Scarlett Watkins and Andrew Williams, who took part in CWGC's new internship scheme in the summer, at the Merchant Navy Memorial, London, for the launch of the Commonwealth War Graves Foundation (Photo: Centenary News)

CWGC launches new charity 'bridging generation gap' in remembrance

Posted on on 10 November 2017
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The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is embarking on a fresh venture, aimed at sharing its work of remembrance much more widely, and particularly with young people, as it enters its second century.

'We need to ask a difficult question - how can we expect a younger generation to remember those they could never have known?' asks Ros Kelly, the former Australian minister who's Chair of the newly-created Commonwealth War Graves Foundation, CWGF.

Officially launched on November 7, in the run-up to Armistice Day 2017, the charity will help CWGC respond to the challenge of keeping alive the stories of the Commonwealth dead of both world wars by offering 'hands-on opportunities' to get involved in projects and events.

The aim is to build up a global supporters' group, fund raising for education and community programmes not covered by CWGC's founding charter in 1917. A paid internship scheme has already proved popular.

Ros Kelly, Chair of the new Commonwealth War Graves Foundation - CWGF: 'It is critical that we ensure today's generation and future generations appreciate the sacrifice.'

Two of the first wave of interns based in France and Flanders last summer to help guide thousands of visitors around some of CWGC's best known sites were on hand for the inaugural event at the Merchant Navy Memorial in London - itself a noted CWGC monument honouring thousands lost at sea.

Andrew Williams, 22, said he'd developed an 'amazing sense of connection and understanding' with those who fell in the First World War, and what the conflict means for the Commonwealth, while working at Tyne Cot Cemetery and the new CWGC information centre near the Menin Gate in Ypres. 

"You see thousands of graves. After being there, and walking among them, you get a real sense of understanding that these aren't just numbers, these are people with a story' he told Centenary News.

Scarlett Watkins, 21, spoke of the insights she'd gained into her own family history - the Thiepval Memorial bears the names of two of her great great uncles among the 72,000 missing soldiers of the Somme. 

And she's been able to share her experience with friends: "I've been able to show them the tools on the CWGC website and so many of them have found out they had relatives they didn't know about. It's so interesting and humbling."

Actors from Kent Youth Theatre sounded an army whistle, last used on the Somme, to herald the birth of the CWGF. 

The Commonwealth War Graves Foundation is among a series of initiatives announced by CWGC in its own Centenary year.

CWGC was founded in May 1917, while the Great War was still being fought, to commemorate the dead of Britain, Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, and South Africa in perpetuity.

"That commitment remains irrevocable," says Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence, CWGC's Vice Chairman.

"But the Foundation will help us with important tasks for which we're not currently funded - education, outreach and many events. 

"It will help bridge the generational gap and keep the memory of those who gave their lives, and their stories, in the forefront of people's minds."

For information about joining the Commonwealth War Graves Foundation, see the CWGC website. There's also a video of the first interns sharing their experiences at Tyne Cot and Thiepval.

The best-selling crime author Martina Cole (pictured at the Merchant Navy Memorial, Tower Hill) and former England rugby captain Lewis Moody are CWGF Ambassadors. Lewis Moody’s great-grandfather fought with the Royal Sussex Regiment in the early battles of WW1 - while Martina Cole has links with both world wars. Her father was a merchant seaman who joined the Royal Navy in 1939, surviving WW2 - and two of her forebears died at Gallipoli: "Make sure the next generation, and the generation after that, will never forget what your relatives did. They deserve to be remembered and they deserve to be part of our heritage,' she says.

Reporting by CN Editor Peter Alhadeff

Images: Centenary News