Last night in Britain people were asked to put a lighted candle outside their houses from 10 to 11 pm to commemorate the start of the Great War. We did and sat in the back garden, contemplating the events of 100 years ago. Our house was built in 1909 and we imagined the feelings inside that evening … with no radio it must have been slow news indeed, though papers were published twice a day. Did they wander out to look at the night sky on that warm August night? It must have been much more star filled then, with less light pollution bouncing off a conurbation which is now several times larger than it was then. Did they have children of fighting age? What happened to those people?
I thought about my Welsh grandfather who fought on the Western Front, then Gallipoli and Serbia, only to have his brother shot dead the day after the armistice in 1918 by a sniper. My mother was born on May 4th 1915, and a realization hit me that it was exactly nine months after the declaration of war. My granddad came from a military family … his dad was a regular soldier, and I suppose he joined up immediately. My English granddad was a train driver and drove trains through both wars. “A lot worse to be driving a train when there are bombers around,” he used to say.
But then you watch the candle flickering and my mind ran to Gaza, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya. On a political level, I thought about the United States in 1914 with the Civil War so strong in memory, with the loss of life … 600,000 in a population of 20 million … proportionally greater than either World War, then the Great War in Europe. You have to think the Union … the re-establishment of the United States of America and then the European Union were both extremely good ideas, as was the union of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland earlier. Union is better than fighting. I wonder if in time the sorely troubled Middle East can have its own Union or United States. That was my hope watching the candle. And I was shaking my head at the stupidity of supporting UKIP too.