At the Eleventh Hour Britain's Great War


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At the Eleventh Hour

Series charting how the First World War affected Britain. Jeremy Paxman describes how the country came to the very brink of defeat in the last year of the war.


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This programme contains some scenes which some viewers may find upsetting.

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In 1918, the people of Britain were weary from four years of war

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and grief and deprivation.

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The news from the front was bleak.

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One of Britain's allies, Russia, had already given up the fight.

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America had, at last, joined the Allied cause,

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but could the power it promised arrive in time?

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The German war machine was beginning to look unbeatable.

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The final year of the war would take Britain to the very brink of defeat.

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The British people needed hope.

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They needed inspiration.

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They needed Sherlock Holmes.

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There hadn't been a Sherlock Holmes story in ten years,

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but Britain was in trouble,

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so Holmes' creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,

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decided it was time to bring his hero out of retirement.

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In His Last Bow, Holmes defeats a German secret agent

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bent on wrecking the British war effort.

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To try to reassure his readers

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that all the sacrifice had been worthwhile,

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Conan Doyle ended the story by having his hero turn

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to his trusty companion and say this...

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"There's an east wind coming,

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"such a wind as never blew on England yet.

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"It will be cold and bitter, Watson,

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"and a good many of us may wither before its blast.

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"But it's God's own wind nonetheless,

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"and a cleaner, better, stronger land will lie in the sunshine

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"when the storm has cleared."

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In fact, when the war ended,

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the Britain that emerged wasn't anything

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Conan Doyle could have imagined.

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What came out instead was modern Britain,

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a country any of us would recognise as the one in which we live.

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BIRDS TWEET

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Four years into the war,

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in quiet, respectable houses all over Britain,

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strange things were happening.

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This is the former home

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of the distinguished scientist Sir Oliver Lodge,

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a world authority on everything from atoms to X-rays.

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He moved here when he retired on the advice of his son, Raymond,

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which was extraordinary, really,

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because by that stage, Raymond had been dead for four years.

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In 1915, the Lodge family had received the news

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they'd been dreading.

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Their son, Raymond,

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had been mortally wounded by shrapnel in Flanders.

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His father was devastated.

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All hope for the future seemed to disappear.

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And then something very odd happened.

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A medium contacted the family

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to say that Raymond wanted to reach them from beyond the grave.

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They arranged a seance.

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Raymond appeared and told them he was living with his dead comrades

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in a place called Summerland,

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where they could still smoke cigars and drink whisky.

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But his father was a hard-headed scientist.

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He wanted proof that this really was his dead son speaking to him.

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It came at a session

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in which Raymond talked about a particular photograph.

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He described it.

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The family said they didn't know what he was talking about.

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He said, "Yes, the one where the officer behind me

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"is leaning on my shoulder."

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Now, as Sir Oliver told the story,

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four days later, an envelope arrived in the post.

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It contained this photo.

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In the front row, there is Raymond,

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and the officer behind him does seem to have his hand on his shoulder.

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For the Lodge family, this was all the evidence that was necessary

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to confirm that Raymond was indeed talking to them from the other side.

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In a country consumed by grief,

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the idea that the war dead were not dead at all,

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merely physically absent, proved hugely comforting.

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When Sir Oliver wrote a book about his experience called

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Raymond, Or Life And Death, it became an instant bestseller.

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Across Britain, the supernatural entered everyday life.

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People saw ghostly soldiers wandering the streets.

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The number of spiritualist organisations quadrupled.

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Some, at least, of the old certainties were crumbling.

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The war had left people desperate for reassurance.

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But, in early 1918, hope was in very short supply.

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Awful evidence of the war filled the streets of Britain.

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Men mutilated in battle were everywhere.

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Over 40,000 soldiers had lost a limb.

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Even more were coming back from the front blinded

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or with facial injuries.

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The trenches had been dug for protection.

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But the consequence of living in a hole in the ground

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was that when you tried to look and see what was happening elsewhere,

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you exposed your head and your face to new and terrible injury.

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If you were unlucky enough to have that happen to you,

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this was the best place you could hope to come.

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This country house became a refuge for those whose injuries

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had made them walking gargoyles.

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It was the creation of Sir Harold Gillies.

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The New Zealand-born surgeon had found his calling

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while treating wounded soldiers in France.

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He saw the need for a new kind of surgery to rebuild faces

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damaged beyond nightmare by the effects of modern weapons.

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He called his work a strange new art

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and, sick of amputating limbs,

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an alternative to what he called the surgery of destruction.

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The task of turning men who looked like monsters

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back into human beings seemed overwhelming.

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"Day after day," he wrote,

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"the tragic, grotesque procession disembarked from the hospital ships

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"and made its way towards us.

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"Men without half their faces,

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"men burned and maimed to the condition of animals."

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Dr Andrew Bamji is a former director of medical education

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at the hospital.

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In 1987, he discovered an extraordinary store

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of medical records associated with Harold Gillies' work.

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This is a chap called Stacey.

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He was in the Royal Naval division.

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He, basically, had a very simple repair.

