Monthly meeting - Wednesday,13th January ‘Great War - before and after’

Our speaker, Richard Costard, gave a fascinating account of European and World events in the years preceding to the Great War of 1914-18 and the immense changes following that catastrophic conflict. His subject was both complex and wide ranging, yet he held us spellbound by his skilful use of carefully selected pictures, maps, cartoons, advertisements and photographs. With these he cleverly made the matters under consideration the more easily understood and always with a light touch.

We started by following the alignment of world powers from the middle of the nineteenth century leading up to the war in the early twentieth century. We heard of Bismarck, French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, of French humiliation. We were shown the great British Empire on which the sun never set, of India and the vastness of Australia. He spoke of the naval arms race, of how Russia’s naval might was destroyed at Tsushima and Russia lost her naval power in the Far East because of Japanese superior speed and armament. All of these events and many more were leading to that day, 28th July 1914, when Franz Ferdinand was assassinated at Sarajevo. That event was not the cause but rather the trigger for the Great War. So when powerful Germany invaded Belgium and Sir Edward Grey declared war on Germany indeed the lamps were going out all over Europe. It was a situation from which no nation could back out.

After the immense loss of life and pointless carnage we saw the collapse of the German Empire, the Russian Revolution, the Balfour Declaration offering a homeland for the Jews but no real provision for the people already living there, the Sykes–Picot Agreement, where Britain and France divided the Middle East lands of the Ottoman Empire without taking into account tribal territories. At home there was also great change: while the men were fighting, the women had gone to work in the factories making munitions and labouring on the land. With the cessation of hostilities and the return of the men many women were reluctant to leave their jobs. We hear the cry for women’s emancipation, equal rights and votes for women. We entered the ‘Roaring Twenties’, women started smoking, the bright young things danced the Charleston - and all that!

Cleverly woven in with this we were shown the advances in technology, particularly in aviation, often because of the need in preparation for war. In 1909 Bleriot succeeded in flying across the Channel, some twenty years later we had large passenger aircraft and flying boats travelling all over the globe. At home the family car became a common sight on our roads.

Meanwhile Germany, reeling from her defeat and her treatment thereafter, was fertile ground for Nazism.

Clemenceau said, ‘I don't know whether war is an interlude during peace, or peace an interlude during war’. How very true!

At the end of his talk, which took a brief forty minutes or so, Richard concluded leaving many of us wishing that he would continue..