Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Remembering the fallen of 1914-1918

My article in today’s Cornish Guardian focuses on my recent visit (holiday) to Belgium and France. It is as follows:

Regular readers of this column will be aware that I am involved with a project to remember the men of Fraddon, Indian Queens, St Columb Road and Summercourt, who lost their lives in the First World War.

My wife and I have just returned from a week’s break in France and Belgium, where we visited a number of memorials and cemeteries, and took many photographs which might appear in the book that is planned.

The cemeteries and memorials certainly have great poignancy and together represent the sheer magnitude of the heartbreak experienced by loved ones, families and communities between 1914 and 1918.

There are a significant number of memorials to Commonwealth servicemen who have no known grave. Among the largest are the Thiepval Monument which records the names of over 72,000 men who died in the Somme sector; the Menin Gate in Ypres and the nearby Tyne Cot Memorial which, respectively, detail the names of around 54,000 and 35,000 men from the allied forces who died on the Ypres Salient.

This year, we also visited the French National War Cemetery at Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, and the Duetscher Soldatenfriedhof (German Soldier's Cemetery) in Langemark. The French cemetery contains about 20,000 individual graves but the remains of a further 22,000 unknown soldiers lie in eight ossuaries, while the German cemetery contains around 44,000 men, of which 25,000 lie in a mass grave.

But as well as the large memorials which often feature as the focal point for commemorations, there are hundreds and hundreds of First World War cemeteries. These lie within what was, one hundred years ago, horribly scarred landscapes that had been witness to untold human suffering,

One cemetery we visited was at Grand Ravine near Havrincourt (above). It contains 139 servicemen including Charles Force (West Riding Regiment), my great-great-uncle from St Mawgan, who was killed on 29th September 1918. It is now a remarkably peaceful place, with the burial ground surrounded on all four sides by ripening corn. There were even poppies growing naturally on the approach to the site.

But this cemetery – along with all the others – nonetheless stands as a stark reminder of the futility of the First World War. And when I think about the conflict which battered the globe between 1914 and 1918, I often find myself drawn back to what King George V said on a visit to Tyne Cot, where there is also a cemetery with over 10,000 graves. He famously asked “whether there can be more potent advocates of peace upon Earth … than this massed multitude of silent witnesses to the desolation of war.”

In my column in next week's newspaper, it is my intention to look at some of the thoughtful ways in which the First World War is being remembered in 2018.

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