Their names live on...

JEREMY LEWIS on the im­por­tance of remembrance and how a new com­put­erised roll of hon­our will pro­vide an in­deli­ble record of Not­ting­hamshire’s war dead for gen­er­a­tions to come


THE most poignant re­minder of the Great War in this Armistice centenary week was the Im­pe­rial War Mu­seum’s sound record of what hap­pened on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, 1918: the minute the guns fell silent.

Recre­at­ing that mo­ment on the Moselle sec­tor of the Western Front, the au­dio doc­u­ment cap­tures the boom­ing bar­rage of Al­lied and Ger­man guns … then, at 11am, sec­onds of si­lence punc­tu­ated by the odd iso­lated ex­plo­sion … and then noth­ing but bird­song.

One hun­dred years on, to the very sec­ond, to­mor­row’s Armistice remembrance in Not­ting­ham and in thou­sands of other com­mu­ni­ties will dwell on that mo­ment in his­tory – the end of a four-year con­flict that led to 20 mil­lion deaths world­wide.

Among them were al­most one mil­lion Bri­tish, Ir­ish and Empire ser­vice­men… in­clud­ing some 14,000 from Not­ting­hamshire.

Those 14,000 names will be per­ma­nently recorded on the new Great War Me­mo­rial on Vic­to­ria Em­bank­ment. You can find out more about many of them on the Not­ting­hamshire Great War Roll of Hon­our, an on­line record of lo­cal sac­ri­fice.

What­ever time, weather, ac­ci­dents and van­dals may do to phys­i­cal records, the com­put­erised roll of hon­our, con­tain­ing in­di­vid­ual his­to­ries that can­not be ac­com­mo­dated on mon­u­ments, is an in­deli­ble me­mo­rial for the ages and a won­der­ful ges­ture of re­spect.

It can be added to as fam­i­lies learn more about a fallen grand­fa­ther or great-grand­fa­ther. In years to come it can be ex­am­ined by re­searchers, school­child­ren and cu­ri­ous browsers, who will learn about the per­son be­hind the name.

An­niver­saries of the Armistice of 1918 gave us the an­nual mo­ment to re­mem­ber the dead of all wars. The Queen leads the com­mem­o­ra­tion at the Ceno­taph and the act of remembrance is repli­cated at memo­ri­als the length of the land.

But will the pass­ing of to­mor­row’s centenary mark the on­set of a loss of in­ter­est in the Great War? Will the con­flict even­tu­ally slip out of our con­scious­ness and be noth­ing but an­other lightly-thumbed chap­ter in a his­tory book?

More im­por­tantly, will the very busi­ness of re­mem­ber­ing our lost ser­vice­men and women ever be re­garded as an ar­chaic and ir­rel­e­vant rit­ual?

Surely the United King­dom will never let that hap­pen. Not­with­stand­ing the hor­rors of the Sec­ond World War, the sheer scale of front-line slaugh­ter, and its im­pact on an en­tire gen­er­a­tion, makes the First World War unique in Bri­tish his­tory.

And in the short term, al­though nine years have passed since the death of Harry Patch, the last sur­viv­ing com­bat sol­dier of the First World War, we still have a gen­er­a­tion with mem­o­ries of the im­pact of that catas­tro­phe.

My own grand­fa­ther, an in­fantry­man from Nuneaton, recorded in his pri­vate jour­nal that he had been fired at by a sniper. He did not record his later en­counter with poi­sonous gas. In 1918, he came home with his life… but to half a cen­tury of lung-wrack­ing cough­ing fits, re­mem­bered with dis­tress by his fam­ily.

So the Great War will not be for­got­ten. But should we not also guard the con­cept of remembrance of those who died in their coun­try’s name?

To­mor­row we re­mem­ber not only the gen­er­a­tion of Harry Patch, but also the men and women of suc­ces­sive gen­er­a­tions whose lives have been lost in sub­se­quent con­flicts: the Sec­ond World War, post­colo­nial cam­paigns, the Falk­lands, Iraq.

From more re­cent times we re­mem­ber much-missed Afghanistan ca­su­al­ties like, to name just three, Not­ting­hamshire men Mar­tin Gill, Gary Thomp­son and Kieron Hill.

The time to re­mem­ber all of them is the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

This year. Next year. Ev­ery year.

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