A project remembering WWI wants as many people as possible to create a new kind of war memorial – one made entirely of words. Writers are taking part and students and schoolchildren and nurses and shop workers and writing groups. Everyone…it’s a wonderful idea and I am going to send in my contribution which I have been writing in my head ever since I first heard about it.
On Platform 1 of Paddington Station in London there is statue of an Unknown Soldier reading a letter. This is the letter you are going to write. Here’s how the organisors explain it:
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?
At the height of the First World War an average of twelve and a half million letters were sent each week by family, friends and lovers to soldiers fighting on the Western Front. The British Army considered it essential for morale that its men should be able to communicate quickly and regularly with those that they had left behind. To that end, great efforts were made to ensure that letters would be delivered to their destination within two or three days of being posted.
Here are extracts from letters already submitted to the project:
“We were puckish children, in search of fun. Naughty we were, naughty.”
Benjamin Zephaniah, Poet/Writer
“I saw a look in your eye. “My brother, a coward?” It nearly killed me.”
Stephen Fry, Writer/Presenter/Actor
“You were not unknown to the soldiers who fought with you or the lovers you wrote to”
Laura Ryder, Student
“Dear husband, remember God is everywhere, his will is in the drinking water which becomes holy when you drink it with a prayer.”
Daljit Nagra, POET
Letters can be submitted now and will be published on the website starting on 28 June – the centenary of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, the event which marked the beginning of Europe’s descent into war. The website will remain open until the night of August 4th, the day war was declared a 100 years ago. Eventually the British Library will archive all the letters in their collection.
There’s lots of interesting material on the website to inspire and inform and make you feel that 100 years isn’t that far away.