The Western Front Association

Richard Cavendish on a Great War remembrance group

At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918 the mutter of the guns died away and peace came to the Western Front, where hundreds of thousands of young men had died in heaps to gain a few yards of shell-torn ground That was seventy-two years ago Only a handful of men remain alive who fought in the Great War to end all wars, and they are in their nineties. Even to have a father who fought in it, you need to be in your seventies.

'At the going down of the sun and in the morning', the simple hallowed lines say, 'we will remember them'. As indeed we do on Remembrance Sunday every year, with those who fought and fell in later conflicts. No other war has lived on in people's minds after so many years.

The huge casualty list impressed itself on the collective memory. On the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916 20,000 British soldiers were killed and 35,000 wounded: a total one-day casualty list equivalent to today's entire population of Torquay or Tunbridge Wells. And that was in the British rank alone.

The peculiar nastiness of the trenches – the mud and blood the corpses and rats – helped to make the war endure in memory. The poignancy of it all is deepened by the fact that with hindsight the conflict in which so many lives were taken seem to have been totally unnecessary. Colin McIntyre, who handles publicity for the Western Front Association, believes there is still a remaining element guilt – the guiltiness of those who weren't killed, a phenomenon encountered among concentration camp survivors.

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