How should we commemorate the Great War?

Tonight I was listening to the Strawberry Thieves’ Socialist Choir commemorate the Great War in their own particular way, with a series of songs and readings about those who chose not to fight.

Perhaps because of the straightforward presentation and non-professional singing, it was a moving evening.

I’ve been thinking lately about how best to commemorate World War One.

A choir put together by volunteers, and amateurs, who can’t always hit the right notes, singing some of the songs of the music hall and of the troops (cynical and funny songs) seems perhaps a better answer to ‘how to’ than the solemn pomp that I’m expecting in the lead-up to August 4th.

Pacifism, conscientious objection, and human solidarity seem like the only proper human response to the horror of the war – though there was plenty of grim humour in the songs tonight.

The Great War was supposed to end all wars, and it has been taught to at least a couple of generations as a pointless slaughter of millions of young men.

Perhaps only a socialist choir could find a truth in that carnage – and in those that came after – about what human beings should do and be to one another.

And in fact, the choir left us tonight with two heroes. One, Harry Patch, the UK’s last Great War survivor, because he made a pact with friends never to kill another man (and kept it); and the other, Hetty Bower, who was until her death last year known as Britain’s oldest anti-war campaigner.

It’s only a shame the audience tonight wasn’t larger.

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