WW One

World War One Commemoration Page

WW1 Web

On Sunday 10 August 2014 we commemorated the start of World War one, 100 years ago this past week on Tuesday 4 August 1914.

Our Service was organised by one of our Elders, Alex McConochie, who has stood in for Diane during absences on holiday or through illness.  Diane gave the address and led prayers and Alex arranged the Order of Service and the memorial to the War Dead.

Some time ago Diane had asked for suggestions for future services and Alex suggested a service to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One.  The Kirk Session then suggested that he should be involved in planning for the Service.  He was assisted by Sandra Andrew, Diane Morrison and Ian & Marjorie Lord, members of Session who read the names from the War Memorials.

The Commemoration

This is not a celebration of the war but rather a commemoration and a remembrance of those who made the ultimate sacrifice, particularly those associated with St Mark’s or more correctly with this building and the former congregations in our history as well as those individuals important in the lives of our members or visitors.  None of us here today remembers the start of World War One except as a moment in history and I start therefore with a short history lesson.

It has been said that we can learn a lot from history and that it has lessons for life today.  One sure thing today is that life is complicated, no more so than in politics and in the way politics affects our daily lives.  Should Scotland be an independent country, should the UK be in or out of Europe?  It was no less complicated in 1914, 100 years ago.   Relationships within and across Europe were complex with a range of alliances and ententes which finally led to the outbreak of war.

The Balkan states of Bosnia and Herzegovina, had been annexed from Turkey and taken into the Austro-Hungarian Empire.   This was strongly resented by many Serbs and Croats and a nationalist group, The Black Hand, was formed.  Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, and his wife, had decided to inspect Austro-Hungarian troops in Sarajevo, Bosnia. The Black Hand supplied a group of students with weapons for an assassination attempt to mark the occasion.  A 19 year old Serbian nationalist student, Gavrilo Princip, assassinated the Austrian Archduke and his wife, when their open-topped car stopped at a corner on its way out of Sarajevo on Sunday 28 June 1914.

The Austrian government blamed the Serbian government for the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and his wife and declared war on Serbia on 28 July 1914.   Although Russia was allied with Serbia, Germany did not believe that Russia would mobilise and therefore offered to support Austria if necessary.  However, Russia did mobilise and, through their alliance with France, called on the French to mobilise.  On the 1st August, Germany declared war on Russia in support of their Austrian allies and on 3rd August Germany declared war on France, the Russian’s ally.

German troops poured into Belgium as the best route to invade France. The British foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey, sent an ultimatum to Germany demanding their withdrawal from the neutral Belgium.  Germany did not withdraw from Belgium and Britain declared war on Germany on Tuesday 4 August 1914, 100 years ago this past week.  Between August and December 1914, Japan entered the war to support its ally Britain; Turkey entered the war in support of Germany and declarations of war between the various countries now involved were made.

The German advance through Belgium into France did not go as smoothly as the Germans had hoped. The Belgians put up a good fight destroying railway lines to slow the transport of German supplies.  Despite a French counter-attack that saw the deaths of many Frenchmen on the battlefields at Ardennes, the Germans continued to march into France. They were eventually halted by the allies in France at the river Marne a tributary of the River Seine.  British troops had advanced from the northern coast of France to the Belgian town of Mons.  Although they initially held off the Germans, they were soon forced to retreat.

The British lost a huge number of men at the first battle of Ypres.  Throughout 1914 the front line moved backwards and forwards as first the Allies and then the Germans gained ground and then retreated.  By Christmas, all hopes that the war would be over had gone and the holiday saw men of both sides digging themselves into the trenches of the Western Front.

The battlefields of the Western Front were located along a 450 mile stretch from the sand dunes of the Belgian coast in the north, through northern France then east through the provinces of Lorraine and Alsace, both then occupied by Imperial Germany and finally terminating on the Swiss border in the south.

Some of the hymns we will sing today were written before the First World War and would have been sung in churches and in the trenches and would have been familiar to soldiers and their families at home including those who worshipped in this church during the war years.  For those who died during the ‘Great War’ Britain and its allies lost some 5 – 6 million military personnel and incurred some 11 – 12 million casualties.  In total it is estimated that the First World War was responsible for about 37 million military and civilian casualties. Over half a million Scottish Soldiers served during the war and more than 26% of them, some 147,000 men died in the conflict.

A number of those are remembered on our own war memorials.  The memorials represent the original congregation in this building, Aberdeen’s South Parish Church, East and Belmont Church which united with the South in 1972 and gave birth to St Mark’s, Trinity Church, originally in Crown Street which united with St Mark’s in 1981 and Rosemount Church whose memorials were given to St Mark’s when the building was sold for redevelopment a few years ago.

Before we remember those who fell in the war to end all wars I want to share a poem I learned at school based on actual events and told as Corporal Stare by the war poet Robert Graves.

His explanation for the poem is as follows:

I saw a ghost at Béthune.  He was a man called Private Challoner who had been at Lancaster with me and again in F Company at Wrexham.  When he went out with a draft to join the First Battalion he shook my hand and said: ‘I’ll meet you again in France, sir.’  He had been killed at Festubert in May and in June he passed by our C Company billet where we were just having a special dinner to celebrate our safe return from Cuinchy.  There was fish, new potatoes, green peas, asparagus, mutton chops, strawberries and cream, and three bottles of Pommard.  Challoner looked in at the window, saluted and passed on.  There was no mistaking him or the cap-badge he was wearing. There was no Royal Welch Battalion billeted within miles of Béthune at the time.  I jumped up and looked out of the window, but saw nothing except a fag-end smoking on the pavement.

Corporal Stare

Back from the Line one night in June
I gave a dinner at Bethune:
Seven courses,
the most gorgeous meal Money could buy
or batman steal.

Five hungry lads welcomed the fish
With shouts that nearly cracked the dish;
Asparagus came with tender tops,
Strawberries in cream, and mutton chops.
Said Jenkins, as my hand he shook,
‘They’ll put this in the history book.’

We bawled Church anthems in choro
Of Bethlehem and Hermon snow,
And drinking songs, a mighty sound
To help the good red Pommard round.
Stories and laughter interspersed,
We drowned a long La Bassée thirst—
Trenches in June make throats damned dry.

Then through the window suddenly,
Badge, stripes and medals all complete,
We saw him swagger up the street,
Just like a live man—Corporal Stare!
Stare! Killed last month at Festubert,
Caught on patrol near the Boche wire,
Torn horribly by machine-gun fire!
He paused, saluted smartly, grinned,
Then passed away like a puff of wind,
Leaving us blank astonishment.

The song broke, up we started,
leant Out of the window—nothing there,
Not the least shadow of Corporal Stare,
Only a quiver of smoke that showed
A fag-end dropped on the silent road.

And now let us remember those men who gave their lives for King and Country.  We remember those who are un-named, those who are in our hearts and those remembered on our war memorials.

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.

Members of the Kirk Session read out the names on the war memorials which you can see here.

After the Service there was an opportunity to view WW1 memorabillia brought to church by members who had lost relatives in the conflict: