As we approach the centenary of the outbreak of World War One, there are many different opportunities to engage with the commemorations.
For instance, the Lights Out campaign encourages people across the UK to turn off their lights between 10pm and 11pm on 4th August 2014, leaving only a single light or candle for this symbolic act of reflection and hope.
Whilst some people will want to attend remembrance services, others may prefer to pay tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice by putting pen to paper.
The website www.1418now.org.uk/letter provides you with the chance to write your own letter to an unknown soldier. It can be written as if you were writing at the time of the conflict, or be used as an opportunity to express your thoughts about what we have learnt since.
All the letters are published on the site and current contributors include school children, pensioners, students, nurses and members of the armed forces. Letters have arrived from all over the UK and beyond. Many well known writers have also contributed.
The site is deeply impressive, with over 10,000 letters already published. As I wrote my letter I was struck by how many things haven’t changed for soldiers, even one hundred years on.
Here is my letter:
LETTER TO AN UNKNOWN SOLDIER
I am writing to you to convey my profound and deepest gratitude for your outstanding service to our country.
I believe your selfless commitment and service stands as a shining example.
You were prepared to face danger to secure freedom for people you would never meet, and never know and today, we live in peace and enjoy freedom because of what you and others did for us. That is a legacy which will endure for all time.
I wanted to tell you that recently I travelled to the battlefields in Northern France on which you fought. I walked the ground. I stood alone in the rain in front of the graves. I remembered you and all those like you who never came home. I thought about the grieving families.
I think I understand a little of what you went through, because I was once a soldier too. Although some things have changed over the years, there are some constants of soldiering: the camaraderie of service, the dark humour, the comfort that comes from a hot brew, the fear that precedes the advance and the longing for home. And you and I both understand the power of a letter: news from home, the good wishes and messages of support that lift the spirit and make the heart dance. Just as important today as ever before.
It is a great sadness that your war would not be the war to end all wars and there have been other conflicts since where more young people like you have fallen.
We think of them and we think of you and one hundred years on, we will ensure that the passage of time will not weary the devotion that our country feels for you and your comrades.
As a country we embrace this opportunity to remember what you did for us and to learn from it. To use it as an example for how – in our own lives we can strive to do more to help others and to ensure that we live in peace.
Your perfect and shining example will burn bright and it will endure. We owe you a debt of gratitude that we can never repay but we must at least try.
Thank you. We will always remember you.
This article was first published on 23 July 2014 in the Barnsley Independent.
Photo credit: Dom Agius