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WWI memorial

So what was World War One about anyway?  The death of Harry Patch leaves Laurence Inman no nearer to discovering an elusive truth.

I’m very pleased that the last person alive who fought in the 1914 war was called Harry Patch, and that he was a conscript, and that he thought the whole sorry business was ‘just a family row really,’ and that ‘it wasn’t worth a single life.’

I would have been quite angry if the last man had been some aristocrat who could just as easily have found himself fighting for the other side.

The Hon Bertie Cavendish-Bumhausen, CO of the 8th Fartshire Mounted Hurrahs, whose bravery in sending 700 young members of the Dog Street Pals over the top in a vain attempt to storm the chateau at Ordure-sur-Merde and take the strategically vital wine cellar, which contained the last few bottles of 1876 Bollinger premier cru, is commemorated with a small cross in Crappieres Wood, where the advance ground to a splattering halt.

I’m very glad there’s a chance now that such figures will be completely forgotten.

Harry didn’t talk about his experiences until he was about 100. I can understand that.  I had several relatives who fought in the last war, including my father, and I often asked them about it.

They were reluctant to answer me, not through any false modesty, but more because there wouldn’t have been any point. I definitely got that impression with my dad; he couldn’t tell me what it was really like, and even if he could, would it tune in with any of my experience ? No. How could it ?

Most people, including historians, find it very difficult to pin down exactly why the First World War happened. This is very odd. It’s as if millions of young men could disappear in a big puff of smoke, (and flame, blast and mud) and no one asked the simplest question: why exactly did that come about ?

Perhaps the only reason for the First World War was that it made the Second World War almost inevitable. And the Second World War was, essentially, a diversion, which made the big, real war which Marx predicted too expensive to consider, by which time weapons had been invented which made it too destructive to make sense. You could almost see it as some sort of plan.

Anyway, on a more festive note, all the streets in my very leafy corner of Kings Heath have been a-flutter with bunting this week. Streets have been closed off for parties on long trestles. Children have been given specially-made mugs. Mums have been rushed off their feet with all the preparations. Dads have, pints in hand, laughed uproariously in the sunshine with the neighbours.

Yes, it’s the big anniversary party.

So many have come together this summer.

It’s forty years since forty years ago. Fifty years since 1959. Ten years since the last year of the last century (which wasn’t really, but what can you do ?) Thirty-five years since a rather dull day in the 70s.

Not only that, there’s a new kind of anniversary to celebrate. It’s a sort of pre-anniversary. They’re doing it in London to mark an athletics meeting, even before it happens.

Is this in case the reality is a bit of a disappointment ? But isn’t all reality a tiny tad of a let-down in the end ? Eh ? Really, though. Eh ?

Anyway, we’ve incorporated the idea into our big thrash.

So, fill your glasses everybody! It’s ten years today until 30th July 2019!

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