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What Gillies has done is to use a technique

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that had been developed before by the French,

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which is to take a forehead flap

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and then slide it down over the nose.

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Here is a forehead flap that's been taken...

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-He's taken a flap of skin from up here...

-From the forehead, mm.

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And rolled it up and laid it...

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-And laid it down to fill over the gap.

-I see.

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What are the other ones you have here?

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-Stan Cohen was a tank officer.

-Poor chap.

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Here is a man who is not only seriously burned

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but he can't close his eyes.

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One of the techniques that Gillies invented

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was a technique of eyelid reconstruction.

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-Stan Cohen stayed working at the hospital until he died.

-Did he?

-Mm.

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He was a porter, and,

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-more poignantly, he was a night porter.

-Mm.

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He very rarely went out.

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He had no friends other than the nurses.

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Very interestingly, he ran a Sunday school class.

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He said he never minded being with children

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because children didn't show disgust, they only showed curiosity.

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I can't imagine how these men with some of these wounds

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could ever have beared to look at themselves in the mirror.

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Some of them couldn't.

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Some of them, in fact,

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went on to hide themselves away from the world

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so that no-one would see them.

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One of the things they were trained in at Sidcup was cinema projection.

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-In a darkened room?

-In a dark room.

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You arrived before the audience and you left after the audience.

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It's quite something to have to live with, though, isn't it?

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Even reconstructed, it still wasn't right.

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You didn't expect perfection in those days.

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In fact, you probably didn't expect to live with an injury like that.

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So, most of these people were utterly grateful

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for what had been done for them.

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They would cope with it in different ways.

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There were those who would joke.

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One chap had a skin graft from his backside onto his cheek.

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It always amused him, then,

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when his mother-in-law kissed him goodbye!

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Some of them were quite happy to flaunt themselves,

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but some of them, like Stan Cohen, hid themselves away.

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There was this whole spectrum of people

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who reacted in a different way.

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How intense was his experience?

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Quite extraordinary by modern standards.

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Nowadays, I suppose any surgeon

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who's done 100 facial reconstructions

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would be considered an expert.

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Gillies and his colleagues got through over 5,000 patients

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from World War I.

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So, it was a huge number.

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The sight of so many wounded was a dispiriting reminder

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of a war which seemed to have no end.

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Some wondered why we seemed incapable of victory.

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Might it somehow be our own fault?

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Could there be something rotten

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at the heart of the British ruling class?

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One man certainly thought so - the maverick MP Noel Pemberton Billing.

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Billing was a colourful self-publicist

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who believed Britain was being sabotaged

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by thousands of perverts in the pay of the Hun.

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He alleged that powerful figures in Britain had been corrupted

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by perverted German spies.

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They had used, he said,

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"Practices which all decent men thought had perished

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"in Sodom and Lesbia."

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His astonishing allegations found a ready audience among a people

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frustrated by their failure to win the war.

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They would also land him in court.

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On the morning of May the 29th, 1918,

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a great crowd gathered here outside the Old Bailey

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for what promised to be the most sensational court case

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in Britain for many years.

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It was a newspaperman's dream.

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It involved an exotic dancer, high politics, enemy spies

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and sexual deviancy.

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It threatened to blow the lid off the British establishment.

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According to Billing,

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47,000 prominent British people had been corrupted.

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Their names were written in a secret dossier

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which he called The Black Book.

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He claimed the book held the names of Cabinet ministers,

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Privy Councillors, poets, bankers, newspaper proprietors,

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even members of the King's household,

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and he said that the wives of senior public figures

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were in a special danger because,

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"In the throes of lesbian ecstasy,

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"the most sacred secrets of the state were betrayed."

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So, where were these degenerative traitors to be found?

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At the theatre.

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Specifically, at a private production

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of Oscar Wilde's banned play, Salome,

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starring the voluptuous actress Maud Allan.

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In an article entitled The Cult Of The Clitoris,

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Billing insinuated that the actress was having an affair

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with Margot Asquith, wife of the former Prime Minister.

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Billing was charged with criminal libel.

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Conducting his own defence, he used his trial as a platform

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to reveal to the nation how far the moral rot had spread.

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He called as a witness a woman who claimed to have seen the book

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listing all the people corrupted by the filthy German agents.

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"Is Mrs Asquith's name in the book?" he said.

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"Yes," she replied, "it is."

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"Is Mr Asquith's name in the book?"

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"It is." And he pointed at the judge.

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He said, "Is the judge's name in the book?"

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"It is!" she screamed. Complete chaos.

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It was nonsense, of course.

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But the judge, Mr Justice Darling, was out of his depth

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and rapidly lost control of proceedings.

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This absurd trial lasted six days.

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On June the 4th, the jury returned their verdict.

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Pemberton Billing was not guilty of libel.

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He left the court to thunderous applause

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and when he got onto the street here,

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his supporters threw flowers at his feet.

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Pemberton Billing's ridiculous rantings had struck a chord

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because people were worried

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and, at this stage of the war, there was much to be worried about.

