WW1 Centenary

Great War Centenary 2014-2018 website by Paul Reed

Jeremy Paxman: Britain’s Great War


Tonight Jeremy Paxman’s Britain’s Great War starts on BBC1 at 21.00. It is being scheduled as the BBC’s flagship series for the WW1 Centenary and is certainly the start of a whole scope of programmes associated with the Great War which the BBC announced on their special WW1 Page.

I worked on this series for eleven months, with all four producers and of course Jeremy himself. My contribution was just on the WW1 battlefields themselves at locations like Mons, in Flanders, on the Somme or the Hindenburg Line. It has been interesting to read some of the comments about the series, mostly by people who have not even seen it yet. Was Jeremy the right one to present it? Why not an historian? Television is a costly process and networks want to ensure that as many people as possible watch the end result, which is why many of these type of programmes are presented by people like Jeremy Paxman. But Jeremy is a serious and enquiring journalist, certainly well read on the Great War from my experience, and from my own involvement in it, Britain’s Great War will bring some fresh perspectives and – more importantly I hope – many new people to the subject of the First World War, which can only be welcomed.

Britain’s Great War will no doubt not please everyone, and many will ask why aspects of the war have been included seemingly at the expense of others, but the next four years are about interpretation. No two people ever agree about almost any aspect of the Great War and no single programme or series will ever represent a global view of the subject; could it ever? But television like this will get an audience talking – whether people realise the merit and value of that remains to be seen.


Author: ww1centenary

Military Historian & author who works in Television: visiting & interpreting battlefields all over the world. Currently working on WW1 projects for 2014-18.

9 thoughts on “Jeremy Paxman: Britain’s Great War

  1. The BBC History Extra podcast of 23rd January 2014 has an interview with Jeremy that left me with a much more positive impression than I had from short quotes via Twitter last week.

  2. I saw the programme but was interrupted at the time that a lady was talking about the sinking of HMS formidable in the early hours of New Year’s Day 1915. I believe she was talking about a relative who went down with the ship. I know that there were some 550 odd casualties. My Grandfather was one of the survivors of the sinking being landed at Lyme Regis by the ships pinnace. Subsequently that year he named my aunt Regis when she was born some months later!
    I would like to contact the lady in the film clip. Can you help. Regards, A.D. McKee

    • I was born & grew up in Lyme Regis so the story of HMS Formidable was always known to me. My grandmother, who was a little girl during WW1 used to tell me how she was awoken by the cries of the men who came ashore on the beach under her house on that night. Her father owned the local theatre and the dead were laid out there. In the following days she would accompany her dad & lift the lids on the coffins so that the relatives could identify the bodies.
      Six of those who did not survive are buried in the town & every Remembrance we hold a ceremony at the graveside to remember them.
      I am researching all those who came ashore at Lyme so any info or photos would be greatly appreciated as it help build the local museums archives.

      • Hello Vernon,
        My Gt Grandfather was torpedoed and one of the ones which did not survive with the HMS Formidable on 1.1.1915.

        If you would like further details…please let me know.

        Thank you,

        Linda North, 8.9.14

      • Hi Linda, Yes please any info about or photos of you Gt Grandfather would be great. Many thanks Vernon

  3. Was very interested to see the mention of the Royal Scots 16th Battalion. My great-grandfather’s name is on the Thiepval Memorial and all the info I have is his date of death and that this was his battalion. Curious to learn more and seeing the footage was tremendously moving.

  4. What was your grandfathers surname and service Number

    • This is the info that I have:
      CAWLEY, Lance Sergeant, Thomas. 19733, 16th Bn., Royal Scots. Killed in action, 3rd August, 1916.

      • Thomas Cawley
        Lance Sergeant 19733
        Born at Connaught County Sligo.
        Resided in Coventry
        Killed in action France 3rd august 1916
        Royal Scots 16th Battalion McCraes Own 2nd Edinburgh Service Battalion

        CAWLEY, Lance Sergeant, Thomas. 19733, 16th Bn., Royal Scots. Killed in action, 3rd August, 1916. Born Sligo, Ireland. Enlisted Edinburgh. Resided Coventry. Memorial Ref. Pier and Face 6 D and 7 D. Thiepval Memorial, France.

        From The Book McCrae’s Battalion By Jack Alexander

        ‘The Fritzes responded with shell-fire,’ wrote Sgt Crawford, ‘intermittent through the morning, heavy and persistent after lunch.’ Ness got some shrapnel in his right arm but chose to remain with the company. Shortly afterwards Jimmy Boyd was hit in the side by a piece of casing. It was a serious wound. A stretcher-party was brought up and they set off for the dressing station south of Bazentin-le-Petit. By this time the shelling was intense. At 5 p.m. Sgt Sandy Lindsay climbed out of B Company’s NCO dug-out to check on his sentries. Thirty seconds later, the shelter was struck by an explosive incendiary. Four men were killed outright: CSM Angus Cameron, a 35-year-old letterpress printer from East London Street; Sgt Archie West, a 30-year-old upholsterer from Watson Crescent; Sgt Tom Hill, a 41-year-old miner from Musselburgh;

        and L/Sgt Tom Cawley, a 33-year-old miner from St Mary Street.

        Cpl ‘Dod’ Simons, a 39-year-old bookbinder from Moncrieff Terrace, was trapped 10 feet underground by a fallen beam. The remains of the interior were alight and flames were licking round his face. He managed to reach his rifle and had chambered a cartridge with the intention of shooting himself, when he heard Lindsay’s voice coming down from the surface. The rescuers worked like demons and pulled him out within minutes. He was badly burned but otherwise unhurt. 7 His last remaining pal was not so lucky: Sgt James Martin, a 27-year-old stereotyper from Stewart Terrace, had sustained appalling injuries. He was carried unconscious to a dressing station and would not see the end of the week.

        Lance Serjeant Thomas Cawley
        Killed in Action France – 3/08/1916
        British Army, Royal Scots, Service #19733.
        Back to results

        Medal Index Cards Transcription
        Print transcription
        First name(s) Thomas
        Last name Cawley
        Service number 19733
        Rank Corporal
        Corps Royal Scots
        Service record Soldier Number: 19733, Rank: Corporal, Corps: Royal Scots
        Archive reference WO372/4
        Archive reference description Campaign Medal Index Cards and Silver War Badge Cards
        Country Great Britain
        Image link http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/SearchUI/Details?uri=D1743546

        Record set World War One British Army medal index cards
        Category Armed forces & conflict
        Subcategory First World War
        Collections from United Kingdom

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