Vice-Chancellor calls for permanent World War One Memorial

2 January 2018

There is a serious danger that the centenary of the Great War will come and go without a due recognition of the significance of the four years, says historian University of Buckingham Vice-Chancellor Sir Anthony Seldon.

He said: “Major anniversaries on this scale are very rare and need to be properly marked. The bloodiest war in the history of the world till then needs to leave behind a very significant legacy. There is a danger that the fear of offending one side or the other on Brexit will lead to the centenary being muted.The Centenary since 2014 has had some highly successful individual events, including the poppies at Tower of London, Jeremy Deller’s artwork ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’ to mark the first day of the Somme and a feature film of ‘Journey’s End’ coming out in March.But we need to go much further to etch the significance of the war onto the young and those of all generations, many of whom don’t have the haziest idea about the war and its significance.The best  possible legacy would be the fulfillment of the dream of a young officer who wrote to his headmaster shortly before he was killed in action in 1915. His vision was of a 500-mile  pathway along the entire length of the Western Front along which he said he wanted “every man and woman in Western Europe to walk as a reminder of where war leads – from the silent witnesses on both sides.

“Before the 100th anniversary of the Armistice an announcement needs to be made that this pathway will be created. It will be a path along which those of all ages and all nationalities can walk, hike or cycle, with frequent markers along the track pointing out what had happened here between 1914-18′.The track will renew and revitalise the areas of fighting for the second 100 years. It will remind those of all nationalities of the importance of collaboration and the perils of conflict. Soon, there will be no relatives left with personal ties to the fallen. Failure to create such a pathway joining up all the cemeteries and sites of battles will consign these memorials to a long, painful retreat into irrelevance.”

The letter from the front was written in 1915 by 2nd Lt Alexander Douglas Gillespie, of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, who was so moved by the horrors that he witnessed that he wrote: “When peace comes, our government might combine with the French government to make one long avenue between the lines from the Vosges to the sea. I would make a fine broad road in the ‘no man’s land’ between the lines, with paths for pilgrims on foot and plant trees for shade for fruit trees, so that the soil should not altogether be waste. We might make the most beautiful road in the world.”

The path would run 725 kms from Pfetterhouse in the South to Nieuport in the North. Once complete it would be the largest single commemorative project to mark the centenary of the First World War.

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Sir Anthony is co-founder of the Institute of Contemporary British History and biographer of Prime Ministers.