We will remember them... but what would we actually say to them if we could? Since May 2014 a project has been running to create a World War One memorial composed of words rather than stone or marble. People from around the globe have been invited to imagine that the statue of an unknown soldier reading a letter on Platform One of London’s Paddington Station is real, and that the letter he’s about to read is their own; the website will remain open until 11pm on 4th August, the date and time when the declaration of war was announced to the House of Commons 100 years ago. That means you have less than a month left to submit your own words, and read those of others.
If you need inspiration, former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion read his letter to the unknown soldier for BBC News, and you can listen to what he had to say here. If you prefer reading to watching, we at Forces War Records particularly liked the letter by Jack Reacher novelist Lee Child, written to his own great grandfather, which you can read now.
Another way to gain inspiration is to read the words of the soldiers themselves, to get an idea of the things they saw in battle, and how this affected them. A really lovely article on Great War poet Wilfred Owen appeared in the Independent yesterday, 8th July 2014. It includes some of Owen’s own writings, and explains how the trauma he went through altered his voice, yet strangely failed to dampen his fighting spirit. Owen survived his first trip to the Somme, and could have retired with honour; however, he chose to go back, knowing that chances were he wouldn’t survive. He didn’t, and his family received their telegram just as peace was declared. If this doesn’t move you to pick up your pen and compose a letter to Owen or somebody like him, nothing will.
Find out how to write and submit your own letter here.
Finding records on your ancestors can be revealing, but Forces War Records understands that diaries and personal reports of war- the words of the soldiers themselves- can provide precious insights that other records and genealogy sites just don’t provide. We are always adding to their ‘historic documents’ library, which contains a wealth of original documents, periodicals, manuals and newspapers, and many are available to view for free, including more of Owen's work. Get reading!