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The balance of power at the front

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had shifted violently towards Germany.

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Having made a peace with Russia,

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Germany could now pour troops onto the Western Front.

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They now outnumbered the Allies by over 200,000 men

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and they were massing for an attack they believed would win the war.

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With British troops stretched to breaking point, their commander,

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Sir Douglas Haig, asked the Prime Minister for reinforcements.

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It would not be an easy meeting.

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The two men loathed each other.

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Lloyd George didn't trust Haig.

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He thought he was asking for more lives to be thrown away

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in another futile offensive.

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So, on March the 14th, 1918, Haig came here to beg for more troops.

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He was refused.

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Seven days later,

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the Germans unleashed the biggest offensive of the war.

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In the first five hours of the great spring attack,

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over a million shells were fired into British lines.

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In a conflict where success was measured in yards,

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the Germans advanced 40 miles in a single day.

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In his diary, the Secretary to the British War Cabinet wrote,

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"The Germans are fighting better than the Allies.

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"I cannot exclude the possibility of disaster."

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Haig made one last desperate rallying call.

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"Every position must be held to the last man.

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"There must be no retirement.

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"With our backs to the wall,

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"and believing in the justice of our cause,

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"we must all fight on to the end."

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The call to arms would be heard well beyond the trenches.

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The home front couldn't afford to buckle, either.

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The country's war machine had to be kept running.

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Lloyd George had once called the British workforce

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the least disciplined in Europe.

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Could they now be relied upon at this moment of crisis?

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Anyone searching for cracks in the nation's resolve

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might have come here, to the South Wales coalfield.

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In 1918, this place was considered

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the Wild West of industrial relations.

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The Welsh miners had been a thorn in the Government's side

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throughout the war, calling strike after strike.

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This, the finest steam coal in the world,

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was a vital part of the war effort.

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It drove the foundries, the forges, the explosives factories,

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it powered the warships,

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and it gave the men who extracted it tremendous power.

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It was a power they were prepared to use.

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Striking miners had almost crippled the mighty British Navy,

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leaving it with barely enough coal to keep the fleet at sea.

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By 1918, there'd already been trouble in the pits

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over the practice of combing out,

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that was, forcing men out of vital protected industries like this

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and into the Army.

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With the country now facing the real possibility of defeat,

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further industrial unrest could have been catastrophic.

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In fact, just the opposite happened.

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When it came to it, even the most bolshie miner

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wasn't prepared to see Britain lose the war.

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When asked to pull together for the sake of the troops,

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the response of the British workforce was emphatic.

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In all industries, strikes were suspended

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and people even turned out to work extra shifts.

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On the Clyde, thousands of shipbuilders gave up

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their Easter holiday to keep working.

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Recruiting offices saw a rush from men in protected jobs

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coming forward to enlist.

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TRAIN WHISTLE BLOWS

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The Minister for Munitions, Winston Churchill,

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could scarcely believe his eyes.

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"The response to our appeal to work over the holiday," he said,

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"was excellent. Indeed, almost embarrassing."

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At the very worst point in the war,

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the home front had not only held,

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it had risen to the challenge.

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The forces didn't lack for supplies,

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for ammunition or for weapons.

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This was one time in the nation's history

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when we really were all in it together.

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In Germany, it was a very different story.

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With German ports blockaded by the British Navy,

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the country was being slowly starved out of the war.

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Angry crowds took to the streets, demanding peace.

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Anti-war strikes crippled German industry.

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When a horse dropped dead in a Berlin street,

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the locals fell on it for meat.

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On the battlefield,

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the huge German spring offensive had failed to break the Allies.

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If anything, it had broken the Germans.

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Their plan had devoured men and ammunition.

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Troops were left exhausted, demoralised and lacking supplies.

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And as the German war machine began to fail,

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Britain's was at full throttle.

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By the summer of 1918, weapons were rolling off the production lines

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in greater numbers than ever before.

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Shells...

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..tanks...

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..guns...

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..and aircraft.

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This was what constituted air power in 1914. It's a box kite.

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It could be used a bit for aerial reconnaissance

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and it was pretty good for scaring the German horses,

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but that was about it.

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In the early years of the war,

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the skies above France were dominated by German warplanes.

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They were built better and flew better.

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They even looked more frightening.

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It took a long while for Britain to catch up.

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This is a Bristol F2B.

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It's bigger, it's stronger and it's easier to fly.

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It could also be fitted with wireless,

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which meant that you could coordinate attacks

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between aircraft and artillery, tanks and infantry on the ground.

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By 1918, the Allies were producing

0:26:230:26:26

four times as many aircraft like this as the Germans were.

0:26:260:26:31

If you've got a faster aeroplane, you can run away.

0:26:360:26:39

Dodge Bailey is one of the few pilots in Britain

0:26:390:26:42

who regularly fly these antique planes.

0:26:420:26:45

This aircraft was, if you like,

0:26:450:26:47

the multi-role combat aeroplane of its day - a jack of all trades.

0:26:470:26:50

It could do everything.

