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First industrial conflict meant the whole nation was dragged into the war

By Burton Mail  |  Posted: August 04, 2014

  • ON THE FRONT . . . British Artillerymen in action during the opening of the Battle of the Somme (above). British soldiers in a trench in France making merry with paper hats at Christmas (left).

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THERE are 16,0000 names on the Armed Forces Memorial at the National Arboretum – each one represents the sacrifice of a life by a service man or woman.

The memorial is a moving tribute to all those of the Armed and Merchant Services who have died serving their country since 1945, which is why it has been chosen as the setting of a candlelit vigil to commemorate the First World War tonight (see panel, below right).

The centre's chief executive, Sarah Montgomery, believes the setting will put into stark perspective the sheer scale of the losses 100 years ago.

She says: "I think what strikes home for me is that there were more soldiers killed on the first day of The Somme than all the names on our Armed Forces Memorial put together.

"It gives you a strong visual impression when you see 16,000 names up there but then translate that to any major battle in the First World War and you see what I mean."

Assistant curator James Shallcross believes that we should remember the First World War because it was the first industrial scale conflict and so many lessons about sacrifice were tragically spelled out.

He says: "It was an incredibly important conflict in so many aspects. It was the first time we had submarines, tanks and planes. It was the first time we had slaughter on such a huge scale."

Sarah says the sacrifices must not be forgotten.

"Acts of remembrance for those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the First World War are part of a long history of those who have committed their lives to their country.

"So it is part of a continuity but because of the scale and significance of the losses in the First World War, the centenary – which will continue for the next four years – has led to a very strong public response.

"That's made more poignant because there's a strong connection to the present day – with people still making the ultimate sacrifice. The number of names on our Armed Forces Memorial does reduce over the years but that doesn't minimise the sacrifices that have been made.

"People being selfless on behalf of their country is something we should remember as every one of them has family, friends relatives and their own story to tell."

The Magic Attic local history archive has been putting a special emphasis on the First World War.

It recently held an exhibition at Swadlincote Town Hall dedicated to the centenary and at Sharpes Pottery Museum you can currently hear about Forty Fighting Men – obituaries of those from the area who fought and died in the First World War.

Graham Nutt, from The Magic Attic, said: "It's not a flag-waving exhibition. It's telling people what it was like.

"All different communities had a slightly different experience of the war.

"Round here we needed miners to keep the pits operating. So there would be arguments in pubs at night, with people asking why these men weren't at the front doing their bit.

"The recruiting side was evil – there's no doubt about that.The pressures they put on people to sign up were great.

"A circus came to Burton in 1915 and, during the interval, a recruiting sergeant asked the audience to look at who was sitting next to them, and if it was a man between 18 and 45 to ask him why he was there."

The scale of the loss in the Burton and Swadlincote area is equally as tragic as the national picture.

Some 3,000 local men died in July 1916 going 'over the top' at the Somme.

Graham says: "The population was nothing like it is now, so that many people being wiped out was terrible."

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