Scottish journalist and Newsnight presenter, Kirsty Wark, has teamed up with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) to launch a new initiative aimed at getting the British public to visit their local war graves.
The plan is to get people to discover the stories behind the names of those who gave their lives in the First World War.
The CWGC will launch its Living Memory Project in Scotland to remember the forgotten front – the 300,000 war graves and memorials in Britain from both world wars on the centenary of the Battle of the Somme (1 July).
The CWGC Living Memory Project aims to encourage community groups to discover, explore and remember their war heritage. Everyone in the UK has at least one war grave three miles from their front door. The Commission is looking for 141 UK groups, to hold 141 events marking the 141 days of the Somme offensive.
In Scotland alone, for example, there are more than 20,000 war graves and memorials commemorating men and women from World War One and World War Two.
Kirsty Wark, ambassador for CWGCs Living Memory project in Scotland, said: “I have a very personal connection with the Battle of the Somme, as my Great Uncle, James Wark, fought for the entire 141 days of the battle. However, fighting during the Somme and for three years, he died from Spanish Flu just days after the Armistice in 1918.
“He had the most poignant letter in his kit bag, which the family now have, saying how much he looked forward to coming home. Sadly, as we know, he never made it, but thanks to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, he is buried and remembered at the Ascq Communal Cemetery in France.
“The men who fought at the Battle of the Somme do so in some of the most horrendous conditions and saw many of their fellow comrades killed or badly wounded. We must never forget them, and instead remember these men by visiting their graves here in Scotland and finding out their stories.”
Kirsty added that people should get together and explore their nearest war graves, finding out about the person behind the headstone and remembering them for the sacrifice they made.
Colin Kerr, CWGC’s Director of External Relations, said: “The overseas work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s is well known, but here in the UK, there is little awareness of the graves and memorials to be found in a more than 12,000 locations that commemorate more than 300,000 Commonwealth war dead of the two world wars.
“We believe this is wrong, and through the Living Memory Project aim to reconnect the British public to their commemorative heritage on their doorstep.
“With the support of the DCMS, the Living Memory Project will encourage more people to discover and visit our war grave sites and remember the war dead in those places from the First and Second World Wars. We want them to share their stories and raise awareness with their wider communities.”
The CWGC maintains the graves of the 1.7 million Commonwealth servicemen and women who died during both world wars. It also holds and updates an extensive records archive. The Commission operates in more than 23,000 locations in more than 150 countries.