100 days. 100 writers. 100 stories. 1 amazing project.

My blog has been a little unloved lately, but for good reason. For the past 16 months I have been involved in an incredible partnership between 26 and Imperial War Museums First World War Centenary Partnership. Many will know this as you've been kind enough to follow our Facebook page and seen a lot of tweets from me.

 

Today - 12 November 2018 - is our final day. This may seem odd given that the Armistice was signed on 11 November 1918, but our final centena honours the Unknown Warrior - one of the enduring focal points for our collective commemoration over the past 100 years. I hope that continues for another 100 years.

 

I find it quite difficult to articulate how much leading this project has meant to me without descending into puddle of superlatives, so, instead, I took an exercise that I learned on a recent Dark Angels writing course in Spain based on a literary form used by the Native American poet and novelist Sherman Alexie, that's something like a prose sonnet. 

 

Sonnet, with Armistice

 

1. An email from John with a seed of an idea and a question: do you think you can get us a meeting with the Imperial War Museum?

 

2. They say yes and give this seed a plot of land on which to grow.

 

3. But then my own family is uprooted by illness. The outlook is bleak and then gets worse. There is too much frustration and anger and worry and then - only sadness. For a while I consider backing out. But the seed had sprouted a leaf and the late summer breeze whispers that, with time and care, this will be a beauty. I am not good with real plants but perhaps I will have better luck with a literary one.

 

4. A new year and two become five, become 11 and then, in less that 24 hours, there are 100 of us - each now caught by the root of this thing. There is a prickling at the back of my neck and I know that this is special.

 

5. Deadlines loom. My chimp brain piles on the pressure – if you’re leading this it better be good, he says. I tell him to shut up, but my centena lies unwritten. How to honour a man I never knew, with a calling I don’t fully understand?

 

6. Not a single writer drops out of this project. I am overwhelmed by this given that I know how real life gets in the way of the creative stuff. Just nine months ago I pulled out of my first ever 26 project due to the uprooting and I regret it still. I am just glad I didn’t let go of this. It is June and the seed is flowering despite the Beast from the East trying to blow so many of us off course. The prickling has returned as well, but it’s shifted to my eyeballs. Oh man, the writing is going to make me cry, isn’t it?

 

7. Yes.

 

8. The pressure shifts too, squeezing the air from my lungs as I read centena after centena. Each one a prayer, an invocation to someone who lived a life so that I might live mine in comfort. Horace is in good company.

 

9. These ghosts have moved in. To my house, my head, my heart. I dream of centenas, of getting names and dates wrong, of not being able to do justice to them and to their writers. Bloody hell, these people are talented. 

 

10. 5 August. Leopold takes his wrong turn, kickstarting four years of war and 100 days of extraordinary writing. Hilariously, I thought this might be the end but, to quote Churchill, it is only the end of the beginning. There are three months to go. I am going to need a bigger dictionary to describe all this.

 

11. My turn. My great-grandfather takes his moment in the limelight, a sick berth attendant on hospital ships who would have tended the injured at the Battle of Jutland. What horrors he must have seen.

 

12. Days turn into weeks turn into months and somehow it is already Armistice and we are 99 centenas in - our little seed is as sturdy as an oak tree, despite yesterday's apocalyptic rain. I think of Horace and his ancient eyes and religious conviction. And of my great-uncle Peter with the electric smile; a Bomber Boy whose wings were forever clipped in 1943 somewhere over the German coastline.

 

13. Our last post. The rain is back and with it hail and lightning and thunder. I don't share Horace's conviction but right now I could believe God is trying to tell us something. Faye's centena is beautiful. I have run out of ways to describe this body of work – a writer lost for words but who tries anyway and winds up writing a sonnet of sorts with all sorts of imagery that doesn't quite match up. I weep again as I read Faye’s line ‘I remain to be remembered, to prick your eyes and conscience. Peace!’ There is so little peace in the world right now, would that our fallen hero might prick a little harder. I am exhausted and overwhelmed and have no idea what comes next.

