THE deaths of Frank Buckles and Claude Choules in 2011 brought to an end living memory of the horrors of the First World War trenches.
For anyone born in the 20th century, it remains difficult to grasp the enormity of the losses suffered on all sides in that awful conflict.
Returning such vast numbers for burial was impossible; the families of those who never made it back and the communities in which they lived were forced to find other ways of commemorating and remembering. Their answer was to create war memorials.
Down the years, while more obvious parts of our “built heritage” such as railway stations, theatres and town halls have undergone renovation to keep them functional, war memorials have attracted a kind of “sacred permanence” in the public mind.
In one sense that’s right and proper but now we need to look at war memorials in a new way – because nine decades or so at the mercy of natural erosion, the weather and traffic vibration, (ably assisted by vandalism, theft, changing lifestyles and modern regulations) is taking its toll.
Over the next few years – starting with the centenary of the outbreak of war in August 2014, and culminating in the centenary of the Armistice in November 2018, information about the Great War will be difficult to avoid. But how many more memorials will have disappeared by then? How many more names of the fallen will have become unreadable? How much more mortar and stonework will have crumbled away? How many more metal plaques will have been prised from their mountings?
Heritage, of which our war memorials are just a part, is tricky. No-one has given us the right to lose it through neglect, ignorance or lack of money.
I would suggest the reverse is true; we have a duty to retain it through our technology, knowledge and creativity for those who will follow us.