Apologies that this letter is late- I promise that December will be on time!
As I gazed at the timber being carried up the motte in preparation for lighting the beacon, I found myself in a reflective mood. We have just hosted our Fireworks show- an extremely popular event that we host each year. We open our gates to thousands of people who have come to watch our spectacular firework show with the company of friend and family. Seeing our guests with their hot drinks, watching the various entertainment and excitedly waiting for the fireworks, it truly warms my heart, despite the chilly weather! There’s a magical atmosphere as the firework show commences- sparkling rockets soar into the air and shower vivid colours into the sky for all to see- what could be more thrilling?
We so easily take events like these for granted- that we can spend a few hours with our loved ones, completely care free. We so rarely consider how lucky we are- how previous generations suffered heartbreak, fear and loss, with only the hope that their suffering would create a better life for the next generation. Just 100 years ago, thousands of men were fighting in the Great War- the war that they believed would be ‘over by Christmas’ was still being fought, four long years on.
When the First World War was declared, thousands queued in the recruitment offices, eager to join. They had seen the posters and heard the uplifting music hall songs. Some men agreed to join up together as a ‘Pals Battalion’. Those under the minimum age for enlisting often lied so that they would not miss out on this grand adventure. Then they marched towards No Man’s Land, humming “It’s a long way to Tipperary’ as they went.
But we now know from the records that this war-torn generation left, that what these young men experienced was far from a grand adventure. New inventions created a revolutionised and devastating form of warfare. Shells were dropped in the trenches, with only a short whistle noise as a warning. Gas was used to create mass casualties- its indiscriminate nature struck fear into the soldiers. Wilfred Owen captured the horror of gas attacks in his famous poem Dulce et Decorum Est: “But someone still was yelling out and stumbling, and flound’ring like a man in fire or lime… Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light, as under a green sea, I saw him drowning. In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, he plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning”.Thousands of lives were lost. Many returned home but were scarred physically and mentally. The war trudged on.
The Armistice was declared 100 years ago on 11th November. War ceased on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. But rather than celebrating, men simply went home and faced the task of rebuilding their lives. Many were lost in the weeks, days or even hours before the Armistice. Wilfred Owen was killed just one week before the end of the war.
On the evening of Sunday 11th November 2018, we lit our beacon on top of the motte. We remembered what these men sacrificed for us. Visitors brought photographs of family and friends who fought in the First World War, to put a name and a face to those who gave their today for our tomorrow. Our beacon shone brightly whilst a moving cascade of poppies streamed down the South Tower. There were 3,000 petals, but shockingly this does not event represent 1% of those who lost their lives in the First World War.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
Lesley Smith, curator.