World War I Somme bloodbath, 100 years ago

This video says about itself:

The Great War: The Somme (WWI Documentary)

22 April 2015


In just one day almost 60,000 British soldiers were killed or wounded. Why was this first day on the Somme such a disaster for the British? World War I, trenches and barbed wire ran across the entire continent of Europe from the Mediterranean to the North Sea.

At 7:30am on July 1st, 1916, after a devastating artillery bombardment lasting more than a week, 100,000 British soldiers waited in their trenches ready to advance on the German lines. They’d been told to expect minimal resistance, but as they picked their way slowly across no-man’s-land, guns opened fire. Shells burst overhead, and waves of men were machine-gunned down.

It was a military catastrophe of unprecedented proportions. Filmed on the battlefield itself, in laboratories and on firing ranges – archaeologists, military historians, and other experts from disciplines as diverse as metallurgy and geology investigate the factors and conduct tests to replicate and understand the factors that turned one terrible day into the bloodiest in the history of the British Army.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

When lions were led to slaughter by donkeys

Friday 1st July 2016

One and a half million causalities in a single battle or the death of one single man – both underline the futility of war, says PETER FROST

The battle of the Somme was one of the bloodiest battles of WWI, indeed perhaps the bloodiest conventional battle in all human history. One and a half million participants were killed or injured in this single engagement.

The British suffered 419,654 casualties, the French 204,253 and the Germans 465,000, Canada 24,029 casualties, Australia 23,000, New Zealand 7,408 and Ireland 25,000.

One young German soldier suffered a wounded leg during the battle. His name was Adolf Hitler.

The Somme was one of the first battles in military history to include air warfare. The British Royal Flying Corps had 185 planes which, along with their artillery-spotting observation balloons, gave them air superiority. The Germans had only 129 aircraft.

This battle also saw the first use of tanks. Untried and unreliable, of the 40 used most could not even drag themselves to the front line. Another British tactic was to use miners to tunnel under the German entrenchments to plant explosives.

The battle started at 7.30am on July 1 1916 when the British detonated 40,000lbs of explosives under the German positions before the British infantry advanced across no-man’s land facing heavy artillery and murderous machine gun fire.

It was soon apparent that the British artillery bombardment had been largely ineffective — advancing troops suffered tremendous losses and the few that reached the German line were easily cut down.

Poor communications and arrogance from the officers led the British command to mistakenly assume the assault was working and send forward reinforcements. These too were cut down in huge numbers.

The first day ended in disaster — 19,240 British dead and 35,493 wounded, 21,152 missing and 585 taken prisoner, resulting in a total loss of 57,470 troops. The French and Germans suffered only 7,000 casualties each.

Eventually realising the heavy losses, British command largely suspended the offensive for a time but then the battle and the slaughter went on for many months.

All through the summer and autumn there was little advance by either side. As winter set in, prospects of a breakthrough became less and less likely. On November 13 British Somme commander Douglas Haig ordered an attack north of Thiepval to save face and it looked as if his strategy was succeeding.

By late November the battle of the Somme was over. Five long months of fighting had seen minimal gains but very heavy casualties. The French had captured perhaps five miles of German territory, the British only two miles.

Today we know that the battle was a disaster. It was the classic example of lions led by donkeys when brave men who died for their country were led by a remote, ignorant and uncaring officer class who believed they had the divine right to rule.

Perhaps we should give the final word to a German officer Friedrich Steinbrecher. “Somme,” he said, “the whole history of the world cannot contain a more ghastly word.”

A composer struck down in his prime

George Butterworth is my favourite English composer. His pastoral works speak of England and its countryside in a the same way as Ralph Vaughan Williams or Gustav Holst and is often based on old folk songs collected in the halcyon days before WWI.

Yet no other composer’s reputation is built on so few works. His Banks of Green Willow and Two English Idylls are among the finest in English music and his wonderful settings of Houseman’s A Shropshire Lad are among only a score or two of his works that remain.

