When we think of the First World War, we remember an event that changed the course of history and shapes the world we live in today.
In Britain, the war was a catalyst for social reform. The jobs that women took in the absence of men, and the work they did to keep the country running, was vital in convincing the public to support female suffrage. Many young women, who would otherwise have become wives and mothers, turned to new professions. The workforce of Britain would never be the same again.
Most of all, we remember the scale of the sacrifice. The image of row after row of graves on the battlefield of the Somme is not quickly forgotten. No fewer than 750,000 British soldiers died, and a million and a half more were injured.
Last week, the new Town Hall square was officially named as the ‘Barnsley Pals Centenary Square’. The two Barnsley Pals battalions were part of the attack on Serre on the first day of the Somme campaign. The 1st Batallion lost 275 men, the 2nd lost 270. This is the true impact of the First World War – the families that lost loved ones, and the countless husbands, fathers and sons who never came home.
These sacrifices continue today. I know from serving in Afghanistan the dangers that our young men and women in uniform face, and the dedication and courage with which they serve is truly inspiring.
The dignity with which the people of Barnsley continue to deal with losing loved ones is humbling, particularly the families of Martin Driver, Dave Marsh and Matthew Thornton –three young men from Barnsley who lost their lives in conflict in recent years.
As we approach the 100th anniversary of the First World War, it is more important than ever that we remember the sacrifices that people from Barnsley and elsewhere made. The reasons for war are often controversial, but remembering those who served and died is not, and the Barnsley Pals Centenary Square reminds us all of that.
This article was first published in the Barnsley Independent on 25 September 2013.