Centenaries

There has been a deal of news recently about the forthcoming centenary celebrations of the War – including slightly silly plans for a football match to commemorate the Christmas truce (After the match, will the fans try to murder each other?)

Having been reading about the Battle of Waterloo recently, I wondered how the end of the Napoleonic Wars was celebrated a hundred years later, in 1915. The Times of June 17 offered this short article:

waterloo

So maybe when we remember the centenary, the most important thing that we should celebrate is that we don’t have more pressing and terrible items on our current agenda.

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4 Comments

  1. Posted February 14, 2013 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    After the match, will the fans try to murder each other?

    Perhaps they’ll only aim at the sky, as the Poet Laureate insists happened.

  2. Posted February 14, 2013 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    In today’s Guardian there’s an array of letters about the centenary. The second of them is from a vicar drafting his Christmas sermon, getting rapturous about the truce and quoting someone who claimed: “these men came near to destroying the very concept of war itself”.
    I think people like him and Duffy are looking at the truce the wrong way round. They want it to be a gesture that foreshadows a future harmony of mankind. I think it’s the opposite, a relic from the past.
    The soldiers in the trenches in 1914 were mostly regulars. They were demonstrating a professional soldier’s respect for his enemy, and looking back to an earlier style of warfare, which would find it difficult to survive the mass mobilisation of citizen armies who were expected to demonise the enemy.
    There were, of course, temporary local truces throughout the War, for burial of the dead and rescue of the wounded, for example. The concentration on the Christmas one as unique is sentimental, especially when it presents the event as the one bright light shining through the darkness.

    • Posted February 14, 2013 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

      I can’t help but think that Martin Pugh (a historian whose work I admire) is missing the point. The official commemoration plans don’t “celebrate military genius”. Indeed, the emphasis on the First Day of the Somme as one of the three key dates of commemoration only reinforces a ‘lions led by donkeys’ view of the war which is not so respectable amongst historians today, though still tremendously influential outside the academy. I can only imagine what the late John Terraine would think.

      • Posted February 14, 2013 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

        There’s a movement, I think, to get the Battle of Amiens (1918) celebrated as a war-winning battle and turning-point in history. I don’t know if the organisers of this bash will take kindly to the idea, though. They seem to want futility all the way.


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