Houseman’s line “Lads that will die in their glory and never grow old” would prove sadly prophetic in Butterworth’s own life.

Just before he left for the trenches of France, Butterworth went through all of his compositions and destroyed much of his music scores believing he could and would write much better when he returned from the war. It was not to be.

Born in Paddington in 1885 Butterworth became not just a composer but also a collector of folk songs, a Morris dancer and, of course, a cricketer.

He grew up in Yorkshire where he showed an early aptitude for the piano. At school he excelled more in sports and music than in academic subjects and in 1904 went to Trinity College Oxford to read Greats — classics, ancient history and philosophy. But even here music overshadowed his academic application.

In 1906, Butterworth became interested in traditional folk song and dance, part of a popular revival that was developing a distinctly English musical style.

Along with friends Cecil Sharp and Ralph Vaughan Williams he started collecting folk music.

In Sussex in 1907 he found local folk songs which he would use in his two English Idylls.

All in all, Butterworth collected around 450 songs and dance tunes and published several books of country and Morris dances, joined the Folk Song Society and was one of the founders of the English Folk Dance Society in 1911 dancing in its original Morris side.

In 1910, he enrolled at the Royal College of Music where he studied organ, piano, composition and harmony, but he was soon disillusioned and left a year later. Most of Butterworth’s compositions date from 1910-14.

In 1911 he wrote his rhapsody A Shropshire Lad which quotes from his earlier settings of Houseman’s poems and is widely recognised as his finest work. Although inspired by the folk tradition, it is entirely original.

The music is pastoral in nature, poignant and expressive. It hints at what might have been.

Butterworth’s final completed work for orchestra is the Banks of Green Willow, a third English Idyll which was written in 1913 as war clouds gathered.

In those final months before the war Butterworth provided both moral and practical support in the composition and performance of Vaughan Williams’s A London Symphony. When Vaughan Williams revised the work in 1920 he was to dedicate it to Butterworth’s memory.

When WWI broke out in August 1914, Butterworth enlisted as a private soldier.

By October he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 13th Durham Light Infantry, leading Durham miners with whom he developed a real bond.

Early in the morning of August 5 at Pozieres Butterworth was shot in the head and killed.

He would be awarded his second Military Cross for his heroism that night. Butterworth has no known grave.

If you seek a memorial to him, and the many other victims of the battle of the Somme, just listen to his music.

This music video is called George Butterworth: The Banks of Green Willow.

By John Ellison in Britain:

Conflicting imperialist ambitions root cause of the war

1 July 2016

John Ellison puts the Somme battle disaster in a wider context of organised civil opposition to WWI carnage

July 1, 1916. The first day of senseless slaughter in the Western Front battle of the Somme, launched by a long-planned British advance. No-one could say there had been no military preparation. The German lines had been pounded with artillery shells for five days before British troops went over the top to their deaths.

“But at that terrible moment,” wrote Adam Hochschild in his 2011 To End All Wars: “The multiple belts of barbed wire in front of the German trenches and the well-fortified machine-gun emplacements dotted among them were largely intact.

The bombardment, it turned out, had been impressive mainly for its tremendous noise.”

Commander-in-chief and friend of King George, Sir Douglas Haig, was not a man given to rationally required changes of plan, let alone to anguished self-doubt, or even self-doubt without anguish.

So the British death tally mounted astronomically, as the offensive continued, throughout July and into August, September, October.

When the battle began on July 1, this “war to end all wars” had been raging for 23 months and British, French and German soldiers had died in vast numbers during relatively passive confrontation along the long, wavy line of the Western Front and during major set-piece battles over which time the front shifted only very slightly.

British casualty milestones speak for themselves. By the end of 1914 the total figure of dead and wounded reached 90,000.

On September 25 1915 the British attacked near the village of Loos employing poison gas — chlorine —- for the first time, as the Germans had done several months before, at Ypres. Wind conditions, however, caused the attackers to suffer more from its use than the Germans.

