November the 11th 2016 will mark 98 years since the guns fell silent on the Western Front. At the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, people will bow their heads and remember the sacrifice of those who, for our tomorrow, gave their today.
Throughout time, Southampton has played an important role in this country’s war efforts. That’s why I’d like to write a post about remembrance. I’d like to write about not only those from Southampton, but also those who passed through the town during those years of conflict. From every corner of the globe, men left Southampton on ships destined for battle and many thousands never returned.
At the outbreak of war in 1914, Southampton was designated the UK’s number one military embarkation port. By the time the war was over, a staggering estimated 8,149,685 men from all over the world had passed through Southampton on their way to war. Joining the Britishers were men from every corner of the globe, from Canada to India, from South Africa to Australia. They stayed in the town, awaiting an uncertain fate, and for many, Southampton was the last piece of English soil they’d ever step foot on.
The First World War had been dubbed ‘the war to end all wars’, but a mere twenty-one years later the world was once again plunged in to darkness and Southampton once more witnessed first hand the terrible side-effects of a global conflict.
Again, the town witnessed millions upon millions of men pass through. Over two million Americans left for Europe from the port, and you can read about the millionth American soldier to pass through here if you like: The Millionth Yank. Just like the last war, many of these men never made it home.
The Second World War delivered total war unto the streets of Britain on a scale never seen before. As the Battle of Britain wore on, Goering ordered his Luftwaffe to attack industrial and civilian targets and when it became clear the Battle of Britain was lost, Hitler ordered that the British people be bombed in to submission. Southampton, being so strategically important, was to be the seventh most heavily bombed area in the country. I will do another more detailed post about the Blitz towards the end of the month since it was towards the end of November that the town was hit hardest. In all, during the Blitz, 631 Southampton residents lost their lives to German bombing, with a further 898 people seriously wounded.
Just outside of Southampton at my hometown of Netley Abbey was Netley Military Hospital, which at the time of its construction was the largest military hospital in the world, and the longest brick building ever made. It was a quarter of a mile long, and during the Second World War, Americans rode motorbikes down its corridors! It is now a country park with only the chapel still standing, but towards the back of the park remains its military cemetery which contains the graves of 721 men from the First war and 36 from the Second. The men buried here include British, Germans, Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders, South Africans, Indians, Belgians, a Pole, and an Austrian. All of these men died at Netley. What perhaps gets me the most are the multiple German graves marked simply ‘Ein Deutscher Soldat’ – ‘A German Soldier’. Buried without a name, their families would not even know they are there. Nearly every cemetery in and around Southampton contains Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstones, which just goes to show the vast numbers of men who gave their lives.
Southampton’s Cenotaph (which I’ve written about here: The Cenotaph, Southampton) was unveiled in 1920 and was the inspiration behind the famous one at Whitehall. Thousands of names were added at first, and as time went on, it became apparent some were missing, so these were also added. In 2011, a glass memorial wall surrounding the Cenotaph was unveiled, with an up to date list of all the Southampton men and women who gave their lives. The wall displays 2368 names from the First World War, 927 from the Second World War, and 3 from additional conflicts.
I may have gone off on a bit of a tangent at times in this post for which I apologise, however, I feel strongly about remembrance and the importance of it all, so I felt I had to write something at least. Thank you for reading. At 11am on the 11th I’ll be silent, thinking about not just those that gave their lives, but also those who had their lives taken from them.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.