Throughout November communities across the UK have been working with Big Ideas Company to pilot the new Living Memory project. In partnership with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and co-funded by the Department of Communities and Local Government, individuals and community groups have been discovering their local First World War graves and finding someone to remember. Here’s a run down of the some of the moving events which took place across the UK, place by place.
Members of the Bristol Indian Association visited Greenbank Cemetery earlier this month and following their discoveries they chose to learn more about the Sikh and Indian contribution in the First World War at the Voices of India Conference on Saturday 21st November in Brighton. Students from Merchants’ Academy are visiting Arnos Vale cemetery in December and will be creating a series of short plays about the lives of two brothers from Bristol, both killed in the First World War and buried at Arnos Vale. Edson Burton from the Trinity Centre wrote a new piece of poetry to remember the South African soldiers who lost their lives in the First World War and are now buried at Arnos Vale, listen and watch here. Students from Kingsweston School visited their local cemetery in Shirehampton and found the graves of a soldier and his father. Students Tristan, 11, and Erin, 12, were shocked to discover that soldier WG Bowen died when he was just eighteen years old, only a few years older than they are. Erin laid two roses on WG Bowen’s grave and said: “I’m sorry to disturb you, Mr Bowen. We hope your afterlife is very peaceful. Rest in peace.” Bowen was in the Royal Air Force and died a week after the Armistice, on November 18, 1918. WG Bowen’s headstone also records his father’s death in the autumn of 1914.
Sutton United Football Club joined together to remember their local First World War casualties prior to the match on Saturday 7th November and have been sharing these stories with their local Walking Footballers Club for older members of the community. They will be working alongside other community groups across the capital including Age UK Islington who remembered those buried locally in Abney Park Cemetery at an event on the 11th November; The Union Chapel Islington created an exhibition of photographs from Abney Park to share with the community on the 11th November; Project One Zero in Islington also created their own exhibition of images from Abney Park as well as hosting a family sharing event on the 15th November. Members from Brent Mencap visited Willesden Cemetery on the 11th November to discover more about their local First World War graves and Harrow Green Community Library’s creative writing group wrote a series of poems inspired by the lives of those buried in St Patrick’s R.C. Cemetery, Leytonstone and surrounding cemeteries. Several cemeteries including Nunhead and Ladywell offered events and tours throughout November to help communities discover their local First World War graves courtesy of the friends’ groups.
Community groups and schools from across the city visited Manchester Southern Cemetery to discover more about those buried locally. Demesne Community Association visited the cemetery with students from St Anne’s Academy on the 27th October and will be researching those buried locally to share with the community in December. Manchester Academy and Whalley Range High School visited the cemetery in November and undertook a number of follow up activities such as writing First World War poems and creating prints of First World War graves. Age UK Manchester visited St Wilfrids Church in Northenden on the 10th November followed by a remembrance afternoon filled with poppy crocheting, picture exhibitions and memory sharing at their centre on the 11th November. The Salford Armed Forces Veterans Network have been working with Salford Cathedral Primary School to uncover the story of local soldier Billy Unsworth who died at Gallipoli. They have written a song about his life and the children have been writing letters and poems for him.
In Reading members from 2nd Boys Brigade at Wycliffe Baptist Church took to their bikes and visited a number of cemeteries around Reading to find the War Graves there. They shared their discoveries through a series of presentations and exhibitions at the Church and created exhibitions. Students from the Avenue School visited graves in Tilehurst as they have found someone in the records who was based at the Air Balloon Station in Kent and has the same last name as one of their recent leavers. They are a school for children with complex autism and health and physical difficulties and will be delivering a range of exciting activities to share their local heritage. The Berkshire Carers Service will be working with older members of their Poppy Club to remember those buried locally in Reading Cemetery in December.
In Belfast the Round Tower Community Project have been offering tours of Belfast Cemetery as part of their ‘Row on Row’ project which has seen the Last Post being played at the cemetery throughout November. History Hub Ulster have created a short film about the First World War graves in Belfast Cemetery. The 6th Connaught Rangers are hoping to create a digital story about local lives lost in the First World War whilst in Bangor members of the public can take part in free cemetery tours on Saturday 28th November courtesy of the Bangor Grammarians, the association of former pupils of the School.
St Johnstone Football Club in Perth worked with the Black Watch Museum and young people from Our Ladies Primary School to learn more about those buried locally. Young players from the club visited the school to work with the young people to learn more about the local lives lost in the First World War. The names of those buried locally were then read a home game on the 7th November and all are continuing to work together to plan an ongoing series of remembrance activities. Our most northerly participants took part in Sanday, Orkney, where young people from Sanday Community School found their local war graves and discovered more about their lives and those also on the local War Memorial.
Seaford Museum and Seaford Library will both be creating and hosting First World War Commonwealth War Graves Commission exhibitions throughout December. The Museum will also produce a short guide to the War Graves at Seaford Cemetery which will lead visitors to the graves and give some of the back-stories of those who are buried there. Sussex Archaeological Society are going to try and recreate an image from the Great War to mark the contribution of local soldiers in the Frist World War. Seaford Cemetery offered free guided tours of the First World War graves on Sunday 8th November and Saturday 14th November. On the 10th November a remembrance event was organised by Nubian Jak to unveil two new plaques to mark the contribution of members of the British West Indies Regiment who are buried in Seaford Cemetery.
The Living Memory Pilot Project has commissioned a new poem by well known Jamaican British poet Valerie Bloom entitled Nineteen, in memory of the 19 members of the British West Indies Regiment who are buried in Seaford. The story is a poignant one – the men, all volunteers, contracted pneumonia and mumps within weeks of arriving in the British Isles and died during the winter of 1915-16. They never saw action:
Here, a hundred years from home,
A simple headstone tells our story.
In the corner of this foreign field,
Where we’re waiting still, for glory.
To accompany the poem, Valerie has written suggestions to help others to write remembrance poems as part of the Living Memory Pilot.
With activities still taking place in December there is still time to get involved in the project, join in with activities and find out more about your local Commonwealth War Graves Commission graves. To find your local graves visit their site now.