A HUNDRED years ago, the guns on the Western Front had not yet fallen silent. The soldiers on both sides of the front line had little idea of the potential revolution brewing in Germany, the Kaiser’s imminent abdication and the resulting peace overtures being made to the Allies.
This led rapidly to discussion between the military representatives of Britain, France and Germany, who agreed an Armistice that would end the fighting at 11am on November 11, 1914.
Over the last four years, we have remembered the progress of the First World War from the optimism and patriotism of August 1914, through attrition and stalemate, to breakthrough and the Armistice.
At every stage, we have commemorated the achievements and sacrifice of a generation of Yorkshire men and women who served in the war, from the regular soldiers and reservists who fought from the beginning, through the Pals battalions of Kitchener’s Army who endured the Somme, to the citizen soldiers who saw the war’s end.
The Yorkshire Regiment was formed in 2006, and is the inheritor and custodian of more than 300 years of history from the regiments that preceded us. Between 1914 and 1918, we estimate that around 300,000 Yorkshiremen served in one of the 121 battalions these regiments raised: The West Yorkshire Regiment, The East Yorkshire Regiment, Alexandra, Princess of Wales’s Own (Yorkshire Regiment), and The Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment). Some 36,000 of these men were killed or died of their wounds, while 100,000 more were wounded in action.
One important feature of the First World War commemorations has been the recognition of soldiers, sailors and airmen who were awarded the Victoria Cross for extraordinary acts of valour in the heat of battle, with no regard for the possible consequences.
In 2013, the Government announced that commemorative paving stones would be laid in their birthplaces to honour their bravery, provide a lasting legacy of local heroes within communities and enable residents to gain a greater understanding of how their area fitted into the First World War story.
Out of 628 Victoria Crosses awarded during the First World War, 24 were awarded to soldiers of The Yorkshire Regiment – they are an important part of our regimental story and remain an inspiration to today’s generation of Yorkshire soldiers.
For many, 100 years ago seems a very long time indeed. Black and white photographs and jerky film footage create a sense of distance that it is difficult to bridge. I have therefore found film director Peter Jackson’s latest project, They Shall Not Grow Old, fascinating.
Thanks to painstaking work, wartime film footage has been brought to life with colour and sound; the most remarkable thing is to see the faces of that generation in a new way and realise that the only thing that separates them from today’s soldier is time. In many cases, today’s Yorkshire Regiment soldier comes from the same street, goes to the same school and supports the same football team.
Soldiers from every part of the Yorkshire Regiment are currently deployed overseas on operations or for training. Four months into their eight-month operational deployment to Estonia, the First Battalion spearheads the 1,000-strong Multinational Battlegroup as part of the UK’s commitment to Nato’s Enhanced Forward Presence in the Baltic region. Working alongside Estonian and Danish soldiers, they will soon be experiencing a harsh winter climate that will be a real test of their ability to operate effectively.
In Lithuania, our Army Reserve battalion will also contribute to Nato’s deterrent activity, training with soldiers from Germany, Lithuania, Poland and Estonia on Exercise Iron Wolf. Meanwhile, the Second Battalion will shortly deploy from Catterick Garrison to Morocco, and will train alongside their Moroccan counterparts in a desert setting beneath the Atlas Mountains.
Although separated by geography, all in The Yorkshire Regiment will find the time for a short act of remembrance on November 11. While the focus is rightly on that generation who endured the horrors of the First World War, we will also remember our comrades who have fallen in more recent conflicts. In their memory, we invite you to pause and join us to remember.
Fortune Favours the Brave.
We will remember them.