How should we commemorate the centenary of the First World War?

A specially-commissioned national memorial; a charity concert in Hyde Park; a military flypast over Buckingham Palace or perhaps commemorative Royal Mail stamps and franking… Where do you begin when it comes to the tricky prospect of commemorating the 2014-18 centenary of the First World War?

This month David Cameron announced three special days of Remembrance on August 4, 2014; July 1, 2016 and November 11, 2018 – part of a tribute themed around “Remembrance, Youth and Education”.

Tory MP Andrew Murrison, the PM’s special representative on the commemorations, spoke of the Government’s preference for a ‘grass-roots’ approach with a focus on local events and projects overseen by the Imperial War Museum. Basically that’s a big ‘over to you…’ leaving us all to ponder how best to mark the ‘war to end all wars’ in our own backyards.

Nearly 60,000 British Army casualties were recorded on the first day of the Battle of the Somme alone – many of them within the first hour. Automatic weaponry such as the machine gun ensured that a generation of men were clinically scythed down on foreign soil – the resting place of many will be forever ‘unknown’. Their courage, valour and sacrifice has left us with a debt of gratitude which we can never fully repay.

At a time when our nation’s news stations honour all our repatriated service personnel – when even in the midst of a recession we still dig deep to support our serving and veteran military men and women – the Government’s challenge to “remember” the First World War is one we will no doubt readily accept.

So what realistically can you do? Here are a few Helion and Company suggestions. Please share yours using our comment facility:

Trace your family’s war dead

The Commonweath Graves Commission’s casualty database lists the names and place of commemoration of the 1.7 million men and women of the Commonwealth Forces who died during the two World Wars. It is possible to search by surname, date, war, rank, regiment, awards or any combination of these criteria.

Military service records, cabinet papers and British Army unit war diaries are among the thousands of searchable First World War records at the National Archives based at Kew.

Find the war heroes in your family at amongst millions of service records, medal records, casualty lists and other Army and Navy records.

At Helion we have published the diaries and biographies of First World War service personnel from all walks of life – for example ‘Young Citizen Old Soldier. From Boyhood in Antrim to Hell on the Somme. The Journal of Rifleman James McRoberts, 14th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles, January 1915-1917’ , and ‘None That Go Return: Leighton, Brittain and Friends, and the Lost Generation 1914-18’ and ‘The Silent General: Horne of the First Army. A Biography of Haig’s Trusted Great War Comrade-in-Arms’. If you have similar material which you think you’d like to publish, download our proposal guidelines here.

Organise a charity event or make a donation

From ‘Help for Heroes’ to ‘Combat Stress’ to the Royal British Legion there are countless charities that are actively supporting serving and veteran service personnel and their families affected by disability, mental illness, financial worries and a host of other health and social problems. For a list of Army-related charities who would appreciate your support click here.

Educate yourself

From the Imperial War Museum, National Army Museum and the National Memorial Arboretum to your local museum look out for details of up-and-coming First World War-related exhibitions and events you can visit or take part in.

At Helion we have a range of top First World War titles recently-published or forthcoming, including ‘The Other Side of the Wire Volume 2. The Battle of the Somme. With the German XIV Reserve Corps. 1 July 1916’ , ‘War Surgery 1914-18’ , and ‘Playing the Game: The British Junior Infantry Officer on the Western Front 1914-18’ .

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