Athena

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

THAT no one in Eng­land lives more than 3½ miles from graves main­tained by the Com­mon­wealth War Graves Com­mis­sion (CWGC) is a stag­ger­ing com­ment on their num­ber and ubiq­uity. This or­gan­i­sa­tion was es­tab­lished a cen­tury ago to cre­ate and look af­ter the memo­ri­als for Bri­tish and Com­mon­wealth sol­diers who lost their lives in the in­dus­tri­alised slaugh­ter of the First World War. The CWGC went on to memo­ri­alise the dead of the Sec­ond World War and, today, its re­spon­si­bil­i­ties are global. It cares for the records, graves and memo­ri­als of 1.7 mil­lion men and women in about 23,000 lo­ca­tions in 150 coun­tries and ter­ri­to­ries.

In its cen­te­nary year, the Com­mis­sion has em­barked on an im­por­tant ini­tia­tive: the cre­ation of the Com­mon­wealth War Graves Foun­da­tion. This char­ity, launched a week ago, aims to keep the mem­ory of those who died in the con­scious­ness of the 21st cen­tury. The Foun­da­tion’s chair, the Hon Ros Kelly, asks: ‘How can we ex­pect a younger gen­er­a­tion to re­mem­ber those they could never have known?’

Us­ing ed­u­ca­tion and out­reach projects, as well as events and an in­tern­ship scheme, the Foun­da­tion aims to in­tro­duce a new au­di­ence to the sto­ries and mem­o­ries of the fallen.

Athena wel­comes this ini­tia­tive, but she also hopes that its long-term suc­cess will bring with it a fun­da­men­tal change of per­spec­tive in the way we re­gard the work of the CWGC. The com­mem­o­ra­tion of the dead from the World Wars still feels tribal, each na­tion re­mem­ber­ing its own. That’s a ten­dency ex­ag­ger­ated by the or­gan­i­sa­tion of 20th-cen­tury war

memo­ri­als and ceme­ter­ies gen­er­ally. In­deed, as Gavin Stamp ex­plored in COUN­TRY LIFE (Mon­u­ments to the dead,

Novem­ber 8), the CWGC is merely one of the bod­ies es­tab­lished by the war­ring pow­ers to bury the dead, each one act­ing dis­tinctly in a man­ner shaped by pol­i­tics, sen­si­bil­ity and ex­pe­ri­ence.

As the events of both wars fade from liv­ing mem­ory, how­ever, it would be to every­one’s ben­e­fit for these par­ti­san di­vi­sions of the dead to sur­vive, but also be sub­sumed in a broader un­der­stand­ing of the to­tal­ity of loss they rep­re­sent. Be­cause, fun­da­men­tally, the World Wars were not sim­ply a tragedy for the in­di­vid­ual bel­liger­ent na­tions and their pop­u­la­tions (though they were that), they were also a calamity for hu­man­ity at large.

The in­au­gu­ra­tion in 2014 of the In­ter­na­tional Me­mo­rial of Notre Dame de Lorette set a strik­ing prece­dent for a me­mo­rial that tran­scended na­tion­al­ism, bring­ing to­gether, in equal­ity, the names of the 579,606 peo­ple who died in the fight­ing in North­ern France be­tween 1914–18. If we can be­gin to em­pathise col­lec­tively for such suf­fer­ing, then the dead memo­ri­alised will not have died only for the causes of their own day—right and wrong—but for ours as well.

‘The char­ity aims to keep the mem­ory of those who died in our con­scious­ness

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