Graduate RA Michael Golen recounts his experience as a student on the BU London programme below, for our WWI Centenary mini-series:
When choosing my electives for the study abroad program two years ago, I was immediately drawn to the “London at War” course when I saw the title. Both of my grandfathers fought in the Second World War and, in Russia still, it remains the
most revered event of the 20th century. Professor Putkowski’s course helped me learn that when the British think of The War, they are usually referred to The Great War (World War One) – a conflict I knew relatively little about at the time.
After a few weeks spent in class discussions, the class went on a field trip to Ypres, a small town in Belgium around which some of the heaviest fighting of the War occurred. This trip helped contextualize much of the material covered in the course. I distinctly remember walking through the poppy-laden battlefields and cemeteries while hearing about the conditions of the front and the hundreds of thousands of causalities that laid down their lives. I had to reconcile these figures with the knowledge that this conflict was ultimately aimless – this was not a battle of good versus evil and there was no Hitler figure. This was a series of alliances between frustrated nations that spiralled out of control.
I was again struck by the parallels to the Russian commemoration of WW2 at the Menin Gate, an ornate arch in the middle of Ypres built in commemoration to The Great War.
Everyday, without interruption, the “Last Post” ceremony is performed by a fire brigade in thanks for the forces that defended Belgium. I remember being impressed by this town’s efforts to keep the memory of the War alive, as its more dramatic sequel often overshadows it.
If you would like to take part or observe any WWI Centenary commemorations in person, please click here. The lauded Tower of London Exhibit, “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red” exhibit is on till 11 November and is free.