Next day British infantry walking directly towards enemy machine guns incurred huge losses. Four-fifths of the 10,000 who advanced were either killed, wounded or missing but this fact did not pause the battle. A few weeks more, a mile or two of ground had been gained and British casualty numbers exceeded 61,000.

In Britain in spring 1916, with many volunteers now dead and volunteering slowed, conscription was introduced, first for single men, then for married men.

On July 2, the second day of the Somme battle, Haig was given a gross underestimate of casualties so far — over 40,000.

Satisfied with progress, he wrote in his diary: “This cannot be considered severe, in view of the numbers engaged and the length of front attacked.”

In fact — horrifically to almost anyone but Haig, then or since — on July 1 almost half of the attacking force of 120,000 men were killed or wounded.

By the end of October British deaths alone exceeded 95,000 and the fighting continued for more than another fortnight.

“The allies had gained,” wrote Hochschild, “roughly seven square miles of ground.”

Casualties in French forces, which had earlier in 1916 withstood the Verdun German offensive, were also vast, as were those of Germany — where anti-war socialists Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg both spent time in prison that year.

“Strategically,” historian AJP Taylor declared in his book on World War I more than 50 years ago: “the battle of the Somme was an unredeemed defeat … Idealism perished … The enthusiastic volunteers were enthusiastic no longer. They had lost faith in their cause, in their leaders, in everything except loyalty to their fighting comrades. The war … went on for its own sake…”

In harmony Hochschild described the Somme battle as a turning point. He wrote: “It was not a turn towards rebellion but towards a kind of dogged cynicism, a disbelief that any battle could make a difference.”

But whatever the beliefs about the war’s justifications among fighting men on all sides, it is demonstrable that this war, as great labour historian Eric Hosbawm considered in his 1994 Age Of Extremes: “Was waged for unlimited ends,” unlike earlier wars usually waged for “limited and specifiable objects.”

He developed the point. In the Age Of Empire, he wrote: “Politics and economics had fused…for the two main contestants, Germany and Britain, the sky had to be the limit, since Germany wanted a global political and maritime position like that now occupied by Britain, and which therefore would automatically relegate an already declining Britain to inferior status.”

The argument that conflicting imperialist ambitions were the root cause of the war had not, however, yet filtered through to most people in Britain. Yet the small socialist, radical and religious anti-war army in Britain was not insignificant and the imposition of conscription offered a fresh focus for activity.

The No Conscription Fellowship supported conscription refusers, produced a regular bulletin, distributed more than a million leaflets — at the cost of arrests and imprisonments — and held meetings. Its national convention was held in April 1916 in an old Quaker Hall in Bishopsgate, attended by some 2,000 people, besieged by a crowd of “patriots” outside.

During the same month Suffragette and socialist Sylvia Pankhurst organised and spoke in the face of “patriot” aggression at an anti-war rally in Trafalgar Square.

While some conscientious objectors, whether motivated by religious or other reasons, accepted non-combatant alternative service if offered it, many were in prison, 34 were in army custody, treated as soldiers while refusing military service, and received death sentences in France.

As a result, however, of a visit to prime minister Herbert Henry Asquith by (plus others) philosopher and anti-conscription campaigner Bertrand Russell, the order went to Haig that no conscientious objector should be shot. The death sentences were commuted, and the COs were returned to Britain by the end of June to serve long prison sentences.

An influential organisation which queried the war’s continuance was the Union of Democratic Control, led by radical Edmund Dene Morel, whose 1916 book The Truth About The War exposed official claims. Responsibility for the war, he insisted, was “distributed.”

The Independent Labour Party’s weekly Labour Leader was edited by anti-war socialist Fenner Brockway, while the previously divided small British Socialist Party now expressed a firmly anti-war and anti-imperialist position through its paper The Call.

Sylvia Pankhurst’s east London-based organisation and the Glasgow-based Socialist Labour Party shared that outlook. The newspapers of these small parties were always at risk from police raids.

Britain had declared war, so the official line went, to save “little Belgium,” whose independence was sacrificed by Germany’s unquestioned initial aggression through invasion on August 3 1914.

