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Posts Tagged ‘World War I’

ImageOn 11 November 1918, World War I–the horrific conflict everyone hoped would end all wars–ended with the signing of the Armistice in France. Ever since, the millions dead in that conflict and the ones that came before and after have been lovingly remembered on the eleventh day of the eleventh month. For weeks leading up to the day, poppy brooches start appearing on lapels–cheap paper ones picked up when you donate some pocket change to the Poppy Appeal, or more permanent ones that are crocheted or enameled and brought out every year. These bright little flowers are not only reminders of the lives lost, but are also the symbol of the British Legion’s annual Remembrance Day fundraiser, which raises money for wounded vets and their families.They hope to raise 42 million pounds this year.

In the U.S., today is celebrated as Veterans’ Day, and while there are some somber activities of remembrance, it seems like a much quieter day than it is here. It’s easier to overlook it, because there seem to be few visual reminders in the days leading up to it. Here in Edinburgh–and elsewhere in the U.K., there’s a Garden of Remembrance. Spreading out from the Scott Memorial on Prince’s Street is row upon row of small wooden crosses studded with a single paper poppy, planted in memory of someone who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. The first of these gardens was started at Westminster in 1928; there were only two crosses that year. This year, you’ll find them in Wootton Basset, Belfast, Cardiff, and Newcastle, as well as London and Edinburgh. There’s also one at the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres, France. Anyone can dedicate a cross to a loved one who died, and include a personal message. It’s a very moving, beautiful, and sobering memorial.

Traditionally, there’s a two-minute silence at 11 a.m. No matter where you are, take a moment to remember the fallen and be thankful for all our veterans have done for us.

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A martial Germany glares at John Bull, taking off with Marianne

After centuries of antagonistic relations (to say the least), Britain and France finally buried the hatchet with the signing of the Entente Cordiale on April 8, 1904. The Entente was a series of agreements that basically carved up giant chunks of Africa between the two nations: England got to keep meddling in Egypt and wouldn’t interfere in France’s attempts to “preserve order…and provide assistance in Morocco. Furthermore, the French gave up their rights to the western coast of Newfoundland and received the town of Yarbutenda (near the border between Senegal and The Gambia) and the Iles de Los in Guinea for their trouble, and the two countries hacked Thailand in half. But really, this was about Britain and France getting to be friends.

The agreement essentially ended both countries’ isolation in Europe (France’s because of Bismark’s machinations and Britain’s because they were too busy with their overseas empire and didn’t want to dirty their hands with European messes). Both countries found themselves growing nervous at Germany’s increased aggression, and as early as 1881 the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) met with French statesman Léon Gambetta to discuss an alliance against Germany. Both countries were too busy doing a land grab in Africa to come to an agreement at the time, and between 1898 and 1901 there were three rounds of talks to discuss an alliance between Britain and Germany. When he ascended the throne, King Edward rejected the notion of an alliance with Germany and revived talks with France. Théophile Delcassé, the French foreign minister, and Lord Lansdowne, the British Foreign Secretary, negotiated the agreement and Lansdowne and Paul Cambon, the French Ambassador to Britain, signed the Entente.

With all well and good, Britain and France settled down to be best buds, and they even invited Russia to the party, creating the Triple Entente in 1907 (which, through previous treaties, linked the countries with Portugal, Japan, the United States, Brazil, and Spain). It all sounded great, until an archduke got assassinated in Sarajevo in 1914, and the various interlocking alliances drew all these countries into a horrifying conflagration we still shudder to think about today. Still, the friendship between France and Britain exists to this day, so in that sense, we can declare the Entente Cordiale a total success.

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A truck drives through the woods, a giant tree strapped to it, and pulls up in front of Downton, where Thomas supervises the tree’s unloading. A bit later (presumably), Daisy scoots through the house with coal scuttles, in a brief throwback to the opening scenes of the very first episode. In the great hall, O’Brien and Edith are decorating the big tree while Mary stands by, probably silently criticizing everything Edith’s doing. Daisy stops to stare at the tree like she’s never seen one before, until Hughes arrives to hurry her along.

