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The Things We Forgot To Remember - World War One

Updated Wednesday 22nd November 2006

As part of the Things We Forgot To Remember series, Michael Portillo investigated why we only think of slaughter and loss when we recall the Great War

Actors portraying First World War soldiers Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC

We rightly remember the Somme in 1916 as a bloody metaphor for the seemingly senseless slaughter of World War One – but why is it the only thing we remember?

The Battle of the Somme, especially its first day (July 1st 1916), seems to take precedence in our collective memory. Lines of British troops killed by German machine guns. Tactical ineptitude and useless sacrifice, with Douglas Haig as the chief 'Donkey'.

But two questions arise: if it was all like that, then how come the British won the war in the end? And given that the British did win, how come we forgot about it, and instead commemorate something that looks like a defeat?

We have forgotten to remember that we learnt lessons, and ultimately won the war. The reasons for that tell us as much about the political agenda of those who came after the war as it does about those who fought hard for victory.

You can read a transcript of this programme.

First broadcast: Monday 16 May 2005 on BBC Radio 4


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