War in pictures: victory at a terrible price

War in pictures: victory at a terrible price

Soldiers of the 5th Battalion the York and Lancaster Regiment march past Clifford’s Tower Old Prison. Picture: Yorkshire Film Archive

INTO THE UNKNOWN: The 5th battalion march over Lendal Bridge on their way to the battlefields. Picture: Yorkshire Film Archive

British and German soldiers at Ploegsteert, Belgium, on Christmas Day 1914

Scouts parade during Military Sunday in Duncombe Place, York, during the First World War

British troops support an attack by XIV Corps on Morval during the Battle of the Somme in the 1914-1918 First World War

York Minster bells removed from the tower in 1914

Territorials marching through Pickering in 1914 on their way to the front (8734359)

First published in History articles
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ONE hundred years ago today, Great Britain declared war on Germany.

Until even a few weeks earlier war had, for most people, seemed inconceivable. In his book York In War And Peace, historian David Rubinstein includes a quote from Winifred Sturge, the then headmistress of The Mount School: "When the school broke up for the summer holidays in July 1914, none of us even suspected the coming tragedy."

By August, however, things had changed. The actual declaration of war on August 4 came too late for that day's Yorkshire Herald newspaper. But it had been clear by the time the newspaper went to press that war was imminent.

An editorial insisted that Britain had not wanted it. But only 'Little Englanders and Socialists' were opposed to the 'honourable fulfilling of our obligations and the resolve to take all possible measures to defend our interests', the newspaper said. It added, rather smugly: "One prominent trait of the Englishman, confidence in ultimate success, is standing him in good stead."

The declaration of war was apparently greeted with great excitement in York. The Herald reported how a large crowd gathered in Coney Street, Dr Rubinstein writes - and when war was declared there were "loud and prolonged cheers... and the National Anthem was heartily sung."

Most people thought the war would be over by Christmas. The Yorkshire Evening Press, in its August 11 edition, recognised that there would be casualties - but in true patriotic style said they would be glorious deaths.

"Across the Channel in the fair fields of France and Belgium death awaits the many, but a death easier to face and sweeter to experience because of the knowledge that the cause of civilisation is being consecrated in blood," it said.

Perhaps it is only with hindsight that we shudder at those words - but shudder we do.

In the event, the war was to drag on for four long, dreadful years. By the time it was over, millions had lost their lives - including as many as 2,000 young men from York who died fighting for King and Country. The war made itself felt at home, too - not just in the form of zeppelin raids on York and other cities, but by utterly changing British society for ever.

The end of the war was announced in the Yorkshire Evening Press on November 11, 1918, with this headline: "Germany Surrenders: Fighting Ended On All Fronts". A sub-heading added: "Crowning Victory: Mons Captured At Dawn Today: Fitting Finale To Our Army's Work." It is hard not to wonder how many from both sides gave their lives in that final 'crowning victory'.

In Yesterday Once More today, we tell the story of the war in pictures - from soldiers parading in York and Pickering to a wartime 'Military Sunday' march in Duncombe Place by boy scouts, the tented prisoner of war camp at York Castle, celebrations to mark the end of the war - and, of course, some scenes from the front line.

May it never be allowed to happen again.

York Press: York in the First World WarThe tented encampment for 'enemy aliens' at the Castle Prison (8734287)
The tented encampment for 'enemy aliens' at the Castle Prison 

York Press:
Peace celebrations in Moss Street, York,  August 1919

York Press:
 The 1919 Victory Parade passes down Whitehall to mark the end of the First World War


  •  York Castle Museum will be open late today for a special event to mark 100 years since the start of the First World War. The museum will remain open until 8pm tonight to give people a chance to explore its stunning 1914: When The World Changed Forever exhibition.
  • Churches across the York diocese, meanwhile, are planning special services and vigils today to mark the anniversary. They include prayer and remembrance at St Giles in Copmanthorpe from 11am-4pm and again from 6-7pm; a candlelit vigil from 8pm at St Michael le Belfry near York Minster; and a commemorative service from 10-11pm at St Martin's in Coney Street.

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