0:26:500:26:51

It was used for bombing, artillery spotting,

0:26:510:26:56

scaring off the enemy artillery spotters,

0:26:560:26:58

which was very important, and just fighting other aeroplanes.

0:26:580:27:02

It did everything well, the Bristol fighter.

0:27:020:27:05

It was a jack of all trades.

0:27:050:27:07

But, in the end, this is just...

0:27:070:27:08

-What is it? Canvas, or linen, or...?

-Irish linen.

0:27:080:27:12

-Irish linen.

-Yes.

0:27:120:27:13

-But it's... These are machine guns?

-Yes.

0:27:130:27:15

This one has two Lewis guns for the gunner to operate.

0:27:150:27:18

-But you're incredibly vulnerable inside it.

-You are. Yes.

0:27:180:27:21

If somebody can hit you, there's nothing between you and the bullets.

0:27:210:27:24

-This is just fabric.

-Yeah. What are they like to fly?

0:27:240:27:29

Well, they're all a bit different

0:27:290:27:30

because they hadn't really standardised things by this stage.

0:27:300:27:34

But this aeroplane was nearly there

0:27:340:27:36

and it's a really fantastic aeroplane to handle

0:27:360:27:39

and it flies pretty much like a modern aeroplane.

0:27:390:27:43

The danger and thrill of flying

0:27:520:27:53

attracted a particular kind of person.

0:27:530:27:57

The earliest military pilots came from the handful of aristocrats

0:27:570:28:00

and playboys with planes of their own.

0:28:000:28:04

Most were dead within weeks.

0:28:080:28:09

But with better planes came better tactics.

0:28:220:28:25

The romance of aerial dogfights

0:28:290:28:31

gave way to a more hard-headed use of these new machines.

0:28:310:28:37

As air cover for advancing troops,

0:28:370:28:41

for filming enemy positions

0:28:410:28:43

and guiding artillery strikes.

0:28:430:28:45

After four years of war, the Allies now owned the skies.

0:28:550:29:00

The point wasn't that new aircraft like this won the war,

0:29:160:29:19

although they obviously helped.

0:29:190:29:22

It was that Britain now had a tactically smarter,

0:29:220:29:25

better organised Army

0:29:250:29:27

capable of deploying men and machines to devastating effect

0:29:270:29:32

and it had so reorganised industry

0:29:320:29:34

that when one of these fell out of the sky,

0:29:340:29:37

there was another one to replace it.

0:29:370:29:39

By June 1918, the Allies knew that the tide was turning.

0:29:460:29:51

The war was about to change beyond all recognition

0:29:560:29:59

and at astonishing speed.

0:29:590:30:01

Over a million American soldiers swelled the Allied armies.

0:30:060:30:10

The agonising wait for reinforcement was over.

0:30:120:30:15

On August the 8th, a huge force was unleashed on the Germans.

0:30:190:30:23

The Allied advance proved irresistible.

0:30:320:30:35

On that first day, around 30,000 Germans had surrendered

0:30:360:30:40

or been killed or wounded.

0:30:400:30:42

The German commander General Ludendorff called it

0:30:510:30:54

the blackest day for the German Army in the entire war.

0:30:540:30:58

With the outnumbered Germans in retreat,

0:31:030:31:05

the stalemate of trench warfare was over.

0:31:050:31:08

At last, after years of stagnation,

0:31:130:31:17

the British soldiers were out of their trenches.

0:31:170:31:20

They were now fighting a war of territory, of movement,

0:31:200:31:24

of initiative, of opportunity,

0:31:240:31:26

and they knew that victory was in sight.

0:31:260:31:29

German forces did everything they could to slow the Allied advance,

0:31:370:31:41

including blowing the bridges across the strategic St Quentin Canal.

0:31:410:31:46

This was the last remaining bridge over the canal

0:31:510:31:54

and, without the use of it, advancing British soldiers

0:31:540:31:58

would have had to scramble down this incredibly steep bank,

0:31:580:32:03

get to the canal edge, jump in,

0:32:030:32:06

swim it and then climb up the other side,

0:32:060:32:09

all the time under German machine-gun fire.

0:32:090:32:13

Bullet holes on the bridge mark the moment on September the 8th

0:32:180:32:21

when British troops stumbled on a German demolition squad.

0:32:210:32:25

A lieutenant from the North Staffordshire Regiment

0:32:300:32:32

and his men reached this end of the bridge.

0:32:320:32:35

They looked across, they saw a group of Germans wiring explosives

0:32:350:32:39

ready to blow the thing up.

0:32:390:32:41

They charged them, firing every weapon they had

0:32:410:32:44

and they saved the bridge.

0:32:440:32:46

It was a very significant moment

0:32:530:32:55

and, as their commander addressed the troops on the banks

0:32:550:32:58

of the canal, the occasion for an astonishing photograph.

0:32:580:33:02

Captain TH Westmacott gave some sense of the excitement

0:33:150:33:20

in a letter he wrote home.

0:33:200:33:22

"It is difficult to realise what wonderful times we live in.

