By Nigel Jones author of The War Walk
I have more than an academic interest in the upcoming centenary commemoration of the outbreak of World War One in 2015.
My father, Frank Jones, who was in his 60s when I was born, volunteered, along with millions of others, to join the Army in the week the war broke out in August 1914. His younger brother Ernest, aged just 18, also volunteered. My dad - like me - was myopic, and was rejected for front line service. His brother, who joined the 1st London Riffle Brigade, was not so lucky.
I still have Uncle Ernest's last letter home, written from the waterlogged trenches around Ypres. In it, he writes: 'It isn't war, its literally murder as far as I can see....the Germans hammering at us and we just stick it out without retaliating...everybody is as heartily fed up as its possible to be, and everybody says Roll On Peace'. A few weeks later Enest was killed on July 6th 1915 in an attack on a German position called International Trench. I still visit his grave at Talana Farm cemetery, Boesinghe, Belgium as often as I can. My father took me there first when I was a child. He had enjoyed a more comfortable war than his brother as a shorthand writer on the staff of the British commander, Haig, based in chateaux a safe distance behind the trenches, and had consequently survived the conflict to live a full life and - late in that life - to father me.
Later still, I went to Ypres in the 1980s while researching my first book, The War Walk: A Journey along the Western Front. While in Ypres I was moved and impressed by the nightly Last Post ceremony carried out each evening at 8pm by the town's Fire Brigade at the Menin Gate memorial to 55,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers missing - either atomised by artillery or simply lost in the Flanders mud - in the Ypres Salient between 1914-18. The sheer numbers of those missing - there are similar memorials to them at Loos, Passchendaele, Cambrai and above all on Edwin Lutyens' giant memorial arch at Thiepval to the 73,000 missing on the Somme - are mute testimony to the sheer carnage inflicted by the industrialised warfare in this most terrible of wars.
It is entirely right, therefore, that Prime Minister David Cameron should have announced that the outbreak of the war will be solemnly remembered in 2014 by the nation. It is especially important now that the last of the old soldiers who fought in the conflict have gone that young people too remember. In the words of poet Laurence Binyon, repeated each night under the Menin Gate, '
They will grow not old, as we that are left grow old/
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn/
At the going down of the sun/
And in the morning/
We will remember them'. Although I never knew him, I will remember Uncle Ernest.
Nigel Jones is author of The War Walk: A Journey Along the Western Front and conducts tours of the Western Front with www.historicaltrips.com
Follow Endeavour Press on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@EndeavourPress