In these austere times it is reasonable to question spending £50m on commemorating the 100th anniversary of the First World War next year.
Is it a waste of time and money and is there really anything to be gained from sending children from every state secondary school to the battlefields in France?
World War One is a topic I have developed a considerable interest in over the past couple of years; I am not sure why that’s happened or why that particular war so regularly pricks my conscience.
Earlier this year, I visited Amiens several times and I paid visits to the nearby battlefields of the Somme and many of the pristinely kept cemeteries and memorials of the fallen.
If you have not had the opportunity to visit, it really is a moving experience. Near to the entrance of each cemetery you will find a neatly bound book which contains the names of those who are buried there and details about where they were from, who they were married to and how many children they had. It doesn’t take long for you to appreciate the scale of the massacre that took place in that area. You are likely to feel angry that, day after day, loyal and brave men, many from the Lancashire area, were ordered to march towards well entrenched machine gun posts in totally futile and pointless attacks.
If you wander around the maze of farm tracks you will find the brick built memorial to the Accrington Pals, hundreds of who were slaughtered in the attack on Serre on 1st July 1916. Other places worthy of visits are the Thiepval Memorial to the missing 72,000 men without a known grave or the Lochnagar Crater that entombed large numbers of German soldiers after British engineers mined under their trenches and exploded 60,000 lbs of ammonal. The noise from the explosion is still recorded as the loudest man-made sound in history.
I am firmly of the opinion that it is entirely appropriate to spend such a large amount of money on commemorating World War One and remembering the millions who died in this first truly mechanised war. There are many lessons still to be learnt from this conflict and I am sure the school children who visit the battlefields will benefit greatly from the experience.
I appreciate not everybody can go to France and visit these sights but the next time you are at Preston Railway Station go to the area between platforms three and four.
There you will find the new memorial to the Preston Pals who died in the Great War and perhaps take a moment to reflect on the horrors faced by a previous generation of Lancashire folk.
If you would like Mick Gradwell to give a talk to your society, a presentation or an educational lecture, contact 01253 600800 for further information.