Thursday, 29 November 2012

The Basil Hicks Lecture

I went to The Basil Hicks Lecture last night which I believe was the 12th to be held since its inception

The First World War was the bloodiest, most destructive conflict in British history. The extremely costly campaigns waged on the Western Front and elsewhere led to the loss of unprecedented numbers of British lives and had a profound emotional impact on the civilian population. The Lecture will look at the mass bereavement caused across the British Empire as a result of the First World War and examine the initially controversial role played by the Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission in responding to the needs of millions of British subjects in mourning. The work of the Commission in the 21st Century, as the organisation prepares for the centenaries of the milestones of the First World War, will also be explored in detail.

Basil Hicks and the Basil Hicks Lectures
basil hicksBasil Perrin Hicks

Basil Perrin Hicks, the man in whose memory the Basil Hicks Lectures are given, was the younger son of the University of Sheffield’s founding Vice-Chancellor, Professor William Mitchinson Hicks FRS, and his wife Ellen Perrin. He was educated at Rugby and studied at Hanover and Bonn before entering Trinity College, Cambridge: after graduating in 1914 he studied further in Paris before returning to England on the outbreak of war, joined the Inns of Court Officer Training Corps and received his Commission in September 1914. He went to the Front on 7th August 1915 as a Lieutenant in the 8th Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment, and was shot and killed whilst leading his men against the German trenches on the morning of 15th September, the first day of the Battle of Loos. He was one of 380,000 men to fall in the three months of that battle, which moved the German lines back just 1,200 yards – albeit a considerable achievement in its context.
Basil Hicks is commemorated – and pictured – in the Great West Window of St Peter’s Church, Bushey Heath, the Outer London suburb which was home to his mother’s family, and by the Lecture series endowed by his parents. Professor and Mrs Hicks originally envisaged that each Lecture should “deal with some aspect of the Great War, either its origins, its conduct or its social and international consequences....”, though in practice a wide range of topics has been covered by the historians, politicians and military men who have given the Lectures since their time. This 2012 Lecture indeed addresses a direct consequence of the War, which by the unprecedented scale of the killing led to the creation of what is now the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to honour the Fallen and to care for their remains.

Although I am fairly well-aquainted with the work of the CWGC, it was still an interesting and thought-provoking lecture. The speaker was both concise and lucid, and took the audience through the history and the work of the Commission. 

He was particularly thoughtful on the subject of "repatriation" which aroused fierce passions at the time and still does to this day. All in all a really good lecture.   

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