On November 13, 1918, Field-Marshal Sir Douglas Haig issued a Special Order of the Day.
“By your efforts and those of the gallant armies of our Allies, the nations of the world have been saved from a great danger. You have fought for the sanctity of your homes, and for the liberties of those who will come after you. Generations of free peoples, both of your own race and of all countries, will thank you for what you have done.
“We do not forget those who have fallen, and by their sacrifice have made our triumph possible. The memory of those who fought in the early battles of the war, few indeed in number but unconquerable in spirit, and the thought of all the brave men who have since died, live in our hearts today.”
And so it does in 2018, even if the personal sense of loss has been dimmed by the passage of 100 years.
What of the wider picture in this most destructive war in history to that time? An estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilians died as a direct result of the war, while it is also considered a contributory factor in a number of genocides and the 1918 influenza epidemic, which caused between 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.
Military losses were exacerbated by new technological and industrial developments and the tactical stalemate caused by gruelling trench warfare. It was one of the deadliest conflicts in history and precipitated major political changes in many of the nations involved, including the Revolutions of 1917–1923. Unresolved rivalries in many of the nations involved contributed to the start of the Second World War about twenty years later.
On the question of the quality of British generalship, a subject much debated over the years, it is probably best to conclude that those in command did their best with the weapons and tactics available at the time.
There was no option but a battle of attrition between the nations, not just between their armies but between their civilian populations too. Germany collapsed into defeat and revolution because its armies were defeated in the field and its civilian population was starving and society collapsing.
The Duke of Wellington’s Regiment (West Riding) played its full part in the conflict. The Regiment had some 22 battalions in this war, all except two, were non-regulars, some 80,000 men mostly from the West Riding served in the Regiment and over 8000 were killed.
The 2nd Battalion (Regular) was first into battle in August 1914. They lost 323 men killed or wounded in about two days. They remained in France for the whole War, being reinforced many times from the training Depot in Halifax, and finished it only a few miles from where it had begun.
There must have been very few families and businesses in the West Riding who did not have members in the Regiment. It remains something for the community to be proud of, even 100 years later.
It is surely a record deserving the very fine statue that the Regiment is going to unveil on May 17, 2019 in the centre of Halifax.
If you wish to contribute to the Appeal raising money for this project, please contact Caroline Cary: firstname.lastname@example.org, call the office on 01980 611211, or write to DWR Memorial Appeal Office, the Close, Boscombe,Wiltshire, SP4 0AB.