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?
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.
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.
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
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
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
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