0:33:220:33:26

"I could not have believed it unless I had seen it

0:33:260:33:30

"that the same men who were driven back by the Germans in the spring

0:33:300:33:34

"could have so completely turned the tables in the autumn."

0:33:340:33:39

After four years of war, the end came remarkably quickly.

0:33:490:33:53

It took the Allies only 100 days from their first attack

0:33:570:34:01

to rout the demoralised German forces.

0:34:010:34:04

The Germans had no choice but to agree to an armistice -

0:34:060:34:10

officially a cease-fire but, in effect, a humiliating surrender.

0:34:100:34:14

They signed on the 11th of November, 1918.

0:34:160:34:20

"It was the day we had dreamed of,"

0:34:270:34:30

said a corporal in the Honourable Artillery Company.

0:34:300:34:33

"We were stunned.

0:34:330:34:35

"I should have been happy, but we were so dazed,

0:34:350:34:38

"we didn't realise we could stand up without being shot."

0:34:380:34:43

In London, expectant crowds gathered in Parliament Square

0:34:570:35:01

and waited for the sound that would prove the war was finally over.

0:35:010:35:06

Big Ben had been silenced at the outbreak of war.

0:35:090:35:12

Now, at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month,

0:35:130:35:18

it was about to strike again.

0:35:180:35:19

BIG BEN PEALS

0:35:220:35:24

CHEERING

0:35:240:35:25

It was the signal for a roar of relief and joy

0:35:330:35:38

and the start of celebrations which lasted three days.

0:35:380:35:41

In the House of Commons, Prime Minister Lloyd George

0:35:520:35:55

addressed the House, "I hope we may say that thus,

0:35:550:35:59

"this fateful morning, came an end to all wars."

0:35:590:36:04

In Trafalgar Square, revellers climbed on the lions

0:36:130:36:16

and seized buses.

0:36:160:36:19

Australians and Canadians led the way.

0:36:190:36:23

They tore down the advertising hoardings in Trafalgar Square

0:36:230:36:27

asking people to buy war bonds

0:36:270:36:28

and they lit an enormous bonfire right here under Nelson's Column.

0:36:280:36:34

The stones were left cracked and blackened as a consequence

0:36:340:36:38

and you can see the damage still here today.

0:36:380:36:42

The last physical reminder of that amazing day.

0:36:420:36:47

Soldiers recovering in a country hospital were told the news.

0:37:120:37:16

There, the reaction was rather different.

0:37:160:37:18

One of the men said the announcement was met with silence.

0:37:180:37:22

"Our world was gone," he said.

0:37:250:37:27

"A bloody world, a world of suffering,

0:37:270:37:30

"but also a world of laughter, excitement

0:37:300:37:33

"and comradeship beyond description.

0:37:330:37:35

"Now, we were just some of the wreckage left behind."

0:37:350:37:39

A schoolgirl recalled happy children shrieking their way home

0:37:450:37:49

and, as she left the school, she looked in on the geography room.

0:37:490:37:53

There was the geography teacher who'd been widowed in the war,

0:37:530:37:57

crying her eyes out.

0:37:570:37:59

There could hardly have been a soul in Britain that day

0:38:080:38:11

who wasn't torn by conflicting emotions.

0:38:110:38:15

Relief, exhaustion and joy that it was over, of course,

0:38:150:38:18

but tinged with a terrible sadness at the vast numbers of people

0:38:180:38:23

who would never come home.

0:38:230:38:25

The fighting might be over

0:38:260:38:28

but the British people now faced the challenge

0:38:280:38:30

of dealing with the tumultuous changes brought about by the war.

0:38:300:38:36

Right, girls, off you go to your lessons.

0:38:450:38:48

At Bournemouth High School For Girls, a senior mistress

0:38:530:38:56

had gathered her pupils together to issue them with a solemn warning.

0:38:560:39:00

"I have come to tell you," she began, "a terrible fact.

0:39:060:39:11

"Only one out of ten of you girls can ever hope to marry.

0:39:110:39:15

"This isn't a guess of mine, it's a statistical fact.

0:39:150:39:21

"Nearly all the men you might have married have been killed."

0:39:210:39:24

A horrifyingly large number of British soldiers

0:39:300:39:33

had died during the war

0:39:330:39:36

and it had started a national panic.

0:39:360:39:39

The Daily Mail worried itself to a fever

0:39:400:39:43

about the surplus of young women

0:39:430:39:45

who'd be driven to become marriage wreckers or lesbians.

0:39:450:39:49

It proposed exporting them to Australia or Canada

0:39:500:39:54

where they could hunt down husbands.

0:39:540:39:56

The senior mistress at Bournemouth urged her pupils

0:40:000:40:03

to see the apparent shortage of men as an opportunity.

0:40:030:40:07

"You will have to make your way in the world as best you can,"

0:40:090:40:12

she said.

0:40:120:40:13

"The war has made more openings for women,

0:40:130:40:17

"but there will still be prejudice.

0:40:170:40:19

"You'll have to fight, you'll have to struggle."

0:40:190:40:23

But the panic was based on a myth.

0:40:280:40:30

The myth of a lost generation.

