Acceptance enables us to look to the future with hope. Our cemeteries and memorials stand as a testament to the terrible consequences of war, and many hoped that they would maintain peace. But no sooner was our final memorial completed in 1938 than the world was plunged into a new global conflict and we began the work of commemorating another generation.
“I have many times asked myself whether there can be more potent advocates of peace upon earth through the years to come than this massed multitude of silent witnesses to the desolation of war.”
King George V on visiting Western Front cemeteries, 1922
In this momentous centenary year, the urge to honour those who died remains as strong as ever: remembrance is not only an appreciation of sacrifice, but a reminder of how quickly conflict can arise and how important it is that we reflect on the past. It is also a hope that the Commission will never again need to undertake the work it faced in 1918.
With the support of our member nations and hundreds of thousands of visitors across the world, we are committed to maintaining the final resting places, names and memories of the 1.7 million men and women we commemorate. For evermore.
To mark the centenary of the Armistice, the CWGC commissioned former Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion to compose a poem inspired by the personal inscriptions on our headstones.
By Andrew Motion
Now one thousand five hundred and sixty-four days end
every hour hand of every watch on the face of the earth
snaps to attention a fraction shy of the number eleven.
Their minute hands are still quivering with the effort
to complete the circle and therefore give the signal.
Whenever has machinery fine-tuned or otherwise
been able to refute with such a passionate precision
the idea that the body of time might flow like a river
and reveal it instead as a wide continuous landscape
a block universe where the sudden spotlight moon
introducing her face between cloud-curtains alights
now on one man dead already and now on one dying
while the scattered hinterland suffers its consequences
or delivers its warnings all connected but unavailable.
Then the minute hand in a spasm seals its promise
while penny whistles shriek and church bells clamour
while whizzbangs and 59s complete their trajectories
while long-faced telegram boys prop their bicycles
on lampposts and front gates and for the last time
press forward to deliver their dreadful condolences
and lark music like a distillation of daylight itself
which a moment before was neither here nor there
sweetens as it escapes the pulsing throat of the bird
and rain also accustomed to no discernible voice
patters and pounds and performs on barren ground
and a very simple breath of wind entirely fills the air
and everyday clouds performing manifold contortions
saunter off and dissolve in the horizon of their origin.
Soon rolling out plans from their corridors and offices
highly efficient angels of the resurrection will descend
to align with names they went by in their earthly lives
nine million or thereabouts bodies and body-fragments.
What is the duration of individual grieving they allow
beyond an agreed upper limit of sixty-six characters.
Think of Private Roy Douglas Harvey who was killed
a reserved and thoughtful schoolboy from Hillhead
leaving behind among other valuable relics a diary
completed up to the evening before his dawn attack
along with a much-thumbed Collins Gem dictionary
from the pages of which rose and will continue rising
these words as time and space maintain their relation
my task accomplished and the long day done.