A Time to Remember: The Centennial Memorials of WWI

holly-fisher-1BY HOLLY FISHER
Staff Writer, UAS Whalesong

As the Centennial Years of World War I near their end, people all over the world continue to grieve the events that etched themselves into global memory.

Participating nations are putting their best foot forward throughout the 2014-2018 centenary. All involved are participating in a worldwide collection of commemorative events, memorial establishment, and refurbishment. However, some countries have taken even more special consideration in their choice of remembrance.

France has implemented a policy of National Remembrance marked by the ongoing Mission Centenaire, according to the Mission Centenaire website. This has sparked a flood of individuals (mainly Canadian) attending commemorative events at Vimy Ridge, the Somme, Verdun, and many other major battlefields.

The United Kingdom, among a myriad of projects, is seeking to collect and digitize many WWI era images and diaries. The National Archives released the first batches in January of 2014, and further information is available on the British National Archives website.

Belgium is marking their hard years of invasion and occupation with research and discovery. The Defence section of the .be14-18 website is dedicated solely to historical information for the education of those interested in the centenary.

Australia is marking the Anzac Centenary with a seven-year program titled “100 Years of Anzac”, according to the 100 Years of Anzac homepage. Given how intrinsically important WWI was to the country’s independent formation, these years are seen as Australia’s most important period of national commemoration.

New Zealand, which has the same national Anzac heritage as Australia, is marking this as the WW100 centenary. They wish to not only detail the soldier’s stories, but also to recount the experiences of those on the home front. Many resources are available at the WW100 New Zealand website.

Canada has extended the sentry hours of the Ceremonial Guards to permanently last between Vimy Ridge Day (Apr. 9) and Remembrance Day (Nov. 11). The announcement was made by then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper during an event on August 3, 2014 at the Canadian Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, as reported by CTV News.

Kenya (then British East Africa), is dedicating events to the East African Campaign that which was fought against Tanzania (at the time, German East Africa), as reported by the Centenary News website.

The Czech Republic (at the time part of Austria-Hungary) is running several multimedia accounts that detail the war in a day-by-day account. The Radio Prague website is one repository of collected information available through the Czech Centenary programs.

Ireland erected a Cross of Sacrifice in Dublin on July 31, 2014. As reported by the Irish Times, it was dedicated to all Irish men and women who died during the world wars, regardless of their political affiliation.

The United States held a special day of commemoration on Apr. 6, the one-hundred-year mark since the U.S. declared war on Germany in 1917. The “In Sacrifice for Liberty and Peace: Centennial Commemoration of the U.S. Entry into World War I” event was held at the National WWI Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, MO. The Memorial and the United States World War One Centennial Commission jointly sponsored it, with information available on both websites.

Germany is a unique case, in that they have made no specific plans to memorialize the war. A desire to avoid the nations militaristic past, and the painful nature of the aftermath of the Great War contributes to this lack of activity. However, they have participated in a handful of anniversary commemorations in other countries. German and French officials made a joint call for EU Unity during 2016, marking the 100 anniversary of the Verdun, as reported by BBC News.

While the nations themselves are the main participants in the effort for remembrance, some international organizations are also creating memorial projects of their own.

The European Broadcasting Union is putting together a special performance of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, according to the EBU website. The concert will take place in an area adjacent to where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, the death that triggered the war.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has digitized the International War Prisoners Agency archives, which are available for search on the Agency website. Over ten million soldiers and civilians were captured and sent to detention camps.

The British Red Cross is also working through a virtually forgotten archive of information on some twenty million soldiers. The index card records were discovered in 2009 by British historian Peter Barton in the basement of Red Cross headquarters in Geneva. According to the BBC News article “Piecing Together the Past,” the archive has been untouched since 1918, and contains painstakingly detailed information about soldiers from over thirty countries.

As the second-to-last year of the centennial rolls on, the desire for closure seems a little closer to realization. Though nothing will every fully explain what happened or why, time has placed some small balm on many of the old wounds.

Many still look back from a hundred years on, with a salute for the brave and a prayer for the dead. May we never lose the lessons learned, or forget the deeds done.

Lest we forget.

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