We will re­mem­ber Com­mu­ni­ties around world mark armistice

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - Es­ther Ad­dley ‘There were so many folk from Unst who fought and quite a few lost their lives’ Ge­of­frey Priest Shet­land Is­lan­der

Just be­fore 7pm to­mor­row, Ge­of­frey Priest will walk to a point close to the top of Saxa Vord, a hill near the north­ern­most tip of the Shet­land is­land of Unst, armed with some kin­dling, paraf­fin and a blow­torch.

“It’s a pretty wild place in the win­ter time,” says Priest, and a force-five wind is pre­dicted. But as a joiner who “can put my hand to most things”, he is con­fi­dent he will be able to light the bea­con that will be the cen­tre­piece of the is­land’s com­mem­o­ra­tion of the cen­te­nary of the armistice.

It’s an im­por­tant thing to do, says Priest, “be­cause there were so many folk that fought in the war from Unst, and quite a few who lost their lives here”. In the first world war 600 Shet­land men were killed, a higher pro­por­tion of the pop­u­la­tion than any­where else in Bri­tain.

The Unst bea­con may be Bri­tain’s most northerly trib­ute, but it will be just one of many thou­sands of acts of com­mem­o­ra­tion tak­ing place across the UK – and fur­ther afield.

The Queen, Theresa May and Frank-Wal­ter Stein­meier, the Ger­man fed­eral pres­i­dent, will mark the event at the Ceno­taph in Lon­don to­mor­row, and more than 70 world lead­ers will gather at the Arc de Tri­om­phe in Paris. But for many, the most mov­ing cer­e­monies will be small-scale and lo­cal, re­flect­ing the ter­ri­ble losses ex­pe­ri­enced by so many com­mu­ni­ties.

It is im­pos­si­ble to quan­tify how many such events will be tak­ing place. In Bri­tain alone, the gov­ern­ment-backed site Armistice 100 records more than 2,600 cer­e­monies – bell-ring­ings, church ser­vices, pa­rades, ex­hi­bi­tions – which is likely to be only a frac­tion of those that are planned.

An ini­tia­tive called Bat­tle’s Over lists more than 1,000 com­mem­o­ra­tive bea­cons and a sim­i­lar num­ber of churches and cathe­drals ring­ing bells, while it says more than 2,000 in­di­vid­ual pipers will play trib­utes in lo­ca­tions in­clud­ing Den­mark, Canada, Aus­tralia, So­ma­liland and Iran.

The War Memo­ri­als Trust es­ti­mates that there are more than 100,000 memo­ri­als in the UK, and ex­pects that the ma­jor­ity of them will be the fo­cus of an act of re­mem­brance, large or small, this week­end, a spokes­woman said.

In Jersey, the torch used to light the bea­con at the St Ouen head­land will be car­ried from St He­lier by 14 mo­tor­bike rid­ers in a “solemn and re­spect­ful” trib­ute. Play­ers at the women’s in­ter­na­tional foot­ball match be­tween Eng­land and Swe­den in Rother­ham, South York­shire, to­mor­row will take part in a wreath­lay­ing cer­e­mony be­fore kick-off.

The pas­tor of a church in Olean, in New York state, marked the an­nounce­ment of the armistice in 1918 by dash­ing from his house and ring­ing his church bell 100 times; the town will mark the cen­te­nary by re­peat­ing this.

New Zealand will hold a com­mem­o­ra­tive si­lence fol­lowed by a na­tional “roar­ing cho­rus” – a ju­bi­lant ca­coph­ony of bells, sirens and horns, echo­ing the spon­ta­neous out­burst that ac­com­pa­nied the news a cen­tury ago.

In Bee­ston Regis, a small vil­lage near Sher­ing­ham in Nor­folk, the parish coun­cil has printed and dis­trib­uted a book­let about the vil­lage’s wartime con­nec­tions, ahead of ser­vices, a bea­con light­ing and a tea dance.

The vil­lage had signed up to take part in the com­mem­o­ra­tions, “but to be hon­est with you that was just last post, light a bea­con, ring the church bell,” says Roy Beck­ley, the coun­cil’s vice-chair­man. “I just said, ‘I don’t think we’re go­ing to get many peo­ple out on a dark night in Novem­ber. We need some­thing to at­tract them. So we’ll have a tea party’.”

With a pop­u­la­tion of 1,700, they are ex­pect­ing 170 at the party, among them fam­i­lies of all ages. The fare, says Beck­ley, “will be very sim­ple and based on 1914 stuff. I sus­pect there will be egg sand­wiches, tomato sand­wiches. For a lit­tle parish, we try to do things prop­erly.”

A sim­i­lar spirit has in­spired the res­i­dents of Bur­ton-in-Lons­dale, North York­shire, which lost 20 men. The vil­lage’s organiser, Mike Biles, es­ti­mates 70 of the 600 vil­lagers have been in­volved in plan­ning its com­mem­o­ra­tions, which in­clude film screen­ings, an ex­hi­bi­tion and a “her­itage” foot­ball match, fol­lowed by a “trench stew” sup­per.

Note: Map shows ap­prox­i­mate borders in 1914 for ar­eas where fig­ures are known. Ex­tent of ter­ri­to­ries in Africa not shown. Source: World War I Ca­su­al­ties, Robert Schu­man Cen­tre at the Eu­ro­pean Uni­ver­sity. Thinkquest.

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