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Modern technology will aid our remembrance of the Armistice

PUBLISHED: 18:26 06 November 2018 | UPDATED: 19:10 06 November 2018

An army chaplain officiating at a  funeral during World War I

An army chaplain officiating at a funeral during World War I

© Getty Images

Understanding the First World War will become easier for future generations due to the advance in technology, says Broadland MP Keith Simpson

My earliest memory of Remembrance Sunday is as a small child in the late 1950s. I went to the Service in Old Catton church with my parents and grandparents. My grandfather and father were wearing medals from two World Wars. The veterans then marched down Church Street to the war memorial, the vicar spoke, last post was played, and all the old boys marched in quick step to the pub.My generation lived in the shadow of two World Wars but today I am interested to understand today how young people view the First World War. I have written books on the British Army in the First World War, interviewed veterans, served as a parliamentary commissioner for 10 years on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and on the Prime Minister’s Advisory Committee.

All the British events commemorating the First World War have gone out of their way to involve young people. Many schools in Norfolk have been visiting the First World War battlefields in Belgium and France and have been twinned with Belgian, French and German schools.

But why is the First World War still such a dominating influence on a young generation? I suspect the sheer scale of the war and the extensive casualties have made a major impact. Unlike the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, the men were mainly volunteers or conscripts.

Since 1917 the work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission has meant that there are hundreds of immaculately laid out and cemeteries to visit with their individual headstones. But we shouldn’t forget the tens of thousands who had no known graves and whose names appear on the monuments at the Menin Gate, Thiepval on the Somme, and the tens of thousands of naval and merchant seamen who died at sea and whose names are on monuments at London, Plymouth and Portsmouth.

Young people today are able to have some understanding of the First World War generation through thousands of photographs, letters and diaries, many of which can be accessed on the internet.

Thanks to National Lottery funding, dozens of schools and local communities in Norfolk have produced exhibitions and books on their communities and traced ancestors.

There was serious unrest in Britain before the war – strikes, violence by suffragettes and Ireland. The war on the home front allows us to see the impact of the first bombing attacks and bombardment of our coastal towns. The important role of women is given its rightful place.

But we should remember that it is only in 1918 that the vote is extended to every man and a proportion of women.

For anyone interested in history and the impact of war, remembering the Armistice opens up so many fields of endeavour. Our major towns and villages, almost without exception, have war memorials erected in the 1920s with names added after the Second World War.

Local people have been tracing the names on the memorials and in some cases there are relatives still living in the neighbourhood. I have looked at memorials inside a village church, for example at Reepham and Honinham in my constituency.

To understand the experience of our ancestors in the First World War was challenging until recently. Photographs were in black and white, as was film footage – which was grainy and jerked.

Now we have an opportunity to see the men and women of the First World War in coloured film at a normal speed, which makes you think it was filmed yesterday.

Peter Jackson, best known for directing The Lord of the Rings, has created a new film called They Shall Not Grow Old – based on the film archives of the Imperial War Museum and interviews with the veterans recorded sixty years ago.

This will be screened on BBC Two on Remembrance Sunday, and is such a powerful and evocative film of real people which will encourage young people to do more research of events both at home and abroad.

Remembering the Armistice of 1918 isn‘t dead history. It is an opening into our past which is relevant today.

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