Tim’s presentation covered the whole chronology of the Great War from the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo in June 1914 through to Armistice Day on 11 November 1918 at Compiegne in France. He focused on the Western Front, but clearly set it within the context of a global conflict.
He explained how German plans for the war were hatched as early as 1905, and outlined the initially huge disparity between the opposing forces, before covering the key battles of the western front. These included Mons (where the first VCs of the war were won by Lieutenant Maurice Dease and Private Sidney Godley), Ypres, Verdun, the Somme, Passchendaele, and Amiens.
His lively commentary was full of facts and statistics about the numbers of troops deployed, the munitions etc expended, the horrific casualties, and much more. And it was all given added gravitas through the moving stories of the individuals involved – how VCs were won, how people lived and died, and so on.
Tim presented numerous photographs (both old and new), maps and diagrams to illustrate his points as he explained how the war progressed. The photographs showed the well-known battlefields (both as they were at the time and as they are now) including emplacements, trenches, bunkers and tunnels.
There were also pictures of the troops, nurses, munitions workers, and others involved in the struggle. And there were pictures of the various cemeteries, war graves, monuments and memorials. These included the “Brooding Soldier” Memorial at Vancouver Corner at Ypres (where the Canadians suffered heavy losses in 1915), the “Caribou” Memorial at the Somme (where the Royal Newfoundland Regiment was virtually obliterated), Blighty Valley Cemetery at the Somme, the “Welsh Dragon” Memorial at Ypres, the Ulster Tower Memorial at Thiepval, the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing at Ypres, and Tyne Cot Cemetery and Memorial to the Missing near Passendale.
Tim’s final images showed the headstones of Private John Parr (the first British soldier to be killed in action on 23 August 1914) and Private George Ellison (the last British soldier to be killed in action on 11 November 1918) Poignantly they are buried just yards apart in the St Symphorien Military Cemetery near Mons.
This was a very educational – and sobering – talk from Tim. A huge amount of information was presented, all without notes, and it was extensively illustrated by his collection of evocative images. Tim’s considerable knowledge was most impressive and his huge enthusiasm for this subject lit up his presentation.