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Letters: The Great War’s many victims

These letters appear in the July 14 edition of the Independent

Boyd Tonkin’s superb coda to your impressive series “A History of the Great War in 100 Moments” (12 July) rightly mentions the victims that the war was to claim after it ended.

One of these was the German Centre Party politician Matthias Erzberger, whom Tonkin includes specifically for his unenviable role in leading the German delegation at the armistice negotiations.

This remarkable but neglected figure, who by 1917 had become a prominent advocate of a negotiated end to the war, is regarded as one of the founders of the postwar German republic. He also became the target of a hate campaign by the far right in the years immediately after the war ended and was assassinated by two naval officers acting as political contract killers for the organisation that later also organised the murder of the Weimar Republic foreign minister Walter Rathenau.

Erzberger’s two assassins were beneficiaries of an unconstitutional amnesty brought in by the Nazi government in 1933, but were eventually imprisoned after the Second World War. One of the two, Heinrich Tillessen, who became consumed by remorse for Erzberger’s assassination, was eventually pardoned in 1958 (Erzberger’s widow had spoken in favour of this).

It is to be hoped that your series, which commendably included German perspectives on the war and important German figures such as Matthias Erzberger, has opened windows for your readers on to the fascinating panorama of German history in the early 20th century. This would be a fitting outcome of your centenary commemoration of the beginning of the First World War.

David Head

Navenby, Lincolnshire


“Would you kill a single person to save the lives of hundreds of other people?” is an old philosophical and moral question. What then to make of the decision taken by Allied generals on  8 November 1918 to postpone the armistice until the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month? During this period 6,750 soldiers were slaughtered, 2,738 of them between 5.12am (the time of the signing of the documents of the armistice) and 11am on the 11th.

With a single command these lives could have been saved. Of all the terrible, despicable acts of the war, this final act stands head and shoulders above all others as the most egregious, callous and heinous single act.

It exposes the cant of warmongering politicians, generals and majors that the lives of our soldiers are of paramount concern to them; very obviously they are not. Apologists for warmongers will no doubt point out that this happened a long time ago, and claim that things have since changed. But look at our recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and tell me that, once again, the lives of ordinary soldiers haven’t been sacrificed to further the personal ambitions of the political and officer classes. We can be proud of the soldiers who fought for us in wars, but should be sickened and appalled by the politicians and officers who sent them to their deaths.

These articles should be required reading for anyone contemplating a life in the armed forces. I suspect they would persuade many to pursue an alternative  career path.

Barry Richards



I remember three of my grandparents with affection but I was never to meet the fourth, my mother’s father, Arthur Cannon.

He taught, for many years, the two senior classes of a secondary school in Sheffield. When the First World War broke out, many of the boys he had taught went to fight for their country, and many of them never returned.

My grandfather looked each week at the lists of those killed – these bright, promising pupils he had so enjoyed teaching. Understandably he lapsed into a deep and protracted depression. There were no anti-depressants and no psychiatrists to help him.

In 1918 his 10-year-old son, Roy, was killed by falling from a wall and fracturing his skull. My grandfather blamed himself for his son’s death. But I think it is more likely that this was illogical guilt – a well-known symptom of certain kinds of depression.

In 1922 my grandfather visited his brother – a fruit farmer in Huntingdon – and hanged himself in a barn.

I think of him with sadness as a casualty of war.

Joan E Allen



 “A History of the Great War in 100 Moments” has been a relentlessly poignant reminder of the futility of human conflict embodied in this catastrophe. Boyd Tonkin’s concluding contribution is almost too upsetting to read, amplifying as it does the events of the final six hours of warfare and the impact on people involved in events.

This series should be required reading for our schoolchildren.

David Bracey

Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire


Health hazards of wearing the niqab

Niqab wearing is unacceptable for more reasons than those cited by Paula Jones (letter, 11 July). It is a health hazard;

blocking skin from natural sunlight deprives the body of vitamin D. Forcing niqabs on to young schoolgirls, for whom vitamin D is important for growth, is child abuse. Pregnant women wearing niqabs are abusing their unborn children. The Victorian disease of rickets, caused by vitamin D deficiency, is returning. In February this year, a (non-Muslim) couple were jailed for the manslaughter of their five-month-old son, who died from acute rickets because they rejected medical advice on religious grounds.

David Crawford

Bromley, Kent


On the subject of concealment: when the correspondence on the niqab started, by a nice chance the same issue of The Independent carried a feature on the sun-shade fetish. Though I am not paranoid, walking the high street and encountering the many who now sport them whatever the weather, it’s natural to wonder if you are being scrutised incognito by those concealed eyes.

This seems of minor import until, in a pub garden on a hot day, you see a couple  – both with eyes blacked out – with a baby unable to see its parents’ eyes. If anyone asks what damage it does, I’d say this was a crime; yet no one in the public domain has so far questioned it.

David Kuhrt

Forest Row, East Sussex


Personally, I find people deliberately exposing their underwear more offensive than people covering their faces. In the interests of “observing prevailing social norms” may we expect timely legislation to address this issue?

Edmund Tierney

London N6


The received wisdom among your columnists and correspondents seems to be that the wearing of the niqab is all about female inferiority and subjugation.

Does it not also imply that all men are potential sexual predators, from whom women need to be protected? As a mother of three sons, I find this equally as disturbing.

Sue Holder

Aberaeron, Ceredigion


Russian donations to the Tory party

The revelation of the huge donations to the Tory party coffers by New Century Media (report, 4 July), raises the question of what influence the oligarchs have on British government policy towards the imposition of sanctions on Russia? At present, the imposed sanctions have been quite limited and hardly touched Putin or the oligarchs.

As Putin and his rich friends disregard human rights, invade and annexe Ukrainian territory, rewrite post-Second World War borders, and support terrorist action, the Conservatives seem quite happy to take Russian money.

What price the lives of Ukrainian and ethnic Russian civilians and European stability in Putin’s mad power game? The answer, it seems, is whatever fills the Conservatives’ election collection box.

R Suchyj



A Scotland free of incompetence?

Your editorial “A misty future” (11 July), about Scotland’s future post-referendum, made me laugh out loud. To quote: “It may be that a succession of brilliantly wise ministries creates an economy that is the envy of the developed world. On the other hand, the people of Scotland might elect a series of incompetents.”

Very true, seeing that the UK as a whole is currently suffering from the incompetents it elected in 2010. Perhaps it is that incompetence the Scots are seeking independence from.

Lesley Docksey

Buckland Newton, Dorset


House arrest would suffice for harris

I hold no brief for the actions of Rolf Harris but vindictive media treatment and claims that a six-year sentence for an 84-year-old is too lenient are in themselves alarming (report, 7 July). The fact is that when these crimes were committed, an offender was not punished in this way and we are locking away a growing number of infirm, confused old men.

Elsewhere in Europe sex offenders over 70 are given house arrest and a similar sentence is surely more appropriate for geriatrics who clearly no longer pose a threat to anyone.

Rev Dr John Cameron

St Andrews