West Ham Archdeacon Elwin Cockett asks that we use the First World War centenary to honour the fallen and to commit ourselves to peace and justice


- Credit: Archant

In two months, we will be marking the centenary of the start of the First World War.

Many thousands of Londoners went to fight on land and sea, and we must never forget them.

My grandfather, a Hackney lad, served with the Northumberland Fusiliers.

He was quite short, and apparently the Army thought that he would fit in well with the stocky miners of the North-East, whatever their accent.

Like many who fought in the trenches, he never spoke much about what he had been through.

He knew, though, that it was not only the armed forces who experienced the horrors of war.

Innocent civilians on both sides suffered, too.

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Although east London is better remembered for the Blitz of 1940-41, one of the great disasters of the First World War took place in Silvertown in 1917.

Most of London was protected by law from “harmful trades”, but the capital’s boundary was then the River Lea, and all sorts of dangerous industries grew up in what is now Newham.

So it was that the Brummer, Mond & Co factory in Silvertown, which made caustic soda, which is dangerous enough, was turned over in 1915 to the production of TNT.

The factory was in a densely-populated residential area.

When 50 tonnes of TNT exploded on the site on January 19, 1917, the devastation was immense.

Nine-hundred homes were destroyed or badly damaged.

More than 400 people were injured and 73 died.

They included many firefighters and dock workers, along with their children.

War is not glorious, and nothing that we do to mark this year’s centenary will pretend that it is.

Above all, we should use it to honour the fallen, and to commit ourselves to the cause of peace and justice.

Perhaps the last word should go to Edith Cavell, the nurse who was shot by the Germans for treating wounded British soldiers and helping them return home.

The night before her execution, she declared to the Anglican priest who came to give her Communion: “Patriotism is not enough.

“I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.”