0:40:300:40:33

Nearly three quarters of a million men had been killed -

0:40:350:40:39

a massive and terrible toll, for sure.

0:40:390:40:42

But five and a half million came back.

0:40:420:40:45

Nine in ten soldiers survived,

0:40:450:40:48

not one in ten, as the teacher had claimed.

0:40:480:40:51

Emotion had proved more powerful than fact.

0:40:540:40:57

The point wasn't that they were women

0:41:030:41:06

alone in the world without men, because many of them weren't.

0:41:060:41:10

The point was that the war had enabled them

0:41:100:41:12

to change how they thought about life.

0:41:120:41:15

It had forced them into occupations previously reserved for men

0:41:150:41:20

and, now the war was over, they could make their own decisions

0:41:200:41:23

about what they wanted to do with their lives.

0:41:230:41:26

Women's expectations had changed.

0:41:300:41:33

There could be no going back.

0:41:370:41:38

The war would have far-reaching consequences for millions of people,

0:41:550:41:59

including some of the most privileged in the land.

0:41:590:42:03

At the end of the war, this was the largest estate in Cornwall.

0:42:090:42:14

The man who stood to inherit was the Honourable Tommy Agar-Robartes.

0:42:180:42:23

His was a gilded, privileged start in life.

0:42:280:42:32

First Eton, then Oxford,

0:42:320:42:34

and membership of the elite Bullingdon club.

0:42:340:42:37

He was a Member of Parliament before he was 30.

0:42:400:42:44

His habit of sporting a buttonhole of violets

0:42:440:42:47

earned the title of the best dressed man in Parliament.

0:42:470:42:52

But when war was declared, he told his friends

0:42:520:42:55

he was desperate "To do my little bit."

0:42:550:42:59

He gave up his seat and joined the Army.

0:43:000:43:03

In 1915, he was sent to France.

0:43:030:43:05

This is the case he took with him when he was sent to the front.

0:43:080:43:11

They didn't travel light. As you can see, it's extremely heavy.

0:43:110:43:15

It's full of wooden containers, metal containers,

0:43:150:43:20

tools for pulling your boots on,

0:43:200:43:22

a trench periscope for looking up over the top of the trench

0:43:220:43:25

into no-man's-land.

0:43:250:43:27

And here, a container of what's thought to be rouge,

0:43:270:43:31

which you could dab on your cheeks

0:43:310:43:33

to make yourself look less deathly pale from fear

0:43:330:43:37

as you went out on an attack.

0:43:370:43:39

It's all that's left of him now.

0:43:400:43:41

On September the 30th, 1915,

0:43:480:43:51

Tommy had been killed at the Battle of Loos - shot by a sniper

0:43:510:43:56

while trying to rescue a wounded soldier in no-man's-land.

0:43:560:43:59

At his memorial service, it was said of him,

0:44:030:44:06

"No man in this adventure of life weighed danger more cheaply

0:44:060:44:11

"against what he called the fun of it.

0:44:110:44:14

"He went gallantly off to France,

0:44:150:44:17

"just as if he were taking a fence on a horse."

0:44:170:44:21

The terrible thing is that men like Tommy Agar-Robartes are seen

0:44:270:44:32

so much nowadays as figures of fun - upper-class twits

0:44:320:44:36

who went off to war because it seemed a bit of a lark.

0:44:360:44:40

They are so far from our experience of life

0:44:400:44:43

that it is much easier to snigger at them than to admire them

0:44:430:44:48

but they, too, felt horror and they felt fear...

0:44:480:44:52

and they faced them both down.

0:44:520:44:54

The war took a heavy toll on the upper classes.

0:45:010:45:04

Many of their sons were quick to volunteer.

0:45:050:45:08

As officers, they were expected to lead from the front.

0:45:090:45:12

As a result, they were five times as likely to die as an ordinary Tommy.

0:45:120:45:18

There were times in the war when the life expectancy of a lieutenant

0:45:200:45:24

was said to be six weeks.

0:45:240:45:26

The death of Tommy Agar-Robartes seemed to break the family's spirit.

0:45:330:45:38

It signalled the end of this great estate,

0:45:390:45:41

which shrank to a fraction of its former size.

0:45:410:45:44

Ancient families crippled by death duties

0:45:460:45:49

and with a son who might have inherited killed in the war

0:45:490:45:53

found themselves forced to sell up.

0:45:530:45:56

By the end of 1919, it was reckoned that over a million acres

0:45:560:46:00

of England and Wales had gone under the hammer.

0:46:000:46:03

It was a sort of revolution.

0:46:030:46:04

The sell-off brought to an end

0:46:090:46:11

the almost feudal power of the landed gentry.

0:46:110:46:14

But if the war created some unexpected losers,

0:46:180:46:21

there were also some unexpected winners.

0:46:210:46:24

The people who did best were the poor.

0:46:270:46:30

Especially the very poor.

0:46:300:46:32

The writer Robert Roberts grew up in a corner shop

0:46:360:46:40

in a typical Salford slum.

