War Graves Commission warns of ‘turning point’ for legacy of commemoration

The caretaker of war graves and memorials across the globe has warned that the sacrifices of veterans could be forgotten unless more is done to engage younger generations.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), which maintains war memorials and cemeteries in more than 23,000 locations across 150 countries, sounded the alarm with 50 days to go until the 80th anniversary of D-Day.

To combat waning awareness, GWGC has announced a series of events in the UK where flaming torches will be passed from veterans to young people, representing the handing over of the responsibility for commemoration.

CWGC director-general Claire Horton said: “We are at an undeniable turning point for the legacy of commemoration.

“This year’s landmark anniversary may be the final major commemoration attended by veterans of D-Day, and as such represents a unique opportunity to pass on the torch of commemoration from the generation who fought in the two World Wars, and ensure commemoration of their legacy endures for generations to come.”

The torch roadshow, named Lighting Their Legacy, will visit 18 locations across the UK in May and will run alongside an educational programme for schools.

Ms Horton added: “As we look to the future, better education must play a vital role in ensuring that the lessons of the First and Second World Wars are remembered, and that the importance of commemoration is understood by everyone, whether you have a direct and personal connection to the World Wars or not.

“Our mission is for the legacy of those who died fighting for our freedoms to inspire a world free from conflict.”

The torches have been designed by three Canadian mechanical engineering students from McMaster University in Ontario.

They will be handed over during the UK roadshow in cities including Cardiff, Edinburgh, London and Manchester before being taken to Normandy, where every CWGC grave will be lit in tribute.

Ms Horton encouraged the public to find pride in commemoration and to learn more about the Second World War.

She said: “This year serves as a turning point for renewed national commemoration and pride, and we are calling on everyone to reflect on the Legacy of Liberation passed on to us by those who gave their lives in the conflicts of the First and Second World Wars and share with your friends, family, and communities your personal reason for why commemoration is important to you.

“We encourage you to learn about the Second World War and share your stories on our For Evermore platform, and, if you can, join us at Bayeux War Cemetery in Normandy or spend time at a local CWGC site near you.”

The CWGC was founded by Royal Charter in 1917 with a mission to ensure the remembrance of the courage, loss and sacrifice of those who died in the First and Second World Wars.

During last year’s Remembrance weekend it was announced that the Princess Royal would be handed the CWGC presidency, succeeding the Duke of Kent who had been CWGC president since 1970, and the King was appointed as the CWGC’s first ever patron.