Thursday, 31 July 2014

Men Who March Away

Exactly a century ago, August 1914, it was a beautiful Bank Holiday weekend. However rumours of impending war were the only topic of conversation and it seemed the whole country was holding its breath. On August 4th the British government sent the German government a note demanding that they respect Belgium’s neutrality. The note contained an ultimatum stating that the British would have to receive such an undertaking from the Germans by 11:00pm that evening.

Some seven hours before the deadline expired, the German Army crossed the Belgian border.

At 11:00pm, Britain declared war on Germany.

Sir Edward Grey, the British Foreign Minister, was quoted as saying at the time: “the lights are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”

On the Downs above Newhaven, Sergeant Alfred Edward Cook (Uncle Ted) and the 4th Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment were enjoying their annual summer camp when news reached them that war had been declared. The very next day, August 5th, Ted’s Army Service Record shows that he was now on full embodied service as a sergeant with the 1/4th Royal Sussex Regiment.

In Crawley the news of the outbreak of war was quickly followed with the news that 60 reservists Territorials and Yeomanry from Crawley and the surrounding district had been called up for duty.

The following weekend the Crawley Town Band would play in the Middle and Lower Squares. Among the many patriotic songs that were played were renditions of the Russian, French and English National Anthems.

The August issue of the West Crawley (St Peters) Parish Magazine carried the following message: “The tragedy of war lies heavy upon all our hearts: Not the penalty of blood and treasure only or chiefly, but the failure of Christian civilisation to avert war. It is a call to prayer; A signal opportunity for the forces of Christ’s Church to prevail at the Throne of Grace. Human Statesmanship has erred or failed, whether in provoking or averting war and the issues are in the hands of God. Whatever part our own country has to take the first real work of assistance which lies waiting to be done is the work of intercession. The true patriot now is the man of prayer.”

The abyss was yawning wide…

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