lives in the conflict.  It was inspired by Sir Edward Grey’s famous and prophetic comment on the outbreak of the conflict; “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”

It also demonstrates the great respect and honour that our armed services now have in our national life.  Many Great War veterans returned to a land which they often felt did not appreciate and value their sacrifice.  They were told not to speak about their experiences.

PoppiesThis is something the generations who followed sought to put right and in my lifetime, Remembrance Sunday has grown from a quiet moment of reflection to a truly significant event encompassing the whole nation in a similar vein to the “Lights Out” campaign.

Perhaps it should be no surprise that the country was not so prepared to deal with the consequences of the War back in 1918.  No one had ever seen anything like it before.

The sheer scale of the slaughter was previously unimaginable.  Far more British servicemen died in the First World War than any war before or since.  On the first day of The Battle of the Somme alone, Britain lost 20,000 men, still the worst day in the history of our army.

The battle lines redrew the map of the world.  In 1914 Europe was a continent of vast empires ruled by hereditary kings. By 1918 new republics and democracies arose from the rubble and countries we would recognise today like Finland, Ireland and Romania were born.  People celebrating victory or independence in 1918 could scarcely imagine that 21 years later they would be plunged into another war.

The conflict shook up society.  At the front line, classes mixed together for the first time, contributing to the beginning of the end of the era of deference.  The role of female workers on the home front was also recognised with the right to vote for women over 30 in 1918.

The scale of the war means that the family of almost everyone reading this piece will have been touched by the conflict.  For me, it was my great grandfather A. P. Herbert who saw action at Gallipoli.  After being wounded and returning home he wrote the novel “The Secret Battle” based on his experiences.

This book made a huge impression on me as a young man.  It demonstrated just how horrific the sacrifices the soldiers were asked to make were.  It instilled in me the belief that the war should be commemorated but not celebrated.  It taught me never, ever to forget.

By Toby Perkins MP, Labour MP for Chesterfield

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I am Toby Perkins, Labour's Member of Parliament for Chesterfield. If you would like to get in touch with me, my office is open and can be reached by phone on 01246 386 286. I also hold regular surgeries in Chesterfield and Staveley so that constituents can meet me and I can take up their concerns. If you would like to make an appointment then please do contact my office. Thank you for visiting.

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