The end of the Great War

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

part of the National Memorial Arboretum where service people from all wars are remembered

To my grandfather who fought in WWI, it was always the Great War, never WWI. It always slightly troubled me that a war could be called “Great” but I suppose it was because of the sheer number of soldiers on both sides that were involved. Up until that time, no war had covered such a huge geographical area, involved so many nations and caused so many deaths.

Today being both Remembrance Sunday and the day that the war finally ended 100 years ago, there will be many services around the world although no veterans of the war are still alive.

Over the last four years, visits to the battlefields of France and Belgium have seen more visitors than usual. After today will there be fewer visitors as the war recedes in our memories? I barely remember my grandfather who died at the early age of 61 having suffered the effects of being gassed on the western front. My generation may be the last to have direct contact with those that fought in that war.

In France today, President Macron will lead the tributes to the last French soldier, Augustin Trébuchon, killed during the war. Trebuchon died in the village of Vrigne-Meuse (which is in the Ardennes, an area heavily featuring in WWII as well) just fifteen minutes before the conclusion of hostilities, in what in retrospect was one of the cruellest twists of fate. The church in the village has eighteen white crosses surrounding a memorial, in honour of the men of the 415th Infantry Regiment who all died on November 11 1918 during the last offensive while attempting to cross the River Meuse.

The last British soldier believed to have died was George Edwin Ellison who died ninety minutes before the end of the war. He is buried in Mons in Belgium but this month, a plaque will be unveiled for him in Leeds. The last soldier of all to be killed was Sergeant Henry Nicholas John Gunther, an American soldier who died just one minute before 11am.

For all those with family connections to those who died in WWI, the final scene from Blackadder Goes Forth showing British troops going over the top to face certain death is an image that lingers starkly in the brain. Was it like that for all soldiers regardless of which they side they fought on?

Whereas fifty years ago, each nation often just commemorated those that died on the allied side today, in Vrigne-Meuse, there are plans in place to stage a fly-past of planes from both the French and German air-forces.

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