It’s Liverpool, August 1914: There are giants on the streets

Liverpool Pals, Exchange Flags, August 1914.
Liverpool Pals and their families, Exchange Flags, August 1914.

It’s Liverpool, in August 1914 and there are giants on the streets. Not giants in terms of stature because many of them are just boys really. But giant hearts, giant dreams and giant love. For and from the boys and their sweethearts and their sisters and their brothers. Most of whom are laughing and cheering like they’re setting off on some giant outing. But also for and from their mothers and fathers and the older ones. Who’ve seen wars before and have seen this one coming for a while now, and so are quieter. More thoughtful, more worried.

And it’s not just the streets of Liverpool where there are giants. There are giants on the streets of Blackburn  and Accrington, Glasgow and Bruges, Vienna and Paris and Berlin. Sons of everyone’s sons, marching to war.

Because this is how it is. If the call comes from your country you go, you don’t question it. It’s your duty. This time though, there has been just the hint of the edge of the question being raised. The question ‘Why?’ And so volunteers have been encouraged to volunteer together. Assured they will be kept together. Whatever happens they will be Pals together, in their own battalions.

Liverpool Scottish, at their training camp in Kircaldy.
Liverpool Scottish, at their training camp in Kircaldy.

So as they march together through the streets of Liverpool, first to their training barracks, later off to war there is the steady rhythm of marching giants. And just beneath the rhythm this steady and silent song, The Song of the Giants:

“If you walk to your work in the mornings in peace, know that we did this for you;
If you hold your babies up to sunlight in springtimes, know that we did this for you;
If you laugh together in pubs by sweet riverbanks, know that we did this for you;
If you change the country so that everyone’s cared for, know that we did this for you;
If the country has joy and plenty for all, know that we did this for you.

But if we come home shattered and maimed, still know that we did this for you;
Our bodies and minds to be never the same, still know that we did this for you;
And if we never come home at all, oh what if we never come home?
Then know that we did this because of you all,
And that we never walked through it alone.”

Dedicated in love and remembrance to Thomas Joseph Hughes, my grandfather, and all the other Liverpool Pals and Great War service men and women.

This weekend in Liverpool, 100 years later, we will remember all of them. Because there will be Giants on the streets.

The Liverpool Pals, leaving for war. Giants on the streets.
The Liverpool Pals, leaving for war. Giants on the streets.


Liverpool Pals in the trenches.
The Liverpool Pals. We will remember them.


And in the end? Well, they were remembered but not much. While an estimated million people enjoyed the creativity and spectacle of Giants once again roving the streets of Liverpool I was noticing very little of an element of Remembrance. So I asked my friend Sarah Jones if this impression seemed right to her. She said:

“The World War One connection to the Giant’s story isn’t as strong as it could have been. The little mention there’s been feels bolted on. There have been short enactments of the recruitment of Pals and the Pals and the widows. But it hasn’t run through the weekend as a central theme. You could easily miss what part of history this event was about.”

Such a shame then, A great success as a public spectacle, as art and for Liverpool as a host city. But as and act of Remembrance, a lost opportunity.

Schedule and routes for the Giants in Liverpool this week ‘Memories of August 1914’ available from their website here.

My report from 2 years ago’s Giants here.


Published by Ronnie

Writing about life, Liverpool and anything else that interests me. As well as working with others to make the world a fairer and kinder place:

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  1. Liverpool was losing its men even before the Pals Battalions were even recruited.
    My paternal grandfather, Corporal Ernest Robinson, who lived in Holden Street, Edgehill, was an army reservist after joining the South Lancashire Regiment in 1908.
    When war broke out in August, 1914, he was immediately recalled to the colours and became one of the first Old Contemptibles to reach France.
    He was killed about six weeks into the war, on September 20, aged 26, leaving a widow, two young children and a third on the way – my father – who he never saw.
    I am currently planning to be at his graveside in a war cemetery in the Aisne district 100 years to the day he was killed.

    1. Thanks Phil, I’ve changed the wording of the post to make it clearer that not everyone was in the battalions that came to be known as the Liverpool Pals. My own grandfather was in the Coldstream Guards. Hope to tell his story on here one day.

  2. Thoughtful and beautifully-worded post, Ronnie. Giants indeed – in the old phrase, ‘lions, led by donkeys’. (it still holds). I hope the Giants of 2014 do justice, but I wait to be convinced.

    1. Me too Gerry. Though I felt this way last time. All ‘keep the people happy and distracted with bread and circuses’. Then I went and found it beautiful and full of real humanity. so here’s hoping.

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