In the United States today is Memorial Day and we remember those who gave their lives for our freedoms. Memorial Day began as Decoration Day in 1868 to remember those who died in the American Civil War. But, of course and very sadly, there have been so many wars since and continuing.
The magic of photography is that it can take us back. So today I offer the image of Figure 1, which was taken one century ago today and shows the British fleet, “The Grand Fleet,” sailing out of Scarpa Flow, under the command of Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, to engage the Germans in what was to become known as the Battle of Jutland over the next two days. It was a critical moment in what was then the world’s most terrible war, and for the British, the rulers of the seas, everything stood in the balance. History has deemed the engagement a draw – but significantly the Germans never again challenged British supremacy at sea. So among those that we honor and remember today are the 8,645 souls who lost their lives that day.
Significantly, 1916 was a politically fulminating year. Just a month before British troops had occupied Dublin to put down the Easter rebellion. It was the start of a wave that would finally undo the major monarchies of Europe and the peace forged at the Congress of Vienna. Among these monarchies would fall the Ottomans, which would lead in turn to what David Fromkin has called the “peace to end all peace” in the Middle East. That is a war we still fight today.
It is strange how all but the most dedicated student of history forgets the details. But May 30, 1916 was very real to those who lived through that day on the North Sea. We can imagine both their confidence and fear. We remember them and all the fallen of all the wars
“Dona nobis pacem.“