Wednesday, August 04, 2004


Owing to the summary rejection by the German Government of the request made by his Majesty's Government for assurances that the neutrality of Belgium will be respected, his Majesty's Ambassador to Berlin has received his passports, and his Majesty's Government declared to the German Government that a state of war exists between Great Britain and Germany as from 11 p.m. on August 4, 1914.

How the Government broke the news, 90 years ago, that the United Kingdom had declared war on Germany.

There is, of course, a commemoration of the event today at the Cenotaph.

And, yes, I get fed up with the press or, worse, officialdom dragging up the anniversary of this and that. It was the 100th anniversary of the ice cream cone last week. Today is also the 300th anniversary of Gibraltar being in British hands, an event no doubt celebrated by money launderers the world over (enquiries/complaints to my lawyers - Sue, Grabbit and Run).

However, the First World War anniversary gives me an opportunity to post the potted history of my grandfather, John McClymont. A native of Ayrshire, he moved early in his life to Glasgow and thence found himself working as a groom in rural Hertfordshire. In August 1914, like thousands of other men throughout Europe he rushed to join the war effort.

As a horseman, John enlisted in a cavalry regiment. But, the cavalry was cut to shreds and he signed on as a regular infantryman in the Lancashire Fusillers. John was gassed twice, once blinded temporarily. He was promoted twice; demoted once (court martialled for drunkenness); and, served throughout the '14-'18 war. Towards the end of the war, he received a Military Cross for leading a group ambushing a German stronghold.

A few years back, my family returned to Houthulst Forest near Ieper in Belgium to the military cemetery near the site of my grandfather's daring raid. Flanders crawls with Brits and others tracing family members who served in that awful conflict. It could be seen as mawkish. Yet, it is a visit that I would recommend to anyone who has any doubt about the foolishness of militarism. I challenge anyone to see the sight of thousands of graves of young men - many of them to the unknown fallen, many too from far lands - and not be moved.

I never met my grandfather, but his memory lives on in my family. He was surely brave. He was certainly lucky to have served throughout the war and lived. So many left these shores - indeed, left the towns and villages where they were born and had not left until travelling to France or Belgium - and rest beneath simple headstones.

"...this massed multitude of silent witnesses to the desolation of war..."

:: Posted by pete @ 13:08