Remembering the First World War: The flood of 1914-18 memorabilia has begun – and it will break your heart


A pan-European digital library has collected 500,000 mementos

The French embassy in Beirut held a gloomy ceremony last week to mark the killing of its 58 paratroopers in a suicide truck bombing 30 years ago. An Islamic Jihad bomb. For which, I suppose, read Iran. Just one survivor of the attack was persuaded to come back to Lebanon; he spoke movingly of his living, wounded comrades and their all-too living trauma.
The Americans lost 241 servicemen a few seconds earlier in another suicide lorry bombing, but no ceremonies for them last week. I guess the fires of Afghanistan and Iraq still burn too brightly.

Or do we Europeans care more about these dark anniversaries? Unlike the Brits – and I suppose we must wait till that awful date of 4 August to get round to it – the French are already commemorating the First World War, the hundredth anniversary of which falls next year. Perhaps they lost too many men to wait: perhaps 1,385,000 against Britain’s 744,000.

In Ireland, one of the late Seamus Heaney’s last poems, published for the first time this weekend, is inspired by a reading of the British First World War poet Edward Thomas, who was killed at the battle of Arras in April 1917. In France, they are already reopening ancient tunnels where German and French soldiers spent months blowing each other up. French papers carry full page articles on the need to preserve the memories – the letters and documents and photographs and memorabilia of the war which was supposed to end all wars – along with pictures of long-dead poilus in their odd firemen’s hats.

A digital library called Europeana has collected 500,000 mementos and personal archives in 10 countries – its campaign for memorabilia in France begins in just over a week’s time – and some of the items could break a heart of stone. Among them is a cluster of white, black and brown figurine farm animals sculpted by French soldier Charles Grauss for his daughter Ghislaine. They attest to love and a longing for home. But Grauss “fell on the field of honour” – as they say in France – on 29 April 1918.

read more here ON THE INDEPENDENT UK

Categories: Europe and Australia

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