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CWGC marks Battle of the Somme centenary at Manchester event

01 July 2016

The CWGC is attending a two day event in Manchester from today, July 1, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.

The event, Somme 100 Manchester, is organised by Manchester City Council, and is taking place at Heaton Park - a military training ground for soldiers during the First World War.

During this morning, July 1, the CWGC will be hosting a special historical experience for school children. This experience will see actors recreating an example of original correspondence from the Commission's archive collections which reveals the early work of CWGC, the efforts it went to in order to provide enduring commemoration of those who had died in the First World War, and the reality of how people at home were dealing with the loss of their loved ones and the decision not to repatriate their remains.

The historical content of this reenactment comes from the archives of CWGC, which hold a large selection of different material relating to the foundation and history of the Commission. This includes the individuals it commemorates and the cemetery and memorial sites it maintains.

The focus of this event will be on a series of correspondence between the wife of a soldier who was killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme (1st July 1916), and the Imperial (later Commonwealth) War Graves Commission.

Susannah Wilders, of Salford, Manchester, wife of 11960 Private Joseph William Wilders, of the 1st Battalion, King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, wrote to the Commission to seek information on the location of her husband's grave. What follows is a prolonged correspondence covering a period of more than 40 years.

Mrs Wilders is initially informed that her husband's remains were never found, and that he will therefore be commemorated on a memorial, but in 1928 his grave is discovered by the Commission.

Mrs Wilders is informed of this news and was 'exceedingly overjoyed' to learn her husband has a grave.

She wrote to the Commission and stated she intended to visit the cemetery where he is buried, bringing her son with her. Many years later, in 1957, Private Wilders son, also J.W. Wilder, writes to the Commission himself to state he too plans to visit the grave of his father, and asks the Commission for directions to Serre Road Cemetery No.2 in France , where his father is buried.

This series of letters is just one family's personal account of the aftermath and legacy of the Battle of the Somme, and similar experiences would have been replicated across the UK and other parts of the Commonwealth in the months and years after the end of the war.

From 3pm onwards, the CWGC tent will be open to the general public to come along and speak to our CWGC staff and browse items from our archives.

The CWGC has also launched, this year, its new Living Memory Project encouraging people in Britain to go and explore their nearest war graves and discover the stories behind the names. We have more than 300,000 men and women from both world wars buried in the UK in over 12,000 locations.

There is at least one war grave three miles from everyone's front door.

The Battle of the Somme started on July 1, but didn't end until November 18 - 141 days in total. We are asking the British public to join our Living Memory Project to explore, discover and remember those who lost their lives in the First World War.

Anyone wishing to join can email livingmemory@cwgc.org for a free resource pack. Visit www.cwgclivingmemory.org for more information.

Jennie Sweeney, Head of Community Engagement for the CWGC, said: "Although many people will be going to our sites in France and Belgium to commemorate those who lost their lives during the Battle of the Somme, we want to encourage people in the UK to remember the fallen buried here.

"We have men who fought during the Somme offensive buried in the UK who came home with wounds sustained during the battle and subsequently died.

"They all need to be remembered and the Living Memory Project is the perfect way to do this. I hope to see many people come and join us this weekend.