Great War victims gain a voice at last
THE 2014 to 2018 Great War commemorations did more than shed much-needed light on death on an industrial scale. It effectively gave the 18 million killed or wounded a powerful voice before ‘the war to end all wars’ inevitably fades into history.
Fuzzy prints and film, letters home, weapons of war, including the use of gas and crumpled uniforms – all have helped break the post-war silence which surrounded the ‘ best forgotten’ subject not just in the UK but in mainland Europe too.
Tours to the serried rows of graves, run initially by highly respected specialist companies, have now grown in number, with visitors once as much interested in military history as they were in tracing relatives, joined by a new generation, mainly thanks to the work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
Thanks to their astounding work, they can now locate online an actual grave within a specific cemetery, or the names commemorated on a World War One grave. A unique insight into their work is provided by The CWGC Experience, Beaurains, opened in June 2019, an hour’s drive from Calais just south of Arras.
The fact that their French team is still helping local towns and villages recover bodies on an almost weekly level show the legacy of the commemorations, far from fading, is continuing apace and attracting family and school trips to appreciate an appalling episode in world history. Wartime centres, I hesitate to call them museums, with state of the art audio and visual presentations, show how ‘ a lost generation’ are having their say at last.
Their individual stories, be they Tommies, tank commanders, artist, poets or just playing their part, will be a regular feature of this section. It begins with how I discovered a shell had killed a distant relative, whom I didn’t even know existed, at the tender age of 18.
(Header photograph – Etaples: the largest Commonwealth cemetery in France)