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article image‘The Darkest Hour’ Special

By Alexander Baron     Feb 11, 2014 in Entertainment
The third episode of this series commemorating the centenary of the First World War covers a lot of ground, from women police officers to feisty men of the cloth.
If there is any humour in this programme it is the tale of Edith Smith, the first "proper" woman police officer in Britain, and but for a certain handbag-wielding politician she might have become the most infamous daughter of Grantham.
Women were recruited into the police for the same reason they entered the workplace in droves, to do the work of the men who were fighting for what?
In this episode we meet the war poet Siegfried Sassoon and Kenneth Bickersteth, both of whom were enthusiastic at the start of the conflict, and likewise both of whom came to see war for the madness it was, always has been, is, and always will be.
There was the infamous or ludicrous Defence Of the Realm Act, which women like Edith Smith were meant to enforce. Among many other things, the dreaded DORA made it a criminal offence for prostitutes to proposition men in uniform. They may have been considered vectors of filth by the government of the day — spreading VD — but for some young men they were the first and only chance they would have to lose their virginity before being sent like lambs to the slaughter.
Then, late in the war there was the tank — the first real machine of war, far more formidable than anything that had ever come before.
Not that the Germans come out of this programme with any credit. We see a glimpse of the Kaiser's plan to starve Britain into submission by sinking its merchant shipping. There were also air raids, nothing like those Britain experienced in the second great conflict of the 20th Century, or like those inflicted on Germany, and of course on Japan, but at the time this was a radical new departure, total warfare that brought death to women and children as well as soldiers.
Britain's Great War can be found on BBC iplayer at the moment, and on the dedicated website.
More about jeremy paxman, World war one, The Great War, edith smith, defence of the realm act
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