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Paxman waxes lyrical at British Legion
Published 27/05/14

JEREMY Paxman gave a talk on the First World War at Bix Manor on Friday.

The Newsnight presenter and University Challenge quizmaster was invited by members of the Bix branch of the Royal British Legion (RBL), who made up the audience along with members of other local branches.

About 150 people bought tickets for the talk, which was organised to commemorate the centenary of the start of the First World War.

Andrew Myrtle, president of the Bix branch, introduced the guest speaker.

He said: “This year is the centenary of the outbreak of World War One — the ‘Great War’ which they hoped would be the war to end all wars.

“Alas, that was not to be the last one.

“The Bix branch decided that their main event should mark the centenary in some way to remember those who died and honour those who survived.

“We are extremely fortunate to have Jeremy Paxman, the renowned national broadcaster and best-selling author, with us and we are immensely grateful to him for giving up his time to speak to us.”

Paxman, 63, who lives in Stonor, talked for an hour, giving his thoughts on the conflict and its importance in bringing about social change.

He said: “A Victorian time traveller coming back to Britain in 1912 or 1913 would have recognised and understood how the country worked. Had they come back in 1922 or 1923 I don’t think they would have been able to because the country was so fundamentally changed as a consequence of war.

“I realised I had a number of set opinions about it and I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t really thinking about the war at all.

“I was thinking about the how the war had been portrayed by things like Oh! What a Lovely War and Blackadder.”

Paxman showed photographs from the war including one of his great uncle Charlie, who died in July 1915 at Gallipoli while serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps.

He said: “He was a real person to my mother, who had never met him, and he was a real person to me.

“If he was typical of his generation he almost certainly never left his county, let alone his country, and yet within a month of this photograph being taken he had died on the other side of the world.”

He talked on topics ranging from the outbreak of the war and the British defeat at the Battle of Mons to conditions in the trenches and conscientious objectors.

He said: “We all ask ourselves: ‘In these circumstances, what would I have done?’ I think I would have gone without much doubt, despite the fact that it was horrible. I hope I would.”

Paxman, who has written a book about the war, also talked about the surgeons who carried out pioneering plastic surgery techniques to treat the wounded soldiers returning from the front line.

Paxman made headlines earlier this year when he said the First World War would not have been fought today because the younger generation were more concerned with personal freedom rather than duty.

He has also spoken out about his concerns that events to mark the centenary will turn into a celebration rather than solemn remembrance.

He said: “I think we are at the point after 100 years where this has really passed from memories to the business of history and history is a very hard thing to keep alive.”

He said the centenary should be marked with “a little bit of quiet reflection to remember that this society was actually made by people who never lived to benefit from it”.

After the talk, Lieutenant Colonel Stanley Carter, chairman of the Bix branch, thanked Paxman and presented him with a gift of beers from local breweries.

He said: “Jeremy talked about shell shock, now called Post Traumatic Stress, and the people coming back from Afghanistan suffer it in just the same way that people did in 1914 to 1918.

“It is easy to forget, when you hear about fatal casualties, that there are others that have been injured and we musn’t forget about those.”

Paxman answered questions from the audience and signed copies of his book Great Britain’s Great War, a spin-off from his five-part television series of the same name, which was released last year.

Alison Rosby, manager of The Bell Bookshop in Henley, sold copies of his books at the event and donated 25 per cent of the proceeds — about £45 — to the Bix branch.

There was also a display of war memorabilia donated by John Green, chairman of the Henley branch of the Royal British Legion.

His father, Captain William Leslie Green, fought in the war where he won a Military Cross and Military Medal.

Items included photographs of the 1st and 8th Battalions of the Sherwood Foresters, a German helmet, a Lee-Enfield rifle and items from No Man’s Land at Hohenzollern Redoubt, where Capt Green won the Military Medal in 1915.

Mr Green, who was 16 when his father died in 1951 aged 56, said: “It is important to remember the terrible suffering and we hope it will never happen again.

“I think it is tremendous to have a national celebrity give a talk. It shows how important this centenary of the First World War is.

“Jeremy was fantastic. He spoke as we think and it was a very appropriate way to mark the centenary.”

The talk raised £1,230 which will go to the Royal British Legion general funds.

Published 27/05/14

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