But Britain had no record of protecting the independence of other countries. On the contrary, it had robbed independence from many, including India, whose troops were fighting and dying for Britain’s empire.

Britain was still refusing independence to its oldest colony, Ireland, where the Easter Rising had lately been suppressed with leaders executed.

Britain’s motive in this war was to maintain its dominant world position and it was therefore willing to agree with allies that they have slices of territory outside its own empire. But these deals were secret, first publicised by the Bolsheviks from tsarist archives after the 1917 November revolution.

Thus a treaty of April 1915 granted Italy (in exchange for joining the war) lands in Austrian and Turkish control and even, if France and Britain extended their colonial empire in Africa at Germany’s expense, some African territory too.

A year later it was agreed with Russia that France was to have territory ruled by Turkey, while Britain was to have much of Iraq and more.

“MP for humanity” James Keir Hardie had been at the forefront of socialist demands at the war’s outset that Britain keep out, but died in September 1915. John Maclean, in Scotland, had been similarly at the forefront of the movement opposed to the war and was now in prison. Fenner Brockway, imprisoned briefly in the summer of 1916, would soon be in jail for much longer.

In 1917, the war would begin to unravel. Meanwhile, the words on the front page of the Labour Leader, on August 6 1914, continued to have great relevance: “Down with the War! WORKERS of Great Britain, you have no quarrel with the workers of Europe. They have no quarrel with you. The quarrel is between the RULING classes of Europe.”

New opera on World War I butchery

This video series from Wales is about the new opera In Parenthesis.

By David Nicholson in Britain:

Superb commemoration of Somme slaughter

Thursday 19th May 2016

In Parenthesis
Millennium Centre, Cardiff

NEW operas are rare events and even rarer are ones that are as good as In Parenthesis.

Eagerly anticipated, it’s being staged both to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Welsh National Opera and mark the centenary of the slaughter at the Battle of the Somme.

Iain Bell’s moving and visceral new opera about the great war, based on Welsh poet David Jones’s epic poem, is an ambitious project, with WNO director David Pountney, Emma Jenkins and David Antrobus’s libretto combining to brilliant effect with Bell’s music.

Through the eyes of tenor Andrew Bidlack’s Private John Ball, we watch a band of Welsh soldiers embark for France, journey to the horror of the trenches and perish in the final bloody battle at Mametz Wood.

Under the assured direction of David Pountney, aided by set designer Robert Innes Hopkins, this is a brilliantly staged production that captures the terror and claustrophobic atmosphere of a troop ship and the trenches of northern France.

But, as ever with the WNO, it is the sublime choral singing that pulls all the strands together. They are a perfect match for the drama of the reckless death of young men, in which Mark Le Brocq as a convincingly gruff sergeant and George Humphreys as a sensitive and caring young lieutenant take the acting honours.

The cafe scene before the men move off to the Somme is a thrilling highlight as the brilliant Welsh song Sosban Fach is sung with all the power at the disposal of the WNO.

The mythic return to the earth of the slaughtered band of Royal Welsh Fusiliers is touchingly realised by the nymphs who haunt Mametz Wood.

It’s a superb rendition by the women’s chorus who, dressed in an abundance of foliage and twigs, return the torn and bloodied bodies of Ball’s fallen comrades to the earth. Their heavenly singing moved many of the opening night audience to tears.

In Parenthesis ticks every box when it comes to music, acting and production values, though whether Bell’s opera will still be performed in years to come is the real acid test.

But this is a production to go and see now. As a sensitive, moving and visceral portrayal of the horror of war, it is a superb evening of pure theatre.

At the Millennium Centre until June 3, then tours until July 1, box office:

Refusal to wage wars takes courage

This music video from the USA is called Edwin Starr – War (What is it good for) + Lycris HQ.

The lyrics are:

What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing
Uh ha haa ha
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing…say it again y’all
War..huh…look out…
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing…listen to me ohhhhh

WAR! I despise,
‘cos it means destruction of innocent lives,
War means tears to thousands of mother’s eyes,
When their sons gone to fight and lose their lives.

