1914, August 4th - the start of possibly the greatest conflict of modern times - and this year we will commemorate the 100th anniversary of a World War that cost millions of lives and disrupted millions more.
There seems to be an extraordinary interest in the first World War, notwithstanding the anniversary that is now upon us. Many have travelled to Northern Europe for many years to visit the Battlefields and Cemeteries that have been maintained and preserved by local authorities, governments and enthusiasts alike. Whether to trace ancestors, to complete historical studies, to follow the footsteps of colleagues and friends, to re-visit scenes that were the most telling part of a young life or just to stand in awe of the countless white crosses that spread out from the cenotaphs, monuments and gateways - millions more have visited them over the years. The names; Paschendaele, The Somme, Ypres, Neuve Chapel - names we know so well - ingrained on our memories - their lives, our history.
And yet, this year, as we look back on the past mistakes, tragedies and life changing decisions that brought about the Great War still more will flock to France, to Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany for a plethora of reasons a myriad of memories and a whole family tree of of lost ancestors. Ask "Why" and you will receive so many different answers that consensus is impossible. Yet we go, we stand, we cry, we lay flowers and we talk in hushed voices as if the sound might still carry to the enemy. Where once guns howled and screamed, firing hot metal to kill, to maim, to eviscerate, to destroy in hurricanes of maddening noise, now silence is the blanket across the fields; quiet words softly spoken, birdsong in the summer, the lowland winds in the winter and a distant hum of traffic.
The grass is green - the mud long gone, the trees are full branched in winter and greenly vivid in the spring, poppies grow freely in summer as if to cry the blood stained tears of the past in red-petalled agony in the corn fields of new life. Yet still silence reigns, the quietness is natural.
If you would like to go to see for yourself the scenes of past battles, the trenches, the towns, villages and rivers and, of course, the cemeteries then you can grab a map, book a ferry or a Eurotunnel train and go off and explore and discover these sights for yourself.
If you prefer something a little more structured then there are many companies who offer full guided tours to the areas that are of most interest. The War Graves Commission, Saga, Shearings, Battlefields.Com and even the Radio Times all offer guided tours that will allow you time to see and discover for yourselves the sights and history of the area - do some research to find the right company for you.
I hope you do go, but prepare to be moved....
This is a great song, written by Eric Bogle - probably the best anti war song I know of....