The One-Hundredth Anniversary of the Beginning of The Great War
Leaves of Time
On August the 4th 2014, one hundred years have elapsed since the
beginning of the First World War, The Great War, The War To End All
Wars. In retrospect we know that the last two statements have proved
untrue. We also know that conflict, destruction, inhumanity and terror
are all still very much evident amongst peoples and countries around the
globe. Little has changed, Man still has the ability to shackle, enslave
and brutalize Man.
However, with the anniversary of World War One, which of course was not
titled so until the beginning of World War two, I am interested in the
stories of those singular peoples who were caught up, thrown together
and torn apart by the tumult of that time.
To that end, please read on.
The date was August the 4th 1914. This is the date that war was declared
by Briton against Germany.
The previous day a proclamation was issued by the King of England
mobilizing the British Fleet. Young men of the country begin to muster
in Hyde Park.
And on that day a young woman by the name of Miller, in company with her
mother Clara, was hurrying to Salisbury to meet up with her beau before
he was to leave for Southampton with his flying squadron, and from there
The Great War ended in 1918. There is a famous photo of celebrations in
London with Big Ben in the background registering 11 o'clock.
Hostilities had ceased on the eleventh month, on the eleventh day, at
When the Peace Treaty at Versailles was drawn up on June the 28th 1919
The League Of Nations was also brought into being.
And the young woman who had fare-welled her man at the beginning of the
war was now married to him and had welcomed him back at wars end.
Her life had altered irrevocably, as had her name. She was no longer
Miss Agatha Miller.
She was now Mrs. Agatha Christie.
But it is to the events of those four war years and what befell both she
and her husband, Archie Christie, that we now turn.
The first British Expeditionary Force was commanded by Sir John French,
and the Royal Flying Corps, founded two years earlier, was still
considered only useful for observation.
However Archie Christie's No 3 squadron had moved across northern France and on Sept. 12th arrived at Feve-en-Tardenous.
The Battle of the Marne, saw the Germans beaten back into Belgium's
territory where they began to dig in.
Here began the terrible trench warfare that would endure for the next
Agatha Christie was now working with the V.A.D. Voluntary Aid
Detachment, in Torquay.
Archie was swiftly mentioned in despatches from Field Marshall French to
Field Marshall Lord Kitchener, Secretary of State for war, regarding the
battles of Mons, the Marne and the Aisne.
Horatio Herbert Kitchener, (His iconic image used for the recruiting
posters announcing that 'Your Country needs You'), was to live only
until June 5, 1916, dying aboard the mined cruiser H.M.S.Hampshire.
Meanwhile, Agatha worked as a ward maid, toiling away scrubbing and
washing down, assisting in many medical procedures amongst the returned:
the wounded, those who would at length die, those who would survive.
She was around twenty-four at the beginning of the war, and by its end
she had matured into a resolute, weary and wiser woman who had benefited
by those dreadful experiences in several instances: personal
satisfaction at her conduct, at first tentative and clumsy, but
eventually proving herself as an able worker, secondly gaining valuable
knowledge of hospital procedures and medical practice, drugs of the
time, terminology and the human condition. All of which would be stored
away in her mind and utilized later. And finally, her occupation gave
her the drive to eliminate, as much as was possible, her concern for
Archie, flying in the fiercest war-storm over the battle fields of
France and The Western Front.
Archie came home on leave to London on December 21st and that was a
difficult re-union: both were affected by their individual experiences
and re-acted in different ways. Agatha seriously and concernedly, Archie
almost nonchalantly as if to deflect the very real dangers that he had
continually faced and would face again. They argued about marriage, at
first Archie against it and Agatha for it, then after that explosive
quarrel, Archie changing his mind as did Agatha, and he having to argue
her back to his way of thinking. Finally it was decided and they were
married on Christmas eve 1914. Agatha saw Archie off on Boxing Day and
he was not to return until July 1915. He had been exposed to great
danger and survived and in her turn Agatha had been exposed to
suffering, horror and death.
Archie, having been promoted to Captain in the Royal Field Artillery for
medical reasons, had only three days with her.
Agatha made her way to Paris, hoping to meet again but all leave was
cancelled. Disillusioned, distraught and exhausted, Agatha returned to
London and was stricken by influenza and bronchitis.
Recovering after the best end of a month, Agatha returned to a new
dispensary where she qualified as a dispenser of medicine. Thus giving
her the training that she would find invaluable in her future writings.
In October 1915 Archie and Agatha were re-united briefly and after that,
in January 1916, he was promoted to Squadron Commander after again being mentioned in despatches for bravery.
July 1, 1916 marked the terrible battle of The Somme.
Again, in 1917 the January papers listed the name Archibald Christie.
In February he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and awarded the Order
of St Stanislaus Third Class.
That year America came into the war on April 6th.
1917 brought Archie three leave passes and also, through this time,
Agatha was exposed to the knowledge of all kinds of poisons and
antidotes. All this experience was foundation to her writing skills.
September saw troop battles along the Menin Road in Ypres.
Again Archie was mentioned in despatches in December 1917 and on New
Year's Day 1918 the Distinguished Service Order was bestowed, and
Archie became a Companion of St Michael and St George.
After a last leave Archie was sent home, outwardly unscathed, inwardly
wounded. No one could possibly have endured what he had and been
Later that year during the battle of the Marne the German advance was
halted and the tide began to turn. The battle of the Scarpe in August
1918 saw the enemy in retreat
Agatha, although divorcing Archie in 1928, would retain her married
surname of Christie, even after marrying Max Mallowen, their marriage
lasting for forty-six years.
For his part, Archibald Christie married again and lived on, as a
successful business man until his death in 1962.
Yet his name is forever entwined with Agatha's.
As a footnote: 'The Silver Jubilee Book' Commemorating the years 1910 to
1935, the story of twenty five eventful years in pictures is 512 pages
long and the sepia photos are as vivid as they were when the book was
published, but it is the final picture that still has the power to
arrest and astonish: It is a photo of a new born baby.