I said WAR!…huh…good God y’all,
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing…say it again
War! Huh…What is it good for (Edwin sings ‘Wohh oh Lord’ over the top)
Absolutely nothing…listen to me

WAR! It ain’t nothing but a heartbreaker,
War. Friend only to the undertaker.
Ohhh! War is an enemy to all mankind,
The thought of war blows my mind.
War has caused unrest within the younger generation
Induction then destruction…who wants to die? Ohhh

WAR! good God y’all huh
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing…say it say it SAY IT!
WAR!…uh huh yeah hu!
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing…listen to me

WAR! It ain’t nothing but a heartbreaker,
War! It’s got one friend that’s the undertaker.
Ohhhh! War has shattered many a young man’s dream,
Made him disabled, bitter and mean,
Life is much too short and precious to spend fighting wars these days.
War can’t give life, it can only take it away!

Ohhh WAR! huh…good God y’all
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing…say it again
War!…huh…woh oh oh Lord
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing…listen to me

War! It ain’t nothing but a heartbreaker,
War. Friend only to the undertaker…woo
Peace lovin’ understand then tell me,
Is there no place for them today?
They say we must fight to keep our freedom,
But Lord knows there’s got to be a better way.

Ohhhhhhh WAR! huh…good God y’all…
What is it good for?…you tell me!
Say it say it say it saaaay it!
War! good God now…huh
What is it good for?
Stand up and shout it…NOTHING

By Symon Hill in Britain:

Refusing to fight is an act of resistance

Saturday 14th may 2016

On International Conscientious Objectors’ Day we should remember those who bravely refused to wage wars and destruction, writes SYMON HILL

EIGHTEEN-year-old Israeli woman Omri Baranes was last week sentenced to 30 days in a military prison. Her “crime” is a refusal to fight for the euphemistically named Israeli Defence Force.

“The military creates a cycle of violence while claiming to the defend the country,” says Omri. “Public leaders are responsible for the creation of this criminal institution and our country is militaristic as a result.”

On the same day, the Israeli courts sentenced 19-year-old Tair Kaminer to her fifth prison sentence, as she repeatedly refuses to fight and insists that violence cannot solve the problems of Israel and Palestine.

Omri and Tair are among the hundreds of people around the world who are in prison for refusing to join armed forces. Over a hundred are locked up in South Korea alone.

This weekend, International Conscientious Objectors’ Day (CO Day) will be marked around the world. It is observed every year on May 15.

Conscientious objection is sometimes misrepresented as an individualistic attitude. In reality, COs do not generally demand exemption from the armed forces simply as a matter of personal choice. Refusal to fight is an act of resistance.

In Britain, mass conscription was first introduced 100 years ago, in 1916. Under pressure, the government offered exemption to those with a conscientious objection to killing. This clause of the Bill was openly jeered by Tory MPs when it was presented in the House of Commons. Nonetheless, it was passed. In the vast majority of cases, however, it was not honoured.

The reality of conscientious objection in WWI is revealed in stark form on the walls of Richmond Castle. The stones still display the graffiti of the COs who were imprisoned there in 1916. On one wall you can read the words: “The only war which is worth fighting is the class war. The working class of this country have no quarrel with the working class of Germany or any other country.”

The unnamed conscientious objector added: “Socialism stands for internationalism. If the workers of all countries united and refused to fight, there would be no war.”

This message remains just as relevant today.

In Britain, we no longer face physical conscription. Militarisation is now more subtle — but no less deadly.

We are taught from an early age that violence is the solution to conflict and that our first loyalty should be to the nation state in which we happen to have been born. The unquestioning obedience that is required of soldiers is held up as something to be admired rather than an assault on human dignity. The promotion of these attitudes from childhood is a form of mental conscription. Our bodies are not conscripted, but our minds are.

