Until the realisation of the enormity of the task was grasped those at home and those on the way to the front comforted themselves with the line: "It'll be all over by Christmas." That was WW1.
How much of this is a myth, I certainly am not qualified to judge. But it rather sums up the way we accept bad news and nasty twists of history that break our "normal" routine of life.
I have heard many people predict a swift bounce back to the housing market once normal service is resumed.
There are three things to note here, and the realisation is beginning to sink in.
1. Things will not get back to how they were before the credit crunch, nor should they. Those were abnormal times and the excess is very much a part of why we are in this mess now. In many ways we are closer to "normal" now than we were then. Normal for mortgage lending, if we judge across the past 70 years or so, is a 10% deposit and three times earnings.
2. It will be a long slog to get things back to a more acceptable state than they are in now. Consider this alone: If you were a lender, how much deposit would you expect to protect your loan in a market of falling house prices? Until there is a realignment of prices and banks are confident that further price falls are limited, hefty deposits will be expected.
3. The faster we get to the bottom, the further prices fall in cash terms. If it takes, say, six years to realign house prices, inflation will see wages rise, so any correction should be acheived with house prices falling less in cash terms than if the correction is within, say, two years.
So it was interesting to note the tones of resignation from the expert commentators today as they assessed the latest survey by the surveyors body RICS, the Council of Mortgage Lenders and the latest unsettling set of company results - this time from Redrow.
Three pitiful housing market rescue plans from the Government later and it remains clear that the downward course on house prices is set for some time.
The announcement by the head of Nationwide that prices will fall by, say, 25%, echoes the noises now regularly coming from those close to the market.
The nationalisation of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, those oddly names mortgage machines in the United States, was, ironically, greeted with relief in the bastions of free enterprise - the stock markets. The reaction is all the more puzzling since in reality their nationalisation is a signal of just how scary a mess we are in and how close to the wind we have been sailing.
What we have is billions, no trillions of dollars of "notional" money - that is to say the amount of overvaluation of homes in the US and globally that have been re-priced downward over the past 18 months - that had been recycled into the global economy and that has now, for want of a better word, has evaporated.
Looking just at the situation in the US, let's do some very rough sums to get a handle on the scale. The total value of US residential homes is about $20 trillion plus. So a drop of almost 20% means a reduction of about $4 trillion in value, not an exact figure, but close enough.
So assets are being priced down. What's the big deal? In many cases it will be no problem at all. But if assets were bought with borrowed money then there is a huge potential problem. It is scary and no one really knows how this will all pan out.
But however scary things may seem in the short term, it remains essential for policy makers to have an eye on the long term.
For the construction element of housing market that long term strategy must, in large part, aim to maintain the highest level of skills within the industry. The impact of boom and bust within construction has led to the repeated loss of skills. A mistake we as a nation must learn from.
I don't know how much is invested in each trained person who works in construction - let's say it would cost (globally speaking in terms of investment in training and experience) an average of £30,000 to replace them. That I suspect is an underestimate, but it will do for this exercise. (I would certainly appreciate it if anyone has a better figure and can let me know.)
If we lose 100,000 construction folk that need to be replaced when the industry returns, it will be at a cost of, say, £3 billion (and that I suspect would be getting off lightly). That is money the industry and Government will have to find and only then if they can tempt talent into the industry in the first place.
Now while I don't profess to know the true cost, I have put the numbers are there to illustrate the scale.
Perhaps when it does its sums, the Government may like to add in the cost of training to replace lost skills when it considers the value of stepping up investment and building more social homes.