 

14. What have I learned? That it is compassion in the face of horror that echoes loudest through history. That I am part of a community that is now forever bound by these stories. And that I am lucky.

 

You can also see me reading my centena on YouTube and hear me talk to Red Szell about the project on RNIB's Read On show.

 

Thank yous

There have been so many remarkable people involved in this project, both directly and indirectly, and below is the full list of the 100 individuals commemorated by this project, their writer and the date that we posted them online. You can read all of them at 1914.org

 

But specifically a thank you to...

 

  • John Simmons for asking me to be part of this, inventing a beautiful literary form and agreeing to the interview for all the sins that kicked this whole thing off.
  • Ed Prichard (also known as Project Ed) for spreadsheets and saying yes to ridiculous ideas, usually at the last minute.
  • Becca Magnus for her beautiful centena designs and going quietly mad with me as we uploaded more than 700 individual files to Dropbox for the IWM team.
  • Neil Baker for a calm head, wise words and a centena that makes me cry every flipping time.
  • Pamela Linden, Liz Robertson, Katie Childs, Bethany Reynard and Chloe Bowerbank from the Imperial War Museums team for agreeing so enthusiastically to go along with our idea. 
  • David Carroll for a stunning book that all of us are crazy proud of, Sue Evans for guiding it through the production process and Mark Wood for listening to cheeky requests. 
  • And last, but not least, Husband Ed for never tiring of me living, breathing, eating and dreaming this project and being my spellchecker in the crazy moments. 

 

AUGUST

Leopold Lojka – Angus Grundy – 5 August

Jeanne De-Neve – Therese Kieran – 6 August

Gertrude Evelyn Ellis – Miranda Dickinson – 7 August

Gershom Browne – Jacob Sam-La Rose – 8 August

Karl Kraus – Ezri Carlebach – 9 August

Catherine Saunders – Ed Prichard – 10 August

Annie Kenney – Lucy Furlong – 11 August

Harold Bing – Sophie Olszowski – 12 August

US Marine Sergeant Opha May Johnson – Douglas Howatt – 13 August

Mahatma Gandhi – Kartik Kompella – 14 August

Jessie Branch – John Simmons – 15 August 

Dr Elsie Inglis – Stuart Delves – 16 August

Nurse Annie Rebecca Colhoun – Gillian Colhoun – 17 August

Violet Jackson – Maia Swift – 18 August

Olive Edis – Charlotte Mackenzie – 19 August

Wilhelm zur Linden – Olly Davy – 20 August

Tom Whitehead – Hester Thomas – 21 August

Ettie Rout – Ann Gorecki – 22 August

Edwin Heautenville Richardson – Tony Clarke – 23 August

Vera Brittain – Gillian McKee – 24 August

Lance-Daffadar Gobind Singh – Rishi Dastidar – 25 August

Amy Schmitt and her son George – Lisa Allen – 26 August

Amy Beechey – Margaret Webster – 27 August

Horace Reginald Sumner – Lisa Andrews – 28 August

Leila Davies and her brother Philip Taliesin Davies – Rebecca Dowman – 29 August

Reginald Mills – Robin Harries – 30 August

John Mackintosh – Ronnie Mackintosh – 31 August

 

SEPTEMBER

Duke Paoa Kahanamoku – Samuel Crosby – 1 September

Margaret Wilson – Jayne Workman – 2 September

Private Gordon Charles Naley – Nicki Letts – 3 September

Corporal Jesse Robert Short – Neil Baker – 4 September

Isabella McIntyre – Carol McKay – 5 September

Mir Dast – Bert Preece – 6 September

Lena Ashwell – Lou Steggals – 7 September

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska – Elen Lewis – 8 September