Our taxes are used to fund the fifth-highest military budget in the world (though you wouldn’t know it from the way the right-wing media talks about “defence cuts”). Even our language is conscripted, with preparations for war described inaccurately as “defence” and “security.”

Ever since the invasion of Iraq, politicians and generals have been unable to rely on the support of the British public when going to war. They have responded to anti-war feeling by whipping up support for the armed forces. Initiatives such as Armed Forces Day portray all forces personnel as heroes and present any questioning of their role as unpatriotic. Meanwhile, research reveals that armed forces visits to schools are more common in poorer areas, as the army attempts to recruit vulnerable young people with few options in life.

In one of the most absurd examples of everyday militarism, the RAF are planning a “flypast” over London LGBT Pride. Thus a human rights march is co-opted to promote militarism — the very opposite of human rights.

As everyday militarism becomes more and more visible, we need to resist it with everyday objection.

Ahead of CO Day, the Peace Pledge Union (PPU) has called for critics of warfare to become “conscientious objectors” in everyday life.

This sort of resistance can take many forms: there are engineers who refuse to work in the arms industry, self-employed people who withhold tax in protest against military spending, teachers who object to the army cadets, LGBT people who speak out against the militarisation of Pride.

Everyday objection can be as simple as refusing to use the language of “defence” and “heroes.”

Resistance is varied. We are compiling examples of ways in which people are resisting everyday militarism — whether big or small, common or unusual. We would love to hear your own examples (contact

Conscientious objection is both a personal commitment and part of a wider struggle against war and exploitation. The socialist journalist Will Chamberlain, imprisoned for much of WWI, wrote that conscientious objection “is an active protest against what we consider the greatest evil in the world, and our method of protesting is to refuse to acquiesce by a single act or deed in a system which is indescribably evil, both in origin and purpose.”

Symon Hill is co-ordinator of the Peace Pledge Union.

German Liebknecht’s anti-World War I speech

This video says about itself:

14 January 2016

On the 15th January 1919, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were killed by members of the [extreme right paramilitary] Freikorps. The two German socialists were joint-founders of the Spartacist League and the Communist Party of Germany, and were captured following the Spartacist uprising that began on the 4th January.

Luxemburg and Liebknecht were members of the Social Democratic Party of Germany when Germany declared war in 1914. Frustrated by the wider SPD’s support for Germany’s declaration of war, they and other leftists created a separate organisation known as the Spartakusbund or Spartacus League. Named after the leader of the Roman Republic’s largest slave rebellion, the Spartacus League actively opposed the ongoing war. In 1916, both Luxemburg and Liebknecht were found guilty of high treason and imprisoned after they organised an anti-war demonstration.

From the World Socialist Web Site, 14 March 2016:

100 years ago: German revolutionary Karl Liebknecht denounces militarization of education

On March 18, 1916, Karl Liebknecht, the German revolutionary socialist and opponent of World War I, delivered a series of remarks in the German Reichstag, or parliament, denouncing the militarization of education and the glorification of war taking place in schools across the country. Liebknecht’s speech was one of a series in which he defied the Social Democratic majority, which had betrayed socialist internationalism by supporting the German war effort, and spoke out against the imperialist slaughter.

Liebknecht stated, “The ideal of classical education lies in the spirit of independence and humanity.” Addressing the government, and all of the pro-war parties, he said, “Your ideal of classical education is the ideal of the bayonet, of the bombshell, of poison gas and grenades, which are hurled down on peaceful cities, and the ideal of submarine warfare.”

He declared, “The higher schools are also used as practical helpers in the service of the present war. A systematic propaganda is conducted in them for the war loans, and gold is collected in them. … The schools are converted into training stables for the war. The physical upbuilding of the youth is encouraged now to attract new material for the Moloch, Militarism. Strengthening especially human health has thus as its aim the destruction of human life.”

He denounced the war propaganda promoted in schools, which focused exclusively on the crimes committed by Britain, France and the other Allied powers, and painted the actions of German imperialism in the brightest colors.

