Wednesday, November 09, 2011

First World War Images

History is my subject, and modern European history is a special interest.

I never fail to be amazed, no matter how much I read on the subject, at how Europe's disastrous twentieth century occurred and why. Yes we all know the timeline, but how did a civilised nation like Germany fall under the spell of Hitler? Why were the German high command in such thrall to Hitler that they went along with Operation Barbarossa in 1941 that ultimately led to their defeat? There is so much about that war that fascinates and challenges, which is why there is still such a fascination about Hitler, and why books and documentaries about him are devoured by all with an interest in our recent past.

The First World War holds an equal fascination for many of us with its roots in the nineteenth century Franco-Prussian wars and the search for overseas empires by European countries, who looked enviously at the great British Empire and all the benefits it brought to us economically and politically. Of course the Second World War is firmly rooted in the First World War and its aftermath, to such a degree that some historians regard 1914 to 1945 as almost a latter day Thirty Years War, with a truce from 1918 to 1939.

Menin Gate
What is so powerful about the First World War is the reminders of it that are scattered around Northern France and Flanders. Yes there are reminders too of WW II, especially in the East where you find the memorials that were concentration camps. But for a glimpse into the horror that must have been fighting in the trenches we only need to take a short trip across the Channel and we are there.

There are trenches and bomb craters preserved. Military cemetery after military cemetery with row after row of white crosses marking the graves of the young war dead. There are glorious towns such as Ieper, completely destroyed during the war and lovingly restored to its Flemish glory, complete with the Menin Gate, between the wars.

The Menin Gate is worth a trip in its own right. A glorious marble monument to those who died defending Flanders and, at 8-00pm every single night of the year, a bugler from the local volunteer fire service plays The Last Post in honour of the war dead. One of the things that everybody should do at least once before they die. But be prepared, it can make even the most rugged ex-soldier shed a tear.

To give you a flavour of what to expect if you visit the battlefields of Flanders many of these wonderful photographs are from there, some from farther afield. Thanks to the the Mail Online.


Left-footer said...

You write, "Yes we all know the timeline, but how did a civilised nation like Germany fall under the spell of Hitler?"

I would find it hard to describe Germany's treatment of the Polish people in the early years of the 20th century as "civilised". Nor would I call Bismarck or Falk civilised.

Poles could sell their houses only to Germans, the Polish language was forbidden in school. Anti-Slavonic racism was official.

Rather like Great Britain's "civilised" treatment of the Irish.

Gregg said...

There have been times in every nation's history when things were done that perhaps shouldn't have been. Poland has quite a history too, as I was reminded by a Pole when I was supporting Solidarity in the 1980s.

I won't even comment on Ireland. I get tired of Irish people whining on about how badly they were treated by us but they come to live here by the million.

Until people stop weeping over past ills, perceived or otherwise, as if they happened yesterday then peace will remain a dream.

Gregg said...
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