The Legacy

It is argued by many historians that the First World War changed the world and marked the start of modern history, leaving a legacy so vast that it still shapes our everyday lives today. It is perhaps hard to grasp, but it is a fact that every one of our parishioners, in giving their own lives, contributed to parts of that legacy.

So what does this legacy look like? Well, some everyday items which have their origins in the war include: passports, poppies, canned food, wristwatches, trench coats. Medical advances were made; plastic surgery was developed to deal with the vast number of disfigured soldiers; shell shock informed mental health treatment methods. The mechanisation of weaponry, use of technology, conscription, the horror of mass killing by poisonous gas and the effect of propaganda, all evolved in the war.

At home the emancipation of women came about quickly after war ended, as did Irish independence and the wider break-up of the British Empire. Worldwide, the borders of Europe and the Middle East were re-drawn and America began its rise to becoming a super power.

Pacifism evolved but so too did individuals influenced by the war and its outcome, most notably Adolf Hitler.

But what about the legacy left by the individuals, our parishioners, the soldiers who left their homes in towns such as Rawtenstall to fight for their country, never to return. What part of their history remains with us today as part of our community heritage?

Well, to try and assess what our parishioner soldiers would most want to be remembered for – their over-arching legacy – we have spoken to their known, living relatives who, in turn, remember conversations, discussions or just ‘things being said’ within their families, about their soldiers’ deaths. From this, we can say that the most important aspect of their legacy, for which they would want to be remembered, is their belief that they gave their lives for our future freedom.

It must surely be this belief that inspired the words of John Maxwell Edmonds’ First World war epitaph:


When you go home,
Tell them of us and say,
For your tomorrow,
We gave our today.

John Maxwell Edmond
“We had a rough time in the trenches, had a few casualties but I got out safe, had a few narrow escapes but was lucky. Going in and out was almost as bad as being in. The party that relieved us had nine knocked out on the road, they had to pass a building that was on fire: they warned us but when we got to that spot we made a dash past. It is called Hell Fire Corner and is shelled from two sides. We heard yesterday that a lot of them have been gassed also since. We move up to the same place tonight and we are in for it this time. We have to go over the top at 7.30 in the morning”
Private Albert Hunt, September 1917.


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