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The First World War

LETTERS

Before my Mother died, she gave me a box of letters which had been in her family for the best part of a century. In the box is a telegram informing my great grandmother of the death of her youngest son, William Charles Tagg, on June 20th 1915. In the same box is another letter, from my Uncle’s sergeant, and one from his colleague, Bombardier Gladwell. 

Speaking of the death of my great uncle he wrote these words,

“His death is a great loss to us. Still God has willed that it be so, and he knows his own. Your own son has died for his country in its hour of need; and believe me not in vain. It may be a consolation to you to know that he was buried most respectfully at dusk that day. As many of his comrades as could be spared took part in that impressive little service, during which his body was laid to rest till the resurrection day. Carefully after the soil was thrown in was the turf adjusted. And now at the head of the grave stands a wooden cross with his name and battery inscribed. A wreath I believe has been prepared and is about to be laid also.”

This was almost 100  years ago. In many ways it seems very distant. A very different world: a very different war. No repatriation of those who had been killed. I have often wondered whether it was true about the funeral and the wreath. Or was Bombardier Gladwell just being kind and trying to bring some comfort to the family, whose son had been unceremoniously placed in a mass grave?

 A JUST WAR?

There is still a fierce debate among historians as to whether the Great War was a necessary conflict. The “Black Adder” view of the War is in sharp contrast to the interpretation of those, like Jeremy Paxman, who suggest the war was necessary to challenge the aggression and militarism of Germany.  We know now that many appalling decisions were made by generals and politicians on both sides of the conflict in the Great War. Many of us would now question whether this mass sacrifice of human life was really worth it. 

But the grief and suffering in war have not changed. As we heard almost daily of the British casualties in recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, the news readers announced almost as a ritual, “his family has been informed.” Great Uncle William in 1915; the latest casualty in Afghanistan almost a century later. A young man or woman whose life has been cut short; a grieving parent and family. And now the world looks on, helplessly, as thousands die in the civil wars in Syria and Iraq and in conflicts all over the world.

 CENTENARY

To mark the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War, the town will be commemorating the men of Maldon who died,  at a special service on  Sunday August 3rd. At 3.00pm, there will be a short service at the Town War Memorial. This will be followed by a Civic Service in the United Reformed church, at 3.30pm. Preceeding the service, there will be at 11.45am a half muffled peal rung on our bells by the Essex Association of change bell ringers. It is some years since a full peal of muffled bells was rung at All Saints. The peal of 5040 changes is expected to last 3 hours, and is a fitting tribute to those who died.

Many  families  in the land will have their own stories to tell of family members who fought or who died or were injured in the Great War. Though we have the opportunity to remember them each Remembrance Sunday, the centenary of the outbreak of the War seems particularly appropriate. I hope you will be able to join us to honour the men of this town who died; but also to pray for peace and justice in a world that remains scarred by conflict.

 Stephen