The last surviving British veteran of the First World War, Harry Patch, died in 2009. With him dies the collective memory of a generation that fought, resisted, endured and dreamed.
Living memory is a powerful thing. It can assert itself in ways the dead cannot. Patch himself met Tony Blair. He told him “war is organised murder” (1).
Now he sleeps, the experience of his generation are up for grabs: a quote for a statue, an artefact for a museum, a sound-bite for a speech. With their voices gone, our leaders are free to resurrect the same old lie: it is sweet and honourable it is to die for one’s country.
Yet we can all be custodians of their memory and we can all reclaim history. When the Government announced a year of “celebrations” to mark the start of the First World War, some of us started a radical history project to uncover more about the War to End All Wars. Here is a picture of what we have found so far.
Britain’s entry to the First World War was opposed by many, including the then Labour Party under Keir Hardie, pictured here speaking in Trafalgar Square, 2 August, the day before Germany declared war on France. Image: Magnoliabox. Continue reading