This is what the 1418-Now website says: “On Platform One of Paddington Station in London, there is a statue of an unknown soldier; he’s reading a letter. On the hundredth anniversary of the declaration of war… we’re inviting everyone in the country to pause, take a moment or two, and write that letter. All the letters the soldier receives will be published here, creating a new kind of war memorial – one made only of words”.The website remains open until 11pm on 4 August – the centenary of the moment when Prime Minister Asquith announced to the House of Commons that Britain had joined the First World War.
“I rather envy you… you reading that letter from a loved one.
My grandfather Frank, aged 17, was a member of the 8th Brigade Royal Field Artillery and entered the Theatre of War in France/Belgium on 19 August 1914. He was one of the “lucky” ones, he survived. His service war record indicates that he spent a total of 4 years 221 days in France (until April 1919). He never really spoke to us about the war – although it seems that he was on the receiving end of the first German chlorine gas attack at Ypres and, amazingly, also bumped into one of his brothers there too!
Through access to War Diaries at The National Archives, I’ve managed to follow his Brigade’s “progress” through the war (although sections from 1917/1918 remain incomplete).
What we have NOT got are any of the letters he wrote during the course of the war or any he received from his family and friends… they must have provided some crucial scraps of comfort to all concerned at a time of huge uncertainty and fear.
Frank survived, which, of course, meant that my mother was born… and me, and my three daughters, and my six grandchildren…
Did you survive?
A hundred years on and we try to remember those didn’t.
For me, these are just names (or represent vague thoughts about the futility of war) but, for many, they were and are much more than that”.
Photo: the statue of the unknown soldier on platform 1 at Paddington Station.
PS: at the time of this posting, the website says the soldier has received 19,167 letters.