June 25, 2014 by Holly
This year’s 4th August will mark 100 years since the start of the First World War for Britain. History is one of my biggest passions, so I will certainly be commemorating the day when the time comes, however it can sometimes be hard for people to think about the loss, particularly because of the time difference between the event and the current day.
In remembrance of the First World War, 14-18 NOW (in conjunction with the Imperial War Museum who are heading the commemorations) has launched a new project that allows individuals to connect to wars both past and present in a very personal way.
For those of you who have ever set foot on Paddington Station, you may or may not have noticed this statue on Platform 1: The Unknown Soldier, as he has now been labelled, is a monument to the employees of the Great Western Railway who died during World War I. The soldier reads a letter, possibly from home, which is where the project comes in. Directed by Neil Bartlett and Kate Pullinger, the comission is called ‘Letter to an Unknown Soldier’. The purpose of the project is to allow individuals to input their own personal perspective on the war, or war in general. This is the description from the website:
‘2014 is already proving to be a year jammed-full of WW1 commemoration, but for us, it is important to move away from cenotaphs, poppies, and the imagery we associate with war memorials.
Our project invites everyone to step back, take a few private moments to think, and make their own contribution. If you could say what you want to say about that war, with all we’ve learned since 1914, with all your own experience of life and death to hand, what would you say? If you were now able to write to the unknown soldier, a man who served and was killed during World War One, what would you write?’
The project will feature letters from writers such as Malorie Blackman, Stephen Fry, Andrew Motion, Val McDermid and Benjamin Zephaniah, as well as a whole host of others. However, the most important people in this commemoration are the general public- the individuals with their own stories and their own perspectives who will create more personal and more sentimental stories than a concrete plinth ever could on its own.
The letters will eventually be archived into the British Library’s Collection, a permanent reminder of the everlasting effect World War I has had, be it for the relatives or the onlookers. This project is open globally to anybody who wants to contribute, and you can send a hand-written letter if you prefer the intimacy of pen and paper. One of the most important things to remember is that there is no ‘right’ message. 14-18 NOW is not asking for one hundred letters on sacrifice, but your own opinion and emotions, whether they are sadness at the loss, or disbelief regarding the war’s purpose (to give you an idea, Stephen Fry wrote his about conscientious objectors).
Another thing to remember is that you are writing to the soldier, as if your’s is the letter he holds in his hand. You can write specifically to him from you, or you can pretend to be another person, or give the soldier another name. He might become Jack of the Welsh Fusiliers, or Tom or Frank. The beauty of the project is that you have the freedom to choose.
I would really urge everybody and anybody to get involved. It doesn’t take more than half an hour, yet the letters will last a lifetime.