by Dayo Laniyan
Above the entire UK will be a solemn atmosphere as all prepare for the many ceremonies that mark the 100th anniversary of World War One
Abroad, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are in Belgium to attend two ceremonies: one in the city of Liege, along with many other world leaders including French President Francois Hollande, and the commemoration event at St Symphorien Military Cemetery in Mons, Belgium.
The latter location holds particular value to the UK, as it is where the first and last British soldier to die in the war was killed. To the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, St Symphorien “is a uniquely fitting place for us to gather in a spirit of common remembrance. On land donated by a Belgian, in a cemetery first built by the German Army and now cared for by the CWGC, the fallen from both sides of the conflict lie together at peace. Today we remember them all.”
Within the UK, there are many other ceremonies and events. The Prince of Wales and the Prime Minister David Cameron along with over 1,400 guests that include military officials and politicians will be attending the National Service of Commemoration at Glasgow Cathedral, while Prince Harry will be at Folkstone, Kent for a parade which will mark the route soldiers took to the harbour that would ferry them to the battlefields of France.
In an interview with BBC Breakfast, David Cameron said that the outbreak of war was “an extraordinary day in Britain’s history.”
“When you think that almost every family, almost every community was affected, almost a million British people were lost in this war, it is right that even 100 years on, we commemorate it, we think about it and we mark it properly,” he said.
The final ceremony will be the Royal British Legion’s “Lights Out!”, where from 22:00 to 23:00 all UK buildings from Downing Street to the Blackpool Tower will switch off all lights except one, to mark the hour that Britain declared war on Germany. At the same time a hour-long candle lit service of prayer will be held at Westminster Abbey.
Almost 900,000 people lost their lives in those four years fighting in the British Army, however not all of them were strictly British. 50,000 men from the British colonies in Africa also fought, with many others carrying out the roles of carriers or auxiliaries. Ranging from Nigeria, the Gambia, South Africa, Uganda and Ghana, 10,000 were killed in the fighting, with troops beings awarded 166 decorations for bravery.
Many Nigerians actually volunteered to join up, particularly among the urban, educated class, who made speeches and collected money towards the war effort. In a meeting of chiefs in Lagos, Dr Obasa, described in the West Africa Magazine as the ‘well-known Lagos public man’, spoke:
“Our kith and kin have gone to fight in our stead, and it is only right that we should give them all the support necessary…Ingratitude is the greatest reproach that could be flung at a native, and I therefore urge upon all to contribute their quota to this national fund so that it might not be said we are ungrateful to the British Government for many benefits conferred.”