On 18th November 2016, the final day of the Somme Centenary more than 150 representatives of Living Memory groups met at Brookwood Military Cemetery to share their experiences of the Living Memory project.
The event had a special focus on the Somme casualties buried in the British Isles and discovered and remembered by our groups.
It was an uplifting and moving day, at once a commemoration and a celebration. We listened to poems written by the Kings Theatre writers group in Portsmouth, in the UK, Clydebank High School teacher Paul Hamilton shared their Living Memory Dunbartonshire website, Roydon Women’s Institute and Havering Borough Council spoke about their Somme casualties. The Pipe Major of the Royal Scottish Pipers Association in Northern Ireland played their lament, we heard Chepstow Singing Club’s choral Last Post. Somehow, the Grimsby Scouts managed to transcend cancelled trains and motorway roadworks and arrived in time – just! – to receive their Champions certificates from Sir Tim Lawrence. Sir Tim’s encouragement and enthusiasm was hugely appreciated by everyone as he awarded the project certificates and recognised their contributions as communities to the memory of those buried in CWGC war graves in the British Isles.
Big Ideas Company [BICO] developed The Living Memory Project with CWGC to inspire and enable the public into the sites across the UK as a fitting tribute for the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.
The Living Memory resource pack takes participants on a journey to discover, explore, remember and champion war graves here:
Discover local war graves [postcode search on CWGC.org]
Explore the stories of those buried there [start with CWGC database]
Remember through informal commemoration events [e.g. lay flowers]
Champion the war graves telling others in the community [events, creative response, media, displays, etc.]
The project also offered small scale funding for expenses from £50-£200 per group to cover costs incurred.
We set our participation targets based on the 141 days of the Battle of the Somme and aimed to fund 141 groups to undertake activities and hold events throughout the period of the centenary from 1st July until 18th November. Living Memory aimed to raise awareness of war graves in Britain with mainstream community groups utilising networks, media, and contacts to generate awareness. In order to strengthen the connection to the Somme centenary, we also encouraged participants to search for the war graves of 141 Somme casualties buried in the UK.
We worked with a ‘mixed economy’ of new audiences (such as the Merseyside Fire Cadets) and heritage networks (such as the National Federation of Cemetery Friends). We found that even among established remembrance groups the idea of visiting war graves was often novel. History experts embraced the opportunity to reach new audiences.
This ‘mixed economy’ approach was also pursued in our strategic partnerships which included key players in the Centenary sector (the IWM Centenary Partnership, the British Council and Institute of Education), existing CWGC stakeholders (National Federation of Cemetery Friends, Royal British Legion and SSAFA) and mainstream networks (the Women’s Institute and the FA). Of these, the Women’s Institute was the most notable success. We offered them information about 2000 women’s war graves which created a connection and sense of ownership exemplified in the moving film which documents the activity of Crosthwaite and Lyth WI.
The powerful local connection to cemetery sites proved a strong motivation for involvement with many participants telling us they felt a sense of ownership and duty. Indeed the ‘cold call’ approach to recruitment was strikingly effective – when for example schools next to the cemetery were invited to take part, they invariably agreed. We targeted mainstream networks and piloted a flexible approach so that the project could be adapted for diverse settings including schools, youth groups, older people’s networks and sports clubs.
Britain does not have an established tradition of visiting cemeteries and our survey shows that approx. 50% of those taking part were unaware of the CWGC and the war graves here. Despite the scale of the challenge we were able to meet our targets. 222 groups took part in the Living Memory project and kept us fully informed of their activity. A total of 700 contacted the team and requested a resource pack. The project breakdown by region and by group (schools / libraries /arts etc.) demonstrates that we were successful in generating engagement across community networks and throughout the UK.
We also aimed to reach hard to reach communities and to engage groups which might have financial constraints. The high diversity score is of particular note: 45% of those reported in the Living Memory survey were from diverse ethnic backgrounds. Furthermore, 64% of respondents said that they would not have been able to take part without the financial assistance.
Above all, the feedback from our Living Memory groups reflects the positive experience of those who took part. 93% of respondents said they would be likely or very likely to take part in the project again. 94% said they had learnt something new about their local First World War heritage. 99% of respondents said they enjoyed taking part in the Living memory project.
Everybody, 100% of respondents, said they have told other members of their community, family or friends about the local war graves.
With thanks to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and the Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) for funding the Living Memory Project.