Write to the Unknown Soldier

Posted on 16/07/2014 by

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soldier unknownLetter To An Unknown Soldier is a new kind of war memorial: one made only of words, and by thousands of people. And there’s still time to put pen to paper …

The project, created by Kate Pullinger and Neil Bartlett, is inspired by Charles Jagger’s famous statue in Paddington Station of a soldier reading a letter. Everyone in the UK is invited to pause, take a moment or two, and write that letter. All of the letters will be published online for everyone to read alongside contributions from 50 leading writers and held in the British Library’s web archive.

The project, run by 14-18 Now, asks as many people as possible to send a personal message to one of the men who served and was killed during World War One.

Schools and community groups, as well as individuals, have already written letters and their thoughts are part of an online exhibition. Letters are also featured from established writers including A.L Kennedy, Sheila Hancock, Andy McNab and Caryl Churchill.

It’s not too late to write your letter – the project runs until 4th August at 11pm: the centenary of the moment when Prime Minister Asquith announced to the House of Commons that Britain had joined the First World War.

For further information visit 1418now.org.uk

Produced in association with Free Word and in conjunction with the BBC

WW1 Paths of Glory by Christopher Nevinson

I’ve written to him:

Dear Friend

I hope I’m not being too presumptuous calling you friend – after all, we’ve never met but I feel that I’ve known you for most of my life. Let me explain.

Our paths first crossed when I was at secondary school; it must have been 1969 or 1970, which now seems such a long time ago!

It was Mr Macefield, a brilliant History teacher, who first introduced me to you and your pals. The Somme, Passchendaele, the misery, the suffering, the mud, the rats, the lice – I’ve remembered those lessons to this day.

I’ve never experienced war first hand; never felt the fear, breathed in the stench of gas and decay or cringed as shells came crashing down. I’ve never felt the grief of losing close pals. I feel dirty if I can’t shower every morning: God only knows how softies like me would have coped with the filth, the lice and the rats – but you did!

And I often wonder how I would have responded when the officer’s whistle sounded: would I have had the guts to clamber over the top and advance into an inferno of shells and withering machine gun fire? Would I have found it in me to summon up the courage to walk into Hell – you did.

I’m too old to fight now, so I’ll never know. I’ve reached middle age, something so many of you Tommies never did.

I wonder why you enlisted? Duty? Patriotic fervour? Maybe it was a sense of fair play, facing up to a bully? Or more likely you took the King’s shilling because you fancied an adventure and war offered a chance to see places you’d only ever heard about? You probably signed up because all your pals did, and you didn’t want to be left at home while they enjoyed danger and excitement abroad? Whatever your reason, I am grateful – and my generation and those that follow owe you so much.

It’s just a real pity we didn’t learn the lessons of your sacrifice: the Great War really should have been the war to end all wars, but mankind – and our so-called ‘leaders’ in particular – can be incredibly stupid. Just as they were in your day!

Society has moved forward in so many ways; you wouldn’t believe – indeed, couldn’t even begin to imagine – the advances we’ve made, but it seems we can’t stop finding reasons to fight each other. Territory, religion, ideology – you name it, we’ll go to war over it and we go on and on inventing new and ‘better’ ways to kill more and more people! Can you believe that?

But that’s not your fault. When the call came, you answered it. You did your bit; yes, for King and country but also for us. Thank you for all that you did and I’m sorry we’ve made such a mess of things. When I think of you – and the many thousands who also gave everything – I’m ashamed. We have let you down.

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