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Kirsty Wark and Hugh Dennis encourage community groups across the UK to explore, discover and remember fallen of WW1

30 June 2016

Scottish journalist and Newsnight presenter, Kirsty Wark, and British actor, Hugh Dennis, have teamed up with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) to encourage the British public to visit their local war graves and discover the stories behind the names of those who gave their lives in the First World War.

The CWGC has launched its Living Memory Project across the UK to remember the forgotten front; the 300,000 war graves and memorials in Britain from both world wars, in time to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme (July 1).

The CWGC Living Memory Project aims to encourage community groups to discover, explore and remember their war heritage - with everyone in the UK having at least one war grave three miles from their front door.

Everyone in the UK has at least one war grave three miles from their front door and the CWGC are looking for 141 UK groups, to hold 141 events, to mark the 141 days of the Somme offensive.

Kirsty Wark, ambassador for CWGCs Living Memory project, 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."

Hugh Dennis, ambassador for CWGCs Living Memory project, said: "I have a very personal connection with the First World War as both my grandfathers fought at the Western Front. My great uncles also fought and one, my great uncle Frank, died and is commemorated by the CWGC in Gallipoli, Turkey.

I'd urge everyone to get involved in this initiative so we never forget those who died during the Great War and are buried and commemorated so close to us on the home front."

Funding and creative resources are available to help groups identify a CWGC war grave near where they live. This can be to help towards researching about some of those buried locally and to stage a commemorative event.

Any community group interested can register now by emailing livingmemory@cwgc.org or visiting www.cwgclivingmemory.org

CWGC Director of External Relations, Colin Kerr, 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 and DCLG, 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 project has been devised in partnership with community engagement specialists, Big Ideas Company www.bigideascompany.org.

Chief Executive Virginia Crompton said: "We are proud to be contributing to such a meaningful project supporting people across the UK to discover their local war graves."

For more information, contact: Samantha Daynes on 01628 507102 or by email sam.daynes@cwgc.org

Ends

Notes for editors:

1. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (www.cwgc.org)

The CWGC maintains the graves of the 1.7 million Commonwealth servicemen and women who died during the two world wars. It also holds and updates an extensive and accessible records archive.

The CWGC operates in more than 23,000 locations in more than 150 countries across all continents except for Antarctica.

2. Big Ideas Company Ltd (www.bigideascompany.org)

BICO develops and delivers public engagement and participation projects, specialising in projects which bring groups together and create new experiences and relationships.

3. Hugh Dennis Living Memory Interview

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFqFRXGGgoQ

4. Kirsty Wark Living Memory Interview

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iOzFxN9o3t0

5. Examples of UK Living Memory events across the 141 days

South West: A student from Swindon aims to cycle 141 miles to visit 141 war graves throughout the 141 days of the Somme centenary whilst Hikmat CIC in Exeter are looking at the various nationalities that are remembered in war graves across the South West from Australians in Exeter to Chinese in Plymouth.

London: On the 4th September there will be an intriguing collaborative event with Poetryslabs and Friends of West Norwood Cemetery who are creating a hydrophobic wax poetry trail to mark the Somme Centenary. Poems will be placed on the ground around the town and outside the cemetery (to be revealed by water) and coincide with a walking tour of the War Graves within Norwood Cemetery.

South East: Throughout July and August young people undertaking their National Citizen Service with the Challenge will be taking part in Living Memory, visiting local war graves and planning a series of social action projects to raise awareness of local war graves in Reading and High Wycombe and getting more young people interested in their local First World War heritage.  Young people undertaking their Duke of Edinburgh Award across some parts of the country are also planning expeditions to take in visits to local war graves across the 141 days of the Somme

Midlands: Friends of Gainsborough Cemeteries and Chapel are holding a commemorative event on the 1st July to mark the newly restored CWGC grave of Lance Corporal Freebury in the Gainsborough Cemetery. The public ceremony will involve local school children, elected representatives, RBL members and others, and will feature readings, a minutes silence and the Last Post. Research on all buried in the site has led to the publication of a booklet and creation of an exhibition being produced to be shared throughout the 141 days of the Somme centenary.                  

North East: The After-School Club at Washington School has spent the whole school 2015/16 year studying WW1 through all subjects of the curriculum. They undertook a study visit to Thiepval earlier in June and will now make visits to Jesmond and St Andrews cemeteries in Newcastle where they will research those buried there, do headstone rubbings, read WW1 poems and take photographs.  They will compare and contrast these visits to Thiepval and discuss their feelings about the visits. Their year's work will be on display in the school as well on the school website and they are compiling a school WW1 Roll of Honour. The project culminates in the w/c 19th September.

North West: Hyndburn Civic Arts Centre are leading a unique and large-scale performance piece in commemoration to the Accrington Pals on the 30th June. Groups from 8 local villages will walk to Oakhill Park, Accrington, each group will carry a 40lb backpack as well as photographs of the soldiers. This will recreate the 16 mile walk that the soldiers undertook on the eve of the Somme. At the park, music will be performed by the East Lancashire Concert Band & the Lancashire Artillery Band. There will be a 15 minute performance piece by 720 local people, each one representing a member of the Pals 584 who were killed in the first 20 minutes of the battle. Members of the group will also be visiting their local war graves as part of the project.

Wales: Throughout July Menai Bridge Brass Band and Cathays Band will be playing the Last Post and other First World War songs at the graves of two known Somme casualties in Wales. Cathays band will perform for Lewington George Davis, who died aged 17 as a result of his injuries from the Somme and is buried in Cardiff Cathays Cemetery. Menai Bridge Brass Band will be remembering John Parry who died aged 27 as a result of injuries at the Somme and is buried in Llanwenllwyfo St Gwenllwyfo Churchyard, Anglesey.

Northern Ireland: Families who use the Westville Family Resource Centre (in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh) are planting several flower boxes as well as a cherry tree outside their premises. The cherry tree is in memory of Captain Collingwood Ingram whose war diaries included many sketches of trees, birds and people and who raised the Prunus 'Kursar' (cherry tree) plant.  WFRC are working with local Polish, Latvian & Lithuanian families who use the centre to explore how WW1 soldiers are commemorated locally and in their own countries, and discuss their own family / community WW1 history. Once cultivated, the group will lay the flowers they have grown at their local CWGC site and are making wooden hearts to remember people to hang on the cherry tree.

Scotland: Fenwick Parish Church are marking the anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme with an overnight vigil. They will be commemorating the men who died during the battle with a short video about each one which will be shown on the anniversaries of their death.