0:46:400:46:42

He saw first-hand how the very poor lived, or tried to live.

0:46:430:46:47

To eat - bread with a scrape of margarine or jam or dripping.

0:46:490:46:55

If it was a special occasion, perhaps a pot of tea,

0:46:550:46:58

but hardly ever any eggs, any milk or any meat.

0:46:580:47:03

To live - three damp rooms for a family of eight

0:47:030:47:08

with children sleeping four to a bed.

0:47:080:47:11

Hardly surprising, then,

0:47:110:47:13

that the mortality rate among children was one in four.

0:47:130:47:17

That was twice what it was among soldiers at the front.

0:47:170:47:20

No wonder so many of them failed their Army medical

0:47:250:47:28

when they tried to join up.

0:47:280:47:30

Those that did enlist were delighted to find it meant a full stomach.

0:47:300:47:34

"Meat every day," they said,

0:47:360:47:37

just as the recruiting sergeants had promised.

0:47:370:47:40

When they came back from the war, they were fitter, broader

0:47:400:47:44

and stronger than when they'd left.

0:47:440:47:46

Robert Roberts called the Great War the Great Release

0:47:490:47:53

because, quite apart from the demands of the Army,

0:47:530:47:56

there was a need for masses of labour

0:47:560:48:00

and that meant that those who had previously

0:48:000:48:02

been part-timers or casual labourers or unemployed

0:48:020:48:06

could suddenly earn good money and feed themselves.

0:48:060:48:10

Across the counter of his parents' shop, Roberts noted that,

0:48:170:48:21

for the first time ever,

0:48:210:48:22

the customers had money in their pockets all week.

0:48:220:48:25

His respectable shopkeeper parents were appalled

0:48:270:48:30

at the new wealth these people were enjoying.

0:48:300:48:33

Robert Roberts' father described how, just before Christmas,

0:48:370:48:41

a well-paid young woman from one of the local munitions factories

0:48:410:48:45

came into his corner shop and asked him why he hadn't got,

0:48:450:48:49

"Summat worth chewin'?"

0:48:490:48:51

He was pretty annoyed and he asked her what she meant, and she said,

0:48:510:48:54

"Well, tins of lobster or some of them big jars of pickled gherkins."

0:48:540:49:00

Britain was beginning to look like a different country.

0:49:070:49:11

Full employment had pushed up living standards. Fewer babies were dying.

0:49:110:49:17

Men and women lived longer.

0:49:190:49:20

Curbs on drink had cut drunkenness and domestic violence.

0:49:220:49:25

A third of all workers had joined a union.

0:49:270:49:31

And to repay its debt to the people of Britain,

0:49:310:49:33

the Government had given all men and some women the right to vote.

0:49:330:49:37

The anti-war Labour MP Ramsay McDonald decided that

0:49:400:49:43

the demands of the war had done more for social reform

0:49:430:49:47

than all the political campaigns before it.

0:49:470:49:50

LAST POST PLAYS

0:49:590:50:01

This corner of a foreign field

0:50:090:50:11

belongs to the oldest regiment in the British Army,

0:50:110:50:14

the Honourable Artillery Company.

0:50:140:50:16

The regiment lost 1,600 men in the war.

0:50:210:50:25

Today, it's burying four of them.

0:50:270:50:29

They were killed in battle at Boulancourt, a mile or so away,

0:50:330:50:37

and their bodies had lain in the field where they fell

0:50:370:50:40

until they were finally uncovered nearly 100 years later.

0:50:400:50:44

The bodies were discovered by a French farmer.

0:50:490:50:52

It's not an uncommon experience

0:50:520:50:54

if you live and work on the former battlefields.

0:50:540:50:58

Every year, a number of corpses are disinterred

0:50:580:51:02

and then buried in military cemeteries.

0:51:020:51:04

There's often no way to identify these bodies.

0:51:100:51:13

Two of the men buried here today remain unknown.

0:51:160:51:19

On their headstones is written,

0:51:200:51:23

"A soldier of the Great War known unto God."

0:51:230:51:26

But two bodies were identified.

0:51:280:51:30

31-year-old Lieutenant John Harold Pritchard

0:51:370:51:40

had taken the precaution of wearing an identity bracelet.

0:51:400:51:45

Private Christopher Douglas Elphick was identified

0:51:450:51:48

because one of the fingers of his skeleton

0:51:480:51:51

was still wearing a signet ring engraved with his initials.

0:51:510:51:54

Almighty God, protect all who serve in the Forces of the Queen...

0:51:580:52:04

..strengthen us...

0:52:060:52:08

Today, their relatives are guests of honour at the ceremony.

0:52:110:52:15

..through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

0:52:150:52:19

Was he a sort of active absence, as it were, in your family?

0:52:200:52:24

Yes, I think that's true, because we all...

0:52:240:52:27

we had a photograph of him as a child

0:52:270:52:29

from when he was at St Paul's Cathedral as a chorister

0:52:290:52:31

and that was all the photographs that we knew we had,

0:52:310:52:34

but my nan used to talk about him occasionally.

