The centenary programme is gathering speed, with something for everyone by way of remembrance. Whether by tending our memorials, admiring commemorative stamps, baking cakes, playing or listening to period music, turning our lights out or following commemorative trails, the government wants us all to get involved. However, Michael Morpurgo, the author of ‘War Horse’, feels that anything amounting to a celebration should be avoided, and a simple white poppy would be the best mark of respect. What do you think?
We here at Forces War Records definitely approve of the announcement that £3 million is to be spent on ensuring that memorials and memorial gardens nation-wide are repainted, replanted, shined or otherwise restored to get them looking their best in time to mark the anniversary of the start of the war on 4th August 2014. Last year they appealed for volunteers to inspect their local monuments and make a note of any damage, and now the government has invited councils to apply for grants from the War Memorials Trust, which will be responsible for distributing the money.
Half a million has been granted to the Imperial War Museum, which will use it to develop a website to help communities to research the history behind their local memorials. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) of course has similar records, but their database doesn’t necessarily give information about a soldier’s home town, so this will be a useful new resource for those putting together their family tree.
English Heritage and Civic Voice, meanwhile, have also been allocated half a million, and their money will be spent on tripling the number of listed memorials and developing a national network of volunteers to assess their condition, to ensure that they don’t fall into disrepair again in a hurry.
Royal Mail is of course no longer funded by the government, but that hasn’t stopped them from joining in. They’ll be launching five sets of new stamps, one for each year of the war, and each including six different designs that will commend those who died, the contribution of the armed services, the role of Commonwealth countries, and the roles of both non-combatants and women. Royal Mail itself played a vital role in the war, ensuring that messages from home to the battlefields and vice-versa were delivered to their destinations however and whenever possible. The Post Office Rifles was first formed in the 1860s to guard offices and make sure the letters got through, and by the end of World War One, out of 75,000 recruits, 1,800 had been killed and 4,500 injured.
The stamps will feature imagery, memorials, artefacts, portraits and moving scenes telling the story of the war, and the 2014 set, released this month, will feature a painting of a poppy, lines from the poem 'For the Fallen', a portrait of a 15year-old soldier, Private William Tickle, who was killed at the Battle of the Somme in 1916, war art depicting a flare illuminating no-man’s land by CRW Nevinson, a memorial to the Northumberland Fusiliers and the Princess Mary Gift Box.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has planned several other projects to commemorate the war, many in cooperation with The Royal British Legion. The flagship idea, as it were, is ‘Lights Out’, an invitation to everyone in the UK to participate in a shared moment of reflection by turning off their lights from 10pm to 11pm on 4 August, leaving on a single light or candle, to mark the 100th anniversary of when Great Britain entered the First World War. The Legion will also be conducting tours, planting Flanders poppies, helping to preserve green spaces in local authorities that lost men, holding a charity auction, selling fundraising albums and books and helping to teach schoolchildren about the war. Additionally, they will cooperating with the CWGC on ‘Every Man Remembered’, a memorial project asking for every casualty from the First World War to be remembered individually on a new website.
The DCMS is encouraging communities to develop heritage trails that mark local memorials and memorial gardens, as well as tracing local involvement in the war effort by visiting factories, drill halls, hospitals and other buildings that would have featured prominently in wartime life. It has also suggested that bands take over bandstands to play period music, and that families take a picnic along and make a day of listening to the tunes. Finally, it has suggested that young people bake ‘trench cake’, an eggless fruitcake recipe used in wartime, and post pictures of their baking efforts on social media sites, with a dedication to ‘The fallen of WW1’ or a family member who served on the front line. This last suggestion was greeted with ridicule by readers of the Telegraph, who pointed out that, even in wartime, families would have stretched the rations where they could to make the best cakes possible for relatives on the front, and since we now have those ingredients available thanks to our relatives’ war efforts, it seems silly to be frugal now.
The last few ideas certainly seem to be slightly verging on the ‘celebrations’ feared by Michael Morpurgo, who suggested in an interview with Cotswold Life that events that encourage national pride and ‘flag-waving’ in the run-up to the anniversary of the declaration of war on August 4 should not go ahead. Instead, he favoured a more modest way of honouring the dead (who, he pointed out, included Germans and people from many other nations as well as British soldiers). He said: ‘If any war should make us more determined to be peaceful, it is that war. And so we should wear, alongside our red poppy, a white poppy – not because we want to rub someone’s nose in anything, but we ought to be as sincere about our wish for peace as we are about our memory of those who didn’t come home. It is what they died for. They did not die for us to go on fighting wars.’
We feel that the most important thing is to remember in some way, whatever that might be.
Do you know enough about your ancestors and their military past? You could find out more — there could be a war hero in your family just waiting to be discovered and remembered. Delve into the interesting world of military genealogy and search the Forces War Records site and let us help you start, or continue your genealogy quest…