NOSTALGIA: Remembering our fallen war heroes

Readers will be aware that this year Sunday, November 11 is not only Remembrance Sunday, but is also the centenary of the armistice which ended the fighting in the Great War, world war one. 

Following the traditional Remembrance Sunday morning parades and services, towns and villages throughout the UK will be commemorating the centenary with special events in the evening.

Many of these events will feature the lighting of a Beacon of Light at precisely 7.00pm. Traditionally the lighting of a large bonfire, or Beacon, on the top of a hill was the method whereby an important message was quickly conveyed around the country. 

The idea of resurrecting this method for the Armistice centenary originated in New Zealand, this quickly caught-on, and is now being adopted at 7.00 pm local time on November 11 around the world.

In our local area a Beacon will be lit in many towns and villages as part of the Armistice commemoration event called The Battles Over. In the town of High Wycombe the Beacon will be on Tom Burts Hill, which is the hill behind the hospital, and will be lit by the Chairman of the District Council. 

It is known that Beacons will also be lit in Beaconsfield, Loudwater, Stoke Poges, Wooburn and Flackwell Heath, and no doubt many other towns and villages in the district.

Another commemoration event is taking place from November 9 to 12 in High Wycombe Cemetery. Here there will be a ‘Silent Army’ – of trees. Over 130 WW1 local service men (and one woman) are buried or remembered there. 

The trees in the centre of the cemetery form a giant cross, with each tree bearing a remembrance card for one of the WW1 fallen. Each card will state where each person lived, their regiments and their ages.

From Near Defeat to Victory in 1918 – Part I

Over the next two weeks we will be considering how the Allies turned near defeat in the First World War into a comprehensive victory in the space of nine months in 1918.

Forecast to be over by Christmas 1914, it was four years of static trench warfare before the first signs began to appear that this deadlock in the Great War could be broken.

Things had looked bleak for the Allies in the early months of 1918. In March the Germans had begun a major offensive. 

With the imminent arrival at the Western Front of thousands more fully trained troops from the USA the Germans realised that they were likely to lose the war. 

Furthermore, the Russian Revolution had effectively ended Russian involvement in the war, which allowed the Germans to transfer some of their 50 divisions from the Eastern to the Western Front.

Therefore they devised a plan which would exploit the differences which might have existed between the French and British strategies for defeating any major German offensive. This very nearly succeeded. 

The German plan was to attack at the junction between the French and British forces in NE France. It was code-named Operation Michael and commenced on March 21, 1918.

On that one day, 28 local men were killed in action, with another 50 in the week that followed.

The turning point in the Allied resistance occurred on March 26. With the situation desperate, an urgent meeting of the Allies Joint Supreme War Council was arranged on that day. The result was that the French General Foch was made coordinator of all British, French and American forces at the Western Front. 

The senior British commander, Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig supported the appointment of Foch.

Immediate action was taken by Foch to send large numbers of French troops to reinforce the threatened British sector south of the river Somme. In the sector north of the river the British Army stopped the advance of the Germans, with effective air-support playing a crucial role. The Allies position was beginning to be stabilised, but at great cost in terms of manpower.

The advancing German troops were becoming exhausted and were facing increasing numbers of fresh British and French reinforcements. The Germans finally called a halt to their offensive on April 5 after it became clear that they would not be able to achieve a decisive victory along the river Somme. 

Their forces had advanced about 40 miles and inflicted around 240,000 casualties on the British and French troops. German losses were equally severe, meaning that the offensive had resulted in nearly half a million dead and wounded soldiers in the space of two weeks.

The Germans began another offensive at a different sector around the river Lys on April 9. 

This sector, again occupied by the British Army, was the main defence to the strategically important route to the Channel ports through which supplies and reinforcements reached the Front.

Within 3 days the Germans had created a break in the British line of about 30 miles. Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig then issued an order prohibiting any further retreat – “With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each one must fight on to the end”. 

This Call to Arms succeeded in stiffening the British resistance, which was aided by the arrival of French reinforcements.
By the of April the Germans had given up their attempt to capture the Channel ports. Both sides had lost around 100,000 men. The German’s were now making plans for a third offensive. 

This was to be a critical phase of the war. The initial attack, which began on May 27, was against French and British soldiers holding a particular section of the Western Front along the Aisne River. 

It was designed to prevent reinforcements being sent to aid British forces in northern France. This was where the Germans were planning to renew their attack with another major offensive. The initial attack was very successful, with the Germans advancing about 10 miles and capturing several bridges over the river without them being destroyed. 

However Allied reinforcements were on their way and on the second day, May 28, the American Expeditionary Force made their first attack of the war. The German attack was halted.

On June 9 the Germans launched their fourth major offensive of 1918. 

However the Allies had been forewarned about the attack by deserters from the German army and were able to organise their defences accordingly. 

As a result the Germans abandoned the offensive on June 12.

German forces then began their fifth offensive of 1918 on July 15, the objective being a second attempt to cut through British forces and seize the ports along the English Channel. 

Once again the Allies were prepared, through information from German deserters, and the attack was halted after only two days. Since their first offensive, Operation Michael, had begun back in March, Germany had suffered total casualties of half a million men.

To be continued.

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