03/08/2014 18:08 BST | Updated 03/10/2014 06:59 BST

The Seminal Event in Modern Times Is Passing Into the Shadows of History - But We Lose Sight of It at Our Peril

"The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime." Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey's prophetic words in August 1914 rank among the most poignant ever to have fallen from the lips of a politician.

Tonight, as we remember the point 100 years ago when the British Empire formally entered the First World War, the lamps will go out once again. Across the country millions of people will turn off the lights in their homes, businesses and public buildings, taking a moment to reflect on the dire events that were unfolding a century ago.

Four years of war were to take millions of lives. In the UK, it touched every corner of the country. Of the 14,000 parishes in England and Wales that sent men to the front, only around 50 so-called "thankful parishes" saw them all return home safely. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, every neighbourhood suffered a loss.

The death toll for Ireland and the now Commonwealth was similarly appalling - at least 27,000 Irishmen, more than 65,000 from the Indian subcontinent; Canada lost more than 60,000, as did Australia. 17,000 New Zealanders died, from a country that was home to barely a million.

Over four years, the commemorations will be as varied as the people and communities that were involved in the war. At its heart will be Remembrance with the spotlight on youth and education. It will encourage exploration of the causes, conduct and consequences of a conflict that continues to shape our world today.

There are events taking place all over the country, most of them locally focussed as we commemorate the impact the war had on every county, town and village. I hope that everyone will get involved in some way.

Of the nine million British and Commonwealth men who went to war sadly none remain. With them the seminal event in modern times is passing into the shadows of history. But we lose sight of it and them at our very great peril.

So at 10pm tonight, I hope you'll join millions of others in turning off lamps and lighting to reflect and remember the courage of those who fought and died. But remember to keep one light burning since hope never dies, and never did.

Sir Edward Grey's lamps were eventually lit again.

Dr Andrew Murrison is Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Northern Ireland Office, Conservative MP for South West Wiltshire and the Prime Minister's special representative for the Centenary Commemoration of the First World War