0:52:340:52:37

It was very painful for her to talk about him. So, it wasn't...

0:52:370:52:40

He wasn't very active, but he was there.

0:52:400:52:43

-And he was what relation to your nan? He was...?

-He was the brother.

0:52:430:52:46

-Her brother.

-Yes. He was her brother. He was her older brother.

0:52:460:52:48

And did she know what had become of him?

0:52:480:52:51

No, they knew he'd been killed in France.

0:52:510:52:53

I'm not even sure they knew where he'd been killed,

0:52:530:52:55

but we have subsequently found that out as a family.

0:52:550:52:59

And the fact that, all that time, the best part of 100 years,

0:52:590:53:03

there was no grave you could go to - what effect did that have?

0:53:030:53:07

I think that it was a missing link, it wasn't a fully completed story,

0:53:070:53:12

and I think what's happened today

0:53:120:53:13

is that we have finally closed the circle

0:53:130:53:16

and we've done it for my great-grandmother, who links us all,

0:53:160:53:19

and, finally, everything has come to completion.

0:53:190:53:22

I can't tell you how fulfilling that is, actually.

0:53:220:53:25

And if people were to say to you,

0:53:250:53:27

"Look, it's all just ancient history now..."?

0:53:270:53:29

It's living history.

0:53:290:53:31

It really is living history. It has brought history to life.

0:53:310:53:34

For the generations that were here today, for those youngsters,

0:53:340:53:37

they now have a real understanding of a person

0:53:370:53:41

who fought for his country, he died for his country,

0:53:410:53:45

and we now have somewhere that we can visit and remember

0:53:450:53:48

and reflect upon that.

0:53:480:53:50

LAST POST PLAYS

0:53:510:53:53

GUNFIRE SALUTE

0:54:220:54:23

Even before the war ended,

0:54:300:54:32

cities, towns and villages all across Britain

0:54:320:54:35

had begun to build memorials to the dead.

0:54:350:54:38

Over 5,000 went up in the two years following the Armistice.

0:54:480:54:53

Some, a few, celebrated victory.

0:54:550:54:57

Most spoke of sacrifice.

0:55:050:55:07

Men remembering their dead comrades,

0:55:080:55:11

the ordinary soldier rather than the commander.

0:55:110:55:15

In the village of Briantspuddle, Dorset,

0:55:210:55:24

the war memorial was unveiled on November the 12th, 1918,

0:55:240:55:27

the day after the war ended.

0:55:270:55:29

At the dedication of this memorial,

0:55:350:55:37

the Bishop of Salisbury wondered whether there was really any need

0:55:370:55:41

for further reminders of the war,

0:55:410:55:43

and he answered his own question, yes.

0:55:430:55:46

Because there would be future generations

0:55:460:55:49

who would lead lives crowded with happenings

0:55:490:55:52

and they needed to be warned, lest they forget.

0:55:520:55:56

Lest they forget.

0:55:560:55:58

We haven't forgotten the horror or the grief of those terrible years.

0:56:130:56:18

But there was another story too,

0:56:190:56:22

of how the war changed the country we live in.

0:56:220:56:25

It had forced Governments to take on responsibilities

0:56:270:56:30

they would never have dreamed of before -

0:56:300:56:34

for the conditions in which people lived,

0:56:340:56:37

for the rents they paid and the food they ate, for the wages they earned.

0:56:370:56:43

It left us a more equal country and a more democratic one.

0:56:450:56:50

Later generations would contend it had been a futile war.

0:56:550:56:59

The war was terrible, certainly, but hardly futile.

0:57:000:57:04

It stopped the German conquest of much of Europe

0:57:070:57:11

and perhaps even of villages like this.

0:57:110:57:14

Never before in the nation's history

0:57:220:57:24

had a war required the commitment and the sacrifice

0:57:240:57:28

of the whole population

0:57:280:57:29

and, by and large, for four years,

0:57:290:57:32

the British people kept faith with it.

0:57:320:57:34

It wasn't a war they had sought

0:57:340:57:36

and, had they known how it would turn out,

0:57:360:57:38

they doubtless wouldn't have joined in, but they hadn't known,

0:57:380:57:42

they couldn't have known,

0:57:420:57:44

any more than the politicians or the generals could have known

0:57:440:57:47

and, once it had started, there was no way of stopping it

0:57:470:57:50

any more than you could suddenly make the dead start to walk again.

0:57:500:57:54

A century on, we should perhaps remember and respect that sacrifice

0:57:540:58:01

and realise that, more than any other event,

0:58:010:58:04

this was the one that made modern Britain.

0:58:040:58:07

Jeremy Paxman describes how the country came to the very brink of defeat in the last year of the war. Grieving parents held seances to contact their dead sons, surgeons battled to rebuild the faces of the wounded, and a maverick MP tried to pin the blame for the crisis on a conspiracy of sexual deviants in government.

And then, dramatically, the tide of battle turned, and exhausted Britons found themselves weeping for joy as the armistice was signed. The nation began to count the cost of four years of war, revealing some surprising winners as well as losers.