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October 2018 Meeting Report

The Impact of World War I, by Alan Partridge

The programme notes for this talk suggested that it would be about how the war impacted on the lives of people in Britain and the commonwealth, and many members will probably remember from their youth old men crippled up with rheumatism and war wounds who were still struggling on and making light of their infirmities. They may have expected to hear how the treaty of Versailles, which was supposed to bring the war to an end, merely sowed the seeds for the Second World War. Unfortunately there must have been a confused conversation between the Officers of the History Society and the speaker regarding the subject of the talk.

The statistics of the First World War were beyond horrific. It was the first truly global war with large numbers of soldiers coming from the countries of the British Empire, and even from the United States in 1916. The death toll was horrendous. Ten million died and 70 million were wounded. Shell shock was an inevitable consequence of constant bombardment of soldiers in the trenches of the static war on the Western Front.

In spite of the horrors of life in the trenches, there was enthusiastic support for the war. There was a strong belief that they were dying for a greater cause, and that they were building a new world in which society would be reshaped.

War artists such as Paul Nash showed something of the horrors of war. Reims Cathedral was destroyed by shellfire in 1914, as were many other towns as the war progressed.

The Menin Road - Paul Nash

The Menin Road - Paul Nash

Toc H was founded by Rev. Tubby Clayton. The name is an abbreviation for Talbot House, 'Toc' signifying the letter T in the signals spelling alphabet used by the British Army in World War I. A soldiers' rest and recreation centre named Talbot House was founded in December 1915 at Poperinghe, Belgium. Ranks were left at the door, in other words, all men were equal once inside.

Talbot House sign

Talbot house is still in operation, and the photo above was taken earlier this year. Religion was popular during the Great War, which was seen by some as a Holy War. It was not just Christianity which was affected, and not just Western Europe. In the Middle East, Islam was much affected by the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the loss of the Caliphate. There was also widespread anti-Semitism in 1916.

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