Stephen Fry, Sheila Hancock and Andy McNab rub shoulders with members of the public writing thousands of letters to the unknown soldier of Paddington Station
For nearly one hundred years, an unknown soldier has been standing on Platform 1 of Paddington Station, motionless, reading a letter.
© CC Licence From geograph.org.uk Author ceridwen
Now for the first time, in the centenary year of one of the most catastrophic wars in history, he is receiving new post.
Since May of this year he has had more than 4,000 letters from people up and down the country wanting to commemorate the sacrifice made by all those he represents during the Great War.
Some have written fictionalised accounts, imagining how it must have felt to be a worried relative of a man on the front lines.
Others recall the true stories from their own families of grandfathers and great-grandfathers lost to the trenches.
Writer and actor Stephen Fry’s contribution is from the perspective of a conscientious objector, coming to terms with his brother’s death in battle.
“I made my decision, you made yours,” he writes. “I will die ashamed of myself and proud of you. And that is in spite of me being right.”
It’s all part of an innovative new memorial project, Letter to an Unknown Soldier, which invites celebrated writers and members of the public alike to write to the bronze statue.
The letters are then posted on their website until the project ends at 11pm on the 4th August 2014, after which they will be permanently archived in the British Library.
It was created by authors Neil Bartlett and Kate Pullinger and commissioned by 14-18 NOW, the cultural program that is commissioning contemporary artists to produce large-scale pieces for the First World War Centenary.
Fifty famous writers are contributing, including Lee Child, Sheila Hancock, Andy McNab and Bonnie Greer, but members of the public are given pride of place on the website right alongside them.
“I think we all still bleed from those war wounds,” writes Pascale Presumey, a mother from Burton-Upon-Trent, in her letter addressing the soldier as her own great-uncle.
“We bear your wounds in our hearts and pass them on to our own children,” she adds.
Young people especially are being encouraged to take part, with special lesson plans available for teachers to download and use in classes.
In a touching heart-shaped, home-made card, 15 year old student Georgina Rees writes “through all the war and suffering, love still prevailed over all else.”
“Don’t forget to love; this soldier never did,” she adds as a poignant footnote.
With June 28 2014 marking the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Arch-Duke Franz Ferdinand, the tragic event that started it all, it seems the perfect time to give a thought to the people who perished during the war, and perhaps send that stoic bronze soldier a message of your own.
- Visit 14-18 NOW for more
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