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When the Lamps Went Out by Nigel Fountain

When the Lamps Went Out

by Nigel Fountain

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When the Lamps Went Out

The Manchester Guardian had a proud tradition in the early twentieth century for being proudly independent, liberal and representing those voices never heard from the London based newspapers. The paper had been edited by CP Scott for 42 years at that point and he had the ear of the Liberal elite in government and as war approached lobbied them hard and often.

With a foreword from the doyen of war reporters Kate Adie, Nigel Fountain the editor has delved in to the archives of the Guardian in 1914 from before the war, during the war then the aftermath and come up with some interesting articles from the paper by journalists and letter writers alike. Fountain uses the archives to show that everything was a rose tinted as some writers over the years have made things seem both before and during the war. The aftermath and devastation of the population nobody could hide or look at through rose tinted glasses.

In the first chapter we are reminded of the suffragette ‘raid’ on Buckingham Palace to the militant suffragettes being chased in Portsmouth campaigning for the vote. The death of another throwing herself under the Kings horse at the Derby, all in the hope of gaining women the vote, the vote so many have today but do not use. There are also constant reminders of the problems of Ireland and the problem with the Ulstermen causing trouble, somethings never really change.

Prior to the outbreak of the war The Manchester Guardian had been opposed to war and did as much as it could to campaign for peace, but when war came fell in behind the nation and supported the country in its fight. While supporting the war it was not slavishly so because Scott recognised that in war the young and innocent die as does innocence.

There are wonderful articles describing the tears when the German Ambassador and his wife left London and the embassy closed to the work preparing for war. The descriptions of war and refugees in Belgium written in such a way that has always set the excellent standards The Guardian works too today.

The descriptions of war and battle that can contain the minimum of real facts as set by war censorship still touch a nerve a century later. The high regard in which soldiers are help and that in towns and cities across the country how you could often see injured soldiers back from the front. To a letter from an officer describing the Christmas truce and the exchanging of gifts and the hope as 1914 ended. As the war years go the hope dies and the descriptions change as the war drags on, from describing the injured, the poison gas attacks to Gallipoli. A letter also about the Turkish genocide of Armenians forgotten by many then as now but The Guardian standing up for all peoples and not letting their story die silently.

This book is an edited testament to the honesty that CP Scott wanted in reporting the news, but also giving his readers the challenges along the way to make up their own minds when the facts are presented to them. The Manchester Guardian in this form gives a flavour of the reporting and readership of the time. All stories are poignant and this book does not pull any punches rather like its famous ancestor. To me as a historian and avid reader is the last article when in 1929 the author of All Quiet on the Western Front is visiting the trenches, that four years later the book would be one that was burnt by the Nazis during the burning of books.

A fabulous collection of articles from the Manchester Guardian make this book an interesting companion to the many other books that are being published with the century of the beginning of that war. To use part of Sir Edward Grey speech on 3rd August as the title is inspired and you could also argue those lights are still out now. ( )
  atticusfinch1048 | Aug 3, 2014 |
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'The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our life-time.' Sir Edward Grey, British foreign secretary, 3 August 1914. Drawing on a wealth of material from the Guardian archives, When the lamps went out presents a surprising, immediate, sometimes bleakly humorous, sometimes horrifying insight into life during the Great War. We see Boy Scouts patrolling the British coasts, David Lloyd George addressing women war workers, Charlie Chaplin impersonators on the Euston Road and Vesta Tilley at the Ardwick Empire. We see suffragist nurses on the Western Front and Bolsheviks in Glasgow, Pathan soldiers in Flanders and Anglo-Japanese armies in China. Small countries are saved - and aliens persecuted. New technologies - from picture houses to the first reports of gas weapons - are reported upon, as well as movie stars and John Buchan's bestsellers. The bloody battles, defeats, and victories are all here but this book focuses on the women, men and children who lived, loved, defied, perished and survived in the war to end all wars.… (more)

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