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Volume 48 Number 24, December 15, 2018 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

South Shields Meeting Marking the Centenary of the End of World War I

Truth & Memory: The Real Story Behind the First World War

On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, a public meeting took place on November 9 in South Shields attended by some 30 people. It was organised by local people in South Tyneside to mark the centenary and to reveal the truth and underline the memory of one of the most traumatic events in human history. The aim was to hear the story of the events leading up to the war, to reveal its impact on the people of the time and to emphasise its legacy today. The meeting brought together speakers Hakim Adi, Professor of History, specialising in Africa and the African diaspora, and Leyla Al-Sayadi, founder of the Yemeni Project from South Shields. Recordings and films, poems and voices, evoked the first-hand experience of those who fought in the war and of those who opposed it. A showing of local images of the effects of the war in South Tyneside completed the programme.

As people entered the event, they were met with a projection of a collage of images of paintings and poems produced by English and German artists and poets from World War I. The meeting itself opened with a reading of the poem Suicide in the Trenches by Siegfried Sassoon, highlighting that the best of the war poems questioned the ethos of duty to empire that was promoted to justify the slaughter.

Leyla Al-Sayadi spoke about how the Yemeni Project concentrates on the huge humanitarian crisis in Yemen caused by the war of the Saudi-led coalition with the Houthi rebels in Yemen and how that was linked to the Yemeni community in South Shields and why that matters so much to all the people here. She said that the Yemeni story is one of the most long-standing in Britain, going back to before the First World War. People wonder how South Shields became so populated with Yemeni people with up to 4,000 Yemeni sailors resident at one time. She explained that the origins of that story go back to British colonialism. Leyla pointed out that when she started the project she wanted to bring attention to the Yemeni contribution in World War I and World War II which is often overlooked. South Shields lost one of the largest proportions of merchant navy sailors of the First World War. One in four of those were Yemeni - a massive statistic when the demographic of the town is considered. She said that over the course of her research she saw records of Yemeni seamen with South Shields addresses who ended up internment concentration camps, records of ships which were torpedoed and of lives lost. Leyla pointed out that now the Yemeni community is very small. However, so many people have Yemeni origins, and this is an added reason why people should care about what is going on in Yemen today.

Speaking about the war against Yemen today, Leyla said that the Saudi coalition had launched air strikes and told the people to leave. In just one province, 100,000 people have had to leave their homes. The Saudi coalition has imposed a naval blockade, while at the same time Saudi Arabia is raining down bombs. This is catastrophic for Yemen. Leyla condemned the bombing of hospitals and heritage sites, she condemned the bombing of a school bus in August this year carrying 40 young boys, and she condemned the ongoing massacres and the blockade. The speaker said that the Yemeni people are facing famine and disease in addition to the bombings. The outbreak of cholera has killed 2,100 people and is affecting as many as 900,000 others. Leyla condemned the stand of Britain as being totally complicit in what is going on. It was Britain who helped to arm Saudi Arabia in the first place. She told the meeting that even with these atrocities and international condemnation of the Saudi-led coalition, Britain is not reducing its arms sales but is increasing them. Leyla concluded by providing the meeting with one of the most important lessons that link the warmongers of the First World War to the fight against the warmongers of today in that people should demand an end to Britain's arms sales to Saudi Arabia and oppose the government's backing of the war in Yemen.

The Chair of the Preparatory Committee introducing the programme

Leyla was given sustained applause for enabling the participants in the meeting to see through the eyes of the Yemeni people, before a short session of questions and answers.

Two very moving short films were then shown, 1916 Voices of the Somme and a film a put together one of the organisers.

Professor Hakim Adi then gave an illustrated talk entitled the Real Story Behind the First World War. A summary is reproduced below.

Sustained applause demonstrated how much Hakim's authoritative presentation on the real story behind the First World War was appreciated, together with the painstaking way he had unearthed so much of the facts and histories of the war and its relevance today. Following Hakim's contribution there was again a question and answer session.

Images of the war in South Tyneside showing its effects locally were presented by another of the organisers. A fitting end to this "Truth & Memory" programme was provided by a moving rendition by David Donohue of the justly famous poem of Wilfred Owen, Dulce et Decorum Est.

In short concluding remarks, the Chair thanked the speakers and all those who had contributed to the organising of such a vital and important meeting on the First World War, and bringing out its real story. He said that the human qualities come across so strongly and powerfully from 100 years ago, qualities of those that fought in and opposed the War in so many ways. We commemorate them all and they inspire us today the build the movement against war, and turn things around in our own favour, as they strove to do, and prevent future wars.

He ended with a call to all those that are interested to join in and carry forward this work in South Tyneside, and get further organised on this basis. There are sure to be important events to be organised in 2019 to reveal the truth about the NATO military alliance, for example, the 70th anniversary of which falls next year. The meeting concluded on this powerful note.


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