Daniel Francis

Reading the National Narrative

Lest We Forget

Jun 28, 2014

Today marks one hundred years to the day that the young Serb nationalist, Gavrilo Princip, shot and killed Archduke Franz-Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo, setting the world on the road to war. Philip Larkin, in his poem MCMXIV, captures the watershed moment as posterity has come to see it.

Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word – the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages,
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again

The internet is naturally buzzing with commemoration. Sites I've been looking at recently include the British Library's online collection of World War One sources, including many articles "written by experts" about a variety of topics related to the war.

A more unusual site is "Letter to an Unknown Soldier." On a platform at London's Paddington Station there is a statue of an unknown soldier reading a letter. Two writers, Kate Pullinger (a BC native by the way) and Neil Bartlett, are asking the public to write letters to the soldier, expressing their thoughts about war. Every letter will be posted on the site. They are hoping to create "a new kind of war memorial -- one made entirely of words, and by everyone." You have until August 4 to write a letter and have it posted.

If you are looking for Canadian sites, the War Museum in Ottawa has extensive World War One material here; the Ontario Archives has an exhibit on Canadian war artists here; and there is an extensive site about the Newfoundland Regiment here.