“In school must be taught, how this war arose, not only that the abominable murder of Sarajevo was an incident to inspire horror, but also the fact that the crime of Sarajevo was looked upon in many circles as a gift from Heaven, serving them as a war pretext,” he said. His reference to the fact that sections of the ruling elite had welcomed the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by a Serbian nationalist, seeing it as an opportunity to launch longstanding military plans, provoked outraged howls from the Conservative and opportunist Social Democratic deputies to the Reichstag.

Amid repeated interruptions, Liebknecht concluded with a call for a revolutionary struggle against the German government and the imperialist war, declaring, “To action! Those in the trenches, as well as those here at home, should put down their arms and turn against the common enemy, which takes from them light and air.” The president of the Reichstag called Liebknecht “to order” for the third time, and asked the deputies whether he should be allowed to continue to speak. Only a handful of socialist opponents of the war voted in favor.

World War I and poetry

This video from Britain about World War I says about itself:

The Somme – Lions Led By Donkeys

Documentary about the Battle of the Somme in July 1916. A number of excellent interviews from old soldiers.

By John Green in Britain:

Well versed in the realities of first world war

Monday 25th January 2016

Everything to Nothing: A History of the Great War, Revolution and the Birth of Europe by Geert Buelens (Verso, £20)

EUROPEANS plunged like lemmings into the engulfing abyss of WWI under the influence of “the massage of propaganda, the gospel of terror,” as Polish poet Anatol Stern observed in 1914.

That perception is typical of this very different and fascinating take on the conflict, reflected in the outpouring of writing amid the tumult and chaos.

The war opened up new imaginative possibilities for exploring personal tragedy and the extremes of human experience.

Poetry, particularly, took centre stage, both as a means of propaganda and for manipulating sentiments but also as a means of portraying a scarcely communicable horror.

Buelens undertakes a cultural history of the war through the writings of those caught up in the maelstrom, from the point of view of poets from all the European countries involved, including Anna Akhmatova, Rupert Brooke, Guillaume Apollinaire and many less well-known writers.

He provides a panorama of those short but intensive four years from 1914-18 through the eyes of those poets who charted its course but also imagined its aftermath and encapsulated the human Calvary in a way that no traditional history, however good, could do.

The author draws on an amazing range of poets to weave a comprehensive picture of the psychology of the immediate pre-war period and the premonition of the chaos, nihilism and nationalism as well as a yearning for change.

These poets, in the main, were actual participants and describe the war’s raw reality, unlike the onlookers and outsiders who could afford to squander their patriotic rhetoric and appeals to romantic sacrifice while others were obliged to squander their blood.

The French poet Paul Valery wrote: “The illusion of a European culture has been lost.” How right he was.

Despite the ideals of pre-war socialists throughout Europe that working men and women of all nations would stand together and refuse to slaughter each other, a short time later they followed their governments like lambs to the abattoir, cocooned in the heady patriotic fervour of national anthems and swirling banners.

This book undoubtedly represents a unique approach to the history of the war but without a political and economic context it can of course provide only a literary reflection on it, without offering any analysis.

Welsh opposition to World War I

This video says about itself:

8 August 2014

Anti-NATO protesters begin 192-mile march on NATO SUMMIT to WALES, UK.

“Peace activists have set out on a three-week ‘Long March on Newport’ to protest against September’s NATO Summit. Police say they have drafted in 9,000 officers to face the protesters in one of the UK’s biggest ever police operations. More than 20,000 activists from around the world are expected to take part in demonstrations during the summit, where a week-long peace camp and a counter summit are among some of the events planned in what has been billed as Wales’ largest protest in a generation.

Sixty world leaders from the 28-nation military bloc will meet at the Celtic Manor in Newport for the NATO summit on September 4 and 5. Previous NATO summits in Chicago and Strasbourg saw thousands protest war, austerity and global inequality.”

By Phil Broadhurst in Britain:

Timely tribute to Welsh heroes who resisted war

Monday 11th January 2016

Not in our Name: War Dissent in a Welsh Town
by Philip Adams
(Briton Ferry Books, £15)

PHILIP ADAMS’S book is not only an important addition to local history in the area of south Wales it covers, it’s also an appeal to people in towns and cities across Britain to dig deep into their own local history and bring alive the long-lost stories of opposition to the first world war.

