The devastation of the Great War

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World War One was the most devastating conflict in British history, killing 723,000 of our citizens, three quarters of whom were under the age of 30.

From the area of Nottinghamshire served by this newspaper, around 400 men died in combat from 1914-1918 and it is likely that 1,000 or more were seriously wounded.

Losses and suffering on this scale shattered families and undermined traditional certainties. The First World War was a watershed and life was never the same again.

For the past two years, I have been part of a volunteer team planning an exhibition, to be staged at Nottingham Castle from July through to November 2014, to commemorate the Great War’s impact upon Nottinghamshire and the county’s contributions to victory. It will be called Trent to Trenches. Artefacts, uniforms, military hardware, paintings and paper memorabilia are being amassed, walking tours and talks at memorials planned, diaries collected, local institutions researched and schools involved in a variety of events. In addition, a Wall of Faces remembering the local fallen is under construction.

There are also to be re-enactments, Fields of Battle photographs, poetry readings, films and a music hall production. Public lectures will consider conscientious objection in Nottinghamshire, executed Sherwood Foresters, front line women ambulance drivers and trench archaeology. Genealogical advice can be sought during the exhibition and an on-line Nottinghamshire Roll of Honour will constitute Trent to Trenches’ permanent legacy.

As the killing finally stopped in November 1918, Vivien Noakes observed ‘if the dead were to march four abreast, twenty four hours a day, it would take them more than a week to pass’. The enduring tragedy of the Great War was that such colossal sacrifice did not prevent future conflicts. Next year’s centenary exhibition is probably our final opportunity to pay homage to 11,000 men and women from Nottinghamshire who died believing they were fighting the ‘war to end wars’.