Help to keep remembrance relevant
ENCOURAGING people to stand in silence in cemeteries is not enough to reach a new generation who must carry on the tradition of remembering Britain’s war dead, the head of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission has said.
Victoria Wallace said more must be done to convey the human stories behind the fallen to young people who increasingly have no close family link to those who died in the World Wars. The Commission is this year hiring a dozen paid interns in their teens and early 20s in an attempt to try to bridge the generation gap, she said.
The interns will welcome visitors to war graves and memorials in the runup to next year’s centenary commemorations of the end of the First World War and try to convey the significance of remembrance to a younger generation. The initiative is part of the commission’s charity foundation which aims to carry on its work for future generations. Ms Wallace told The Sunday Telegraph that young people learned the statistics of the wars “but when you actually say we will remember them, it’s quite difficult to remember something you never knew”. She added: “It’s great for those who have close family relationships, but for those who don’t, actually we want to make sure that people can access those stories and those who have them can then share them.”
She said the Commonwealth War Graves Foundation wanted to make sure the commission’s cemeteries and memorials were “more meaningful” to visitors. She said: “I think the real chal- lenge is the next generation, because when you follow history, unless you are a military historian, or you have served in the Armed Forces, the concept of the battle isn’t the thing that gets people interested.
“The thing that gets people interested is the human story.”
The foundation is recruiting interns aged 18 to 25 with the help of government money raised as fines from the Libor banking scandal. The first recruits are currently meeting and guiding visitors at the commission’s Thiepval memorial in France and Tyne Cot in Belgium. Mrs Wallace said the response from younger visitors had been “phenomenal”.
The Commission is asking for members of the public to come forward with photographs and stories of ancestors who died at the Somme for a piece of art to mark next year’s centenary of the end of the First World War. A display of more than 72,000 figures stitched into shrouds and laid out in London’s Olympic Park will form a centrepiece of the commemoration plans.