It was inspired by two simple family heirlooms, autograph books filled with signatures, quotes, sketches and sayings, given to the author’s aunt at Christmas 1914 and to his father at Christmas 1918.

These small pieces of contemporary personal history, in a family which included two conscientious objectors, provided a hidden history of vibrant peace activism in a small town in Wales during and after the first world war.

Briton Ferry, one of several towns across south Wales to earn the label “Little Moscow,” had 33 conscientious objectors and many more anti-war campaigners, who came from both political and religious backgrounds.

This was a time when, particularly in south Wales, lines between politics and religion were blurring and preachers and politicians were standing next to each other declaring their shared belief in socialism.

By researching the names in the autograph books, Adams has produced a roll of honour recognising and remembering the work for peace and justice of both the famous and the forgotten.

The autographs belong not only to locals but also to many national leaders, speakers and campaigners who came to speak in Briton Ferry at the time.

But it is not the pages on the likes of Bertrand Russell, Fenner Brockway, Sylvia Pankhurst or any of the other well documented signatories which are the most interesting or most important.

Names like dockworker Ernest Gething, railway shunter William Meyrick Davies, tinplate worker Ivor Johns and student teacher Brynley Griffiths will mean nothing to most people outside their families.

But now, thanks to Adams, their actions in resisting war are finally documented in a way their courage merits.

Jeremy Corbyn recites pro-peace poem to remember World War I

This music video from London, England says about itself:

Remembering World War One in Music and Words. St James’s Church London, 25 October 2013. Filmed by Fourman Films.

For more info on the No Glory in War campaign see here.


1 Introduction by Lindsey German, convener of Stop the War Coalition

2 The Lark Ascending, played by i Maestri conducted by John Landor. Solo violin George Hlawiczka

3 Kika Markham reads Last Post by Carol Ann Duffy and A War Film by Teresa Hooley

4 Elvis McGonigle reads Strange Meeting By Wilfred Owen and Matey by Patrick MacGill

5 Music by Sally Davies, Matthew Crampton, Abbie Coppard and Tim Coppard

6 Jeremy Corbyn MP

7 Elvis McGonaggall

8 Kate Hudson, chair of CND

9 Music by Sally Davies, Matthew Crampton, Abbie Coppard and Tim Coppard

10 Matthew Crampton reads My Dad and My Uncle were in World War One by Heathcote Williams

11 Kika and Jehane Markham

12 Billy Bragg sings: Last Night I had the Strangest Dream, My Youngest Son Came Home Today, Like Soldiers Do, The Man He Killed, Between the Wars, Where Have All the Flowers Gone

From daily The Independent in Britain today:

Jeremy Corbyn to recite Wilfred Owen’s poem ‘Futility’ in Remembrance Sunday memorial service

Jeremy Corbyn will be laying a wreath at the Cenotaph and will then attend the ceremony in his constituency of Islington North

Shehab Khan

Jeremy Corbyn will recite a poem about the futility of war at a memorial service on Remembrance Sunday in his constituency.

Mr Corbyn will join the other party leaders to lay a wreath bearing his own message at the Cenotaph and will then attend the ceremony in Islington North.

There, he will recite “Futility” by the First World War solider poet Wilfred Owen at memorial service in his constituency.

The poem tells of a fallen soldier and concentrates on the meaning of existence, the pointlessness of war and inevitability of death.

This is what the poem says:

Move him into the sun—
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields half-sown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.

Think how it wakes the seeds,—
Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs, so dear-achieved, are sides,
Full-nerved—still warm—too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
—O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?

Jeremy Corbyn accuses UK military chief of ‘breaching’ constitutional principle with Trident comments: here.

SKY NEWS bosses refused to apologise last night for referring to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as “Jihadi Jez” despite thousands of complaints: here.