No Glory: Remembering World War One in Music and Poetry

The launch of the No Glory in War 1914-1918 campaign took place in October 2013 at St James’s church, Piccadilly in London. Robert Graves was married in this church in 1918 and his wedding was attended by Wilfred Owen shortly before his death on the Western Front. Good-bye To All That was Graves’s autobiographical work on his experiences in the trenches of the western front. Owen was famous for his war poetry such as Anthem for Doomed Youth and the condemnatory Dulce et Decorum est.

David Cameron’s speech of October 2012 at the Imperial War Museum (see Socialist Standard January 2013) about commemorations to mark the anniversary of the First World War inspired the open letter to The Guardian of 22 May 2013 where the signatories stated ‘this was a war driven by big powers’ competition for influence around the globe’ and the campaign wants ‘to ensure this anniversary is used to promote peace and international co-operation’.

The I Maestri orchestra conducted by John Landor with solo violin by George Hlawiczka performed Ralph Vaughan Williams The Lark Ascending written in 1914 just prior to the First World War. Although in his forties Vaughan Williams served as a stretcher bearer on the Western Front.

Actress Kika Markham, memorable in the Francois Truffaut film Les deux Anglaises et le continent, read the poem Last Post by Carol Ann Duffy and the poem A War Film by Teresa Hooley who had been inspired by seeing a documentary on the Battle of Mons. Scottish slam poet Elvis McGonagall read the poems Strange Meeting by Wilfred Owen, and Matey by Patrick MacGill who was wounded at the 1915 Battle of Loos. McGonagall read three of his own poems about the Black Watch Regiment in Fallujah Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, and an indictment of warmonger Tony Blair called No Regrets.

There was unaccompanied singing by Sally Davies, Matthew Crampton, Abbie Coppard and Tim Coppard who performed the poem The Bridge by Edward Thomas who was killed at the 1917 Battle of Arras then a sung version arranged by Sally Davies. The story My Dad and My Uncle by Heathcote Williams was read out detailing the author’s remembrances of his father and uncle’s experiences in the First World War.

The poet and dramatist Jehane Markham read her poem Inheritance, and then spoke of her and Kika’s father, actor David Markham who joined the Peace Pledge Union in 1937, and was a conscientious objector in the Second World War. Jehane read her father’s written statement of May 1940 where he stated his ‘pacifism was the affirmation of the dignity of mankind and the ultimate aim of brotherhood’.

The ‘bard of Barking’ Billy Bragg concluded the evening with a performance of songs that included Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream by Paul Simon, My Youngest Son Came Home Today by Eric Bogle, The Man He Killed, a sung version of a poem by Thomas Hardy, his own Between the Wars and Where Have All the Flowers Gone? by Pete Seeger.

Dr Neil Faulkner’s booklet No Glory: The Real History of the First World War accompanies the campaign and is a good account of the First World War. Faulkner writes that ‘The First World War was caused by military competition between opposing alliances of nation-states. These nation-states represented the interests of rival blocs of capital competing in world markets… to carve-up the world in pursuit of profit and power. The First World War was an imperialist war’.

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