Same War, Same Horror, Different Perspectives. AGENDA

The Birmingham Post (England), August 21, 2014 | Go to article overview

Same War, Same Horror, Different Perspectives. AGENDA


Byline: GISELA STUART

HFront, the new BBC Ra t -dio 4 programme recorded in The Mailbox in Birmingham, which goes out on weekdays at lunchtime, charts day by day the events of 100 ago.

From the first days of a war, which some thought would be over by Christmas, to the bitter end four years later.

Young men following the call to defend their country. Germans becoming the enemy, not just on the battlefield but also at home. And then the horrendous loss of life in the trenches.

It shaped a whole generation, then - and still does today.

If you stand on the corner of Hagley Road, in Edgbaston, with Highfield Road to your left and Plough and Harrow to the right you can follow the footsteps of one particular chapter of history.

To your left, JRR Tolkien's house, where he stayed when he was a pupil at King Edwards.

To your right, first the Oratory, where the fathers looked after him after his mother's early death.

And the Plough and Harrow Hotel where he stayed the last night with his young wife before going to war.

Looking down the road you see two towers. Perrot's Folly and the Edgbaston Waterworks. Whilst never conclusively proved, they could well have inspired his Two Towers in the Lords of the Rings.

But what is undeniable is that the First World War shaped Tolkien's subsequent writings.

And he was not alone. From Robert Brooke's "that there's some corner of a foreign field that is forever England" to John McRae's "In Flanders fields the poppies blow", the First World War has left an indelible mark in every sphere of British consciousness.

Not so in Germany. For them, 1914 was simply the beginning of a 31 year nightmare which ended in 1945.

The 1918 settlement provided the backdrop and the seeds for the rise of Hitler and the National Socialists.

The Second World War wasn't just another war, it was worse than any other war that had gone before. It had at its heart the extermination of an entire race.

After 1945, for a German, there could no longer be any glory in wearing a military uniform.

The immediate post war generation took a deep look into its collective soul and found itself wanting. From the first Federal German Republic, to Willy Brand kneeling in front of the war memorial in Poland to the fall of the Berlin Wall and German unification, it was the story of a nation coming to terms with its past.

And it has done so. Since 1989, for the first time in its entire history the national boundaries of the German state have been concurrent with the notion of being German.

The Chancellor Angela Merkel once observed that modern Germany was forged by the experience of the Holocaust, its relationship with America and held together by its membership of the European Union. I was thinking about this at the memorial service in Birmingham Cathedral on August 3. The Dean recounted her own family experience, two representatives from the German churches were present, and the cathedral was filled with members of armed forces, wearing full uniform.

Hundred years on, it is the attitude to the armed forces which is a most striking difference. …

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