Lights go out across Britain, 100 years on from World War One

Tue Aug 5, 2014 12:29pm EDT
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By Tess Little

LONDON (Reuters) - Lights across Britain switched off for an hour on Monday night in a tribute to the dead of World War One inspired by the prophetic observation of Britain's foreign minister on the eve of war 100 years ago.

"The lamps are going out all over Europe," Edward Grey told an acquaintance, shortly before Britain declared war on Germany on Aug. 4, 1914. "We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime."

British landmarks, including the Houses of Parliament, Tower Bridge and St Paul's Cathedral, went dark from 10 p.m. local time (2100 GMT), and Prime Minister David Cameron had asked Britons to switch off all but a single light in their homes for an hour.

The "war to end all wars" spread carnage across Europe, especially northern France and Belgium, killing 17 million soldiers and civilians in 1914-18. Over one million of the dead were soldiers from Britain and its then empire.

Grey's prophecy was also at the center of a service in London's Westminster Abbey later on Monday, where candles went out one by one until only a burning oil lamp remained at the Grave of the Unknown Warrior.

At 11 p.m., the lamp was extinguished, marking the exact time the British Empire joined the war. In Trafalgar Square, one single light shone from an old police box.

Acting as beacon for the capital, a monumental pillar of light beamed into the clouds from Victoria Tower Gardens. Installation "spectra" by Japanese artist Ryoji Ikeda was commissioned by 14-18 NOW, the official cultural program for the centenary, and will fade away as the sun rises over the London skyline on Aug. 11.

"The light that 'spectra' throws up into the night sky is a unifying point; it echoes how the First World War affected all Londoners, but also how they and the rest of the country came together, standing united during those dark days," Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, said in a statement.   Continued...

Britain's Prince Harry (L) plants a ceramic poppy watched Prince William (2nd R) and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge at the Tower of London's 'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red' poppy installation to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War One (WW1), in London August 5, 2014. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor