First World War Centenary: Glasgow switches from sporting triumph to sober recollection


Political Correspondent

From the ecstasy of sporting glory to the the hell and horror of remembered war.

After welcoming the world for almost two weeks of athletic contest at the Commonwealth Games, Glasgow fell quiet yesterday as locals and visitors reflected on a time when international rivalries had darker consquences.

At 9.30am, a half hour before the gathered dignitaries including Prince Charles David Cameron were fully seated in Glasgow Cathedral for a special service to mark the outbreak of the Great War, eight-year old Cooper Black from the nearby town of Cambuslang was already in place and proudly holding his ticket in George Square in the city centre.


Last year Cooper travelled to the Somme battlefield with his father and his sister Eva. He said he wanted to visit the square - the site of the main UK cenotaph commemoration - to “thank the soldiers because they fought for us.”

Along the line from the Black family - and wearing the bright yellow officials’ jacket that he had worn to the Games - was Alan Juleosi from the tiny South Pacific island state of Niue. He wished to pay his respects in person “because my grandfather joined up the day the war started.”

The Polynesian island, with a population of 1,190 is the size of small parish. But Alan’s grandfather, like others, joined the larger New Zealand force that sent its young men to Europe.

A few paces away, a Commonwealth athlete from the South Atlantic island of St Helena also paid his respects. If he had been born 100 years earlier, Lee Yoen might have signed up for one of the Scottish regiments with which his nation had ties and fought in the trenches, rather than travel to Europe to play badminton for his country.

People viewed wreaths laid at the cenotaph in George Square People viewed wreaths laid at the cenotaph in George Square (Getty) He admitted to “not listening in school” when the First World War was being taught. “But it interests me now.”

In the cathedral a few miles away, broadcaster Sir Trevor McDonald promised that over the next four years – the duration of the war – more would be heard of the “courage and suffering” of who those who fought and gave their lives.

There are dangers in such services of remembrance that war itself looks like it is being celebrated.

Inside the cathedral, there were evident efforts to prevent that. Acknowledgement of the “mixed feelings of the legacy” left by the conflict were stated; that more could have been done diplomatically to prevent it. Gordon Campbell, the Canadian High Commissioner, spoke of the “flaming wind of war”.

Ranjan Mathai, India’s High Commissioner, used the words of a Punjabi Rajpuyt soldier to describe the rendezvous with death and the horrific truths that those not on the frontline never fully appreciated at the time.  “Do not think this is war. This is not war. It is the ending of the world,” the soldier wrote.

Perhaps the most moving reading came from Joanne Thomson. Recently graduated from Glasgow’s Royal Conservatoire, she took on the role of the young wife of the Welsh poet Edward Thomas, who knew when waving goodbye to her officer husband, it would be the last time she would see him alive. In character and close to tears she said “there was nothing but the mist and snow and the silence of death.”

The 11 days of competition at Glasgow 2014 were timed to end the day before the centenary of the Great War. It ensured that representatives from across the Commonwealth were in Scotland to mark what one speaker called the “day the world changed … and the memory of which still haunts us.”

A former serviceman places a poppy to mark the centenary A former serviceman places a poppy to mark the centenary (Getty) However one army major in George Square, there to pay respects, but not part of the official service, remarked that although the lessons of the Great War are taught, it was “never the war to end all wars”. Conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere reveal that war remains an enduring political reflex, and is not always the end result of failed diplomacy.

In the square, the Duke of Rothesay – as the Prince of Wales in known in Scotland – laid the first wreath of the cenotaph ceremony. Further wreaths were gently placed by the Prime Minister, the Deputy PM, Nick Clegg, the Labour leader, Ed Milband, and the heads of the UK’s three devolved parliaments, including Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister. Scores of Commonwealth representatives followed.

The pipes and drums of the Scots Guards, the band of the Parachute Regiment, and representatives of the army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, all stood silent. And as a lone bugler played the Last Post, two women in a corner of the square lifted a small home-made banner embroidered with the words “Lest we Forget”.

But we do. Less than a year after the Great War ended in 1919, the coalition government in Westminster ordered troops and tanks into George Square to quell angry trade union demonstrations demanding lower working hours to ease growing post-war unemployment.

A 4.5 Howitzer field gun was placed outside the City Chambers. David Cameron and Prince Charles stood in almost the same spot for the service’s march-past.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
tvGame of Thrones season 5 ep 4, review - WARNING: contains major spoiliers!
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living