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Lights Out

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A much belated blog but one I thought I’d share none the less.

As historians and people interested in commemorating the First World War, we’ve been waiting a long time for the Centenary to come around, and now I can hardly believe it’s here.

Every day for the next four years is a Centenary, a day a life was lost, a yard of ground gained, a village fought over, a village liberated.

Britain’s Centenary commemorations officially began on Monday 4th August, the day that war was declared.

The great and the good were scattered across the UK and Belgium for memorial services, and in churches everywhere services of remembrance were held.

That night there was to be an ingenious act of commemoration across the country.  At 23:00 publically owned buildings and households would switch all of their lights off, but leave a single candle burning.  This commemorative act named ‘Lights Out’, was in recognition of the words spoken by Sir Edward Grey, British Foreign Secretary the day before war was declared, ‘the lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.

In hauntingly beautiful scenes captured by the BBC, on peoples cameras and phones and shared through social media, streets and homes plunged into darkness.

That night I was luckily enough to attend the Lights Out service at Westminster Abbey.  Alongside members of the Cabinet and with guest of honour Camilla Parker Bowles, there was an amazing sense that the Country was coming together to remember a time in which so many people gave so much for their country and the freedom of others.

There were famous faces reading letters home from soldiers, poems and dairy extracts, but as expected Penelope Keith shone through with her reading.  Hers was of a young man jubilant at the thought of war and adventure, desperate to get over to the continent with his mates to give the Germans hell.  This reading captured the moment beautifully – these boys weren’t to know what they would face.    

At certain points in the service, a special guest would come forward and extinguish one of four lights, at which time attendees would blow out a candle that was given to them at the start of the service.  At 23:00 the Abbey, street lights, public offices and homes across the country became dark.

One hundred years ago a world war was proclaimed.  It took too many of our young men, took men from their homes to muddy hell holes on the other side of the world, and seemingly changed everything and nothing at the same time.  In that moment of darkness, we could all visualise the thousands of village memorials, the CWWG sites in Europe, the Menin Gate and Thiepval.  What sadness Lights Out brought.

We Will Remember Them