One hundred years ago today, Britain’s then-foreign secretary Sir Edward Grey uttered the words ‘The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime’.
His prophecy was sadly true for many as the lives of ordinary men and women across Europe, and closer to home in Portsmouth, would never be the same again.
The four years of the First World War claimed the lives of at least 6,000 men a day and the instability the battle generated would set in motion decades of misery for all Europeans.
Yesterday, the human sacrifice of the Great War was commemorated across the Portsmouth area with poignant and moving services.
At St Mary’s Church in Portchester, more than 100 people took part in a parade before packing into the church, where it was standing room only.
The Rev Dr Ian Meredith said: ‘The population of Portchester in 1914 would only have been around 1,000 when probably one hundred or so of our village’s young men volunteered to go to war.
‘The atmosphere that summer for them was one of excitement and adventure, tinged with patriotism and the sense of the injustice which had to be put right, as small nations like Belgium had experienced tyranny at the hands of bullies. After all, said some, “it will all be over by Christmas”.’
He added: ‘Of those from Portchester who enlisted, 33 did not return, and if you include the wounded and the traumatised, there was probably not a family untouched. Some names on the war memorial are still around in our congregation today: Bartlett, Coombes, McHugh, Pratt, Richardson and Ross.
‘They were our flesh and blood who we waved off, our young in whom we put our hopes.
‘Multiply that 33 by every village in the British Commonwealth, and the scale is enormous.’
Click here for more stories about the anniversary of the start of World War One
Meanwhile, at St Faith’s Church, in Havant, 100 candles were lit by dignitaries. As various civic leaders and clergy delivered moving readings, they each put out a candle until the church was plunged into darkness.
After a two-minute silence, a new light was kindled, symbolising the hope of mankind.
David Argue, chairman of Havant Royal British Legion, read a poem from the late Havant veteran Edward Till, who was injured by a shell in France.
He read: ‘When I pass by the war memorial, just one glance makes my mind wander back.
‘I can see the mud, the slush, the shell holes, the duck boards, the old track.
‘I can see my fallen old comrades, and although I know they are dead, I can hear them whisper, Remember your old pals ‘neath poppies so red.’
Dr Michael Laird, a former lecturer in international history at the University of Portsmouth, summed up the significance of the First World War to the congregation, calling it ‘the greatest tragedy’.
He said: ‘The potential for violence in international affairs is still there as we see in eastern Ukraine and the Middle East. Nevertheless we are surely in a better place then we were in 1914.’
Leigh Park Councillor, Faith Ponsonby, dedicated her reading to her father Jimmy Glover, who fought in both world wars.
She said: ‘We have to remember it to make sure children of today realise that it is no solution to the world’s problems to fight.’