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Previously on Downton Abbey: The war mercifully came to an end, as did Vera’s life, bringing joy to the lives of A/B shippers everywhere. Thomas started looking into black market business options, and Matthew began feeling something below the belt.

It’s now 1919. Edith watches from the front door as the last of the medical equipment is loaded up and driven away, leaving Downton a private home once again. She seems saddened by that, but Isis is practically prancing as she accompanies Robert into the drawing room, from which the hospital beds have all disappeared. Cora’s arranging some furniture there, and Robert tells her he’s heading down to the village in an effort to avoid Carlisle, who’ll be arriving a bit later. She asks if there’s any more news on “the Bates situation” and Robert says there isn’t. She asks if her husband intends to keep him on. Why wouldn’t he? Does being widowed somehow make one unfit for service? Robert reminds her that Bates’s wife has just committed suicide, and he’s not going to fire him for that. What’s Cora’s problem with Bates? Hasn’t he proven himself to her?

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Previously on Downton Abbey: Matthew miraculously recovered and Robert mysteriously forgot he’s in love with his wife and started making out with Jane the maid. Bates remembered he was the one who bought the poison his wife killed herself with, and Sybil rather inexplicably ran away with Branson, only to be dragged back home by Edith and Mary.

Downton’s abuzz with preparations for Matthew’s and Lavinia’s wedding. Never content to just let things be, Isobel remarks that displaying the presents (a common practice amongst the upper class at the time) looks greedy. Remember last season when she was all worried about seeming outclassed by the Crawleys? What happened to that concern? Shut up, Isobel! Lavinia apologizes for having caused so much extra work at the house and Cora tells her it’s fine before heading off to do something or other. Mary and Lavinia descend on Matthew and ask him how he’s feeling. He’s fully up and about now, thought walking with a cane, which he hates. He wants to be able to walk up the aisle without help. Mary drops the fact that it’s three days to the wedding.

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Previously on Downton Abbey: Matthew and William were wounded and returned home to Downton Abbey. William came back to marry Daisy and die a few hours later, which made me sad, and Matthew found out he’s probably going to spend his life in a wheelchair. He also won’t be able to have kids, so he cuts Lavinia loose, despite her pleas to stay with him. Mary’s only too happy to step into Lavinia’s place as Matthew’s caretaker, even though she’s now officially engaged to Carlisle.

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Previously on Downton Abbey: Matthew and William disappeared for a little while, but then came back, as did Bates, once again spouting promises of divorce from Vera the Terrible. Isobel left too, in a childish snit, to take up a position in France.

Amiens in 1918 looks like a barren, postapocalyptic wasteland. In the trenches, William helps Matthew get ready for the big push. Matthew’s nervous, and William’s sweetly trying to put a brave face on the whole thing. The other men are undergoing their own pre-battle preparations: smoking last-minute cigarettes, checking their weapons, etc. Matthew gives them a brief but reasonably rousing speech, then checks his watch, orders them all to fix bayonets, and over the top they go.

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Previously on Downton Abbey: Violet couldn’t let go of the Mary/Matthew romance, even though it’s been done for years and even Mary seems over it now. Downton became a convalescent hospital, run by Thomas, despite its proprietors’ pouting, and Edith revealed her secret awesomeness and actually got credit for it. Mrs. Patmore railroaded Daisy into an engagement to William she doesn’t want at all, shortly before he departed for the front with Matthew. Oh, and Lavinia’s big bad secret was revealed and wasn’t that bad after all.

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Previously on Downton Abbey: The lack of a nearby convalescent hospital drove a soldier to suicide, so Sybil and Isobel leaned on Robert and Cora to turn Downton into a convalescent home for wounded officers. Thomas returned to work at the hospital and showed a little humanity, as did O’Brien when she bonded with the severely shell-shocked new valet, Lang.

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Previously on Downton Abbey: We learned that war is hell, just in case you weren’t sure. Matthew came by with his new fiancée, who’s already being sneered at by Carson and Violet, even though she seems like a perfectly sweet girl. Bates got dragged off by his horrible wife, Vera, who’ll probably bleed him dry in no time. Both Sybil and Edith decided it was time to start being useful, and Thomas figured out a way to get sent home from the front.

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