Count Conrad Hochberg – Samantha Chaplin – 9 September

Charlotte (Lottie) Mead – Mandy Lee – 10 September

Felix J. McShane – John Jordan – 11 September

Sarah Hyde – Jill Hopper – 12 September

James Wood – Lucy Fletcher – 13 September

Isaac Rosenberg – Becca Magnus – 14 September

Dr Isobel Addy Tate – Gemma Cantelo – 15 September

Horace Iles – Sean Julliard – 16 September

Florence Marian McNeill – Amanda Edmiston – 17 September

Elsie Henry – Lucy Beevor – 18 September

Hans Richard Joachim Von Volkmann – Jamie Delves – 19 September

Cape Coloured Corps – Toni Stuart – 20 September

Allen H Fry – Hannah Riley – 21 September

George Edwin Ellison – Philip Parker – 22 September

Stuart Fletcher – Katie-Rose Comery – 23 September

Charlie Blythe – Stephen Barnaby – 24 September

Francis Ledwidge – Tom Collins – 25 September

Staff Nurse Jessie Jane Paterson – Vivien Jones – 26 September

John Hanson Berney – Jane Berney – 27 September

Andre Kertesz – Richard Pelletier – 28 September

Laura Leavesley – Wendy Jones – 29 September

George Herman Bissonnet – John Burwell – 30 September

 

OCTOBER

Angus Cunninghame Graham – Jamie Jauncey – 1 October

Eugene Bullard – Heather Atchison – 2 October

William Coltman, VC, DCM and Bar, MM and Bar – Peter Noone – 3 October

Captain Richard Longley, MC – Michael Longley – 4 October

Kenneth Robert White – Paul White – 5 October

Countess Constance Markievicz – Sinéad Keegan – 6 October

Alice Limpus– Sally Harper – 7 October

Harry Turner – Beverley Moore – 8 October

Jack Gogan – Mike Gogan – 9 October

Frank Baker – Tracy Jo Barnwell – 10 October

Tattersall Wilkinson – Sue Evans – 11 October

Nurse Edith Cavell – Tamara O’Brien – 12 October

John James Sills – John J Sills – 13 October

Second Lieutenant Robert Bowran – Andy Milligan – 14 October

Sister Florence Currier – Susannah Hart – 15 October

Clara Mary Lambert – Caroline Hopper – 16 October

Jamaican BWIR nurses – Raph Adas – 17 October

Francis Henry Dutton – Francesca Baker – 18 October

Lance Corporal George Crock – Sam Knowles – 19 October

George Gurnel Davison – Rowena Roberts – 20 October

Lance Corporal David Shields McNally – Stephen Potts – 21 October

Sergeant Henry Johnson – Jerome Cain – 22 October

Captain Noel Godfrey Chavasse VC & Bar, MC – Bridget Waters – 23 October

Two grandfathers – Elise Valmorbida – 24 October

William Hackett VC – David Baty – 25 October

Hermann Steven – Jan Dekker – 26 October

John Robert Anderson – Michelle Nicol – 27 October

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – Henrietta McKervey – 28 October

Marjorie Cornell – Martin Lee – 29 October

Claude Monet – Sophie Gordon – 30 October

Rosina Obrovski – Monika Lehner – 31 October

 

NOVEMBER

Charles Cheers Wakefield – David & Jordan Bickerton – 1 November

Albert Ball, VC – Rob Briggs – 2 November

Private Robert Nuttall Lofthouse – Irene Lofthouse – 3 November

Robert Greaves – Roger N Morris – 4 November

Leslie Angel – John Allert – 5 November

Annie Barron – Suzie Inman – 6 November

H.W. Lloyd – David Mathews – 7 November

J.R.R. Tolkien – Jonathan Barnes – 8 November

Manta Singh– Gita Ralleigh – 9 November

James Mortimer Clark – Joan Lennon – 10 November

Augustin Trébuchon – Sue Burge – 11 November

The Unknown Warrior – Faye Sharpe – 12 November

 

 

 

 

 

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