A century ago this year, the world laid down its arms. As bells tolled across London to mark the end the war to end all wars, a cacophony of joy rang out. Armistice. They were not to know there would be another.
Armistice 100 Days, a major creative collaboration between 26 Characters and the Imperial War Museums, started out as a meditation on war. 100 stories from the perspective of those who experienced the first world war, told in 100 words by 100 writers. It has transformed into something altogether deeper.
When I was invited to join the editorial board for Armistice 100 Days, I didn’t fully realise the breadth or depth of human experience we would encounter on our journey to capture the humanity in the history. Everything I knew about the war came from GCSE history lessons, the odd documentary, and Blackadder Goes Forth. I didn’t have a deep connection to those who gave their lives. It wasn’t real to me. The nearest I got to tears was when Baldrick, George, Captain Darling and Blackadder go over the top.
Is that bad? Perhaps. History lessons teach us stone cold facts, but none of the emotion or experience behind those timelines. Stories crackle with life, they bring us closer to understanding the experience. And at such an important milestone, when our own world is on a knife-edge between status quo and something altogether different, it’s important to mark the occasion. It’s important to explore the profound change, the tumult that the First World War wrought. It’s important to stand back and reflect. That is what Armistice 100 Days represents: an opportunity to reflect on what it is to be a human being.
We have stories from all walks of life, from the woman who waits alone in a portrait studio to a piece exploring the treatment of animals on the front line. We explore underrepresented experiences of aboriginal soldiers, Indian infantry men, and Caribbean nurses. They’re important, worthy stories that’ll change how you picture the war.
When writing my own piece, I originally went down the war poetry route before checking myself. My subject, Isaac Rosenberg, wrote haunting, gritty poems which reverberate with grief at the unrelenting horror of the trenches, the well of human misery, the futility of trench warfare. What could I gain from emulating his voice? I can’t relate to the experience of being a corpse bearer in one of the bloodiest battles of the war, the Somme. I didn't want to write of the man’s misery, as he writes so eloquently of it himself.
I wanted to discover the man behind the misery, the poet who yearned to write, the frustrated artist who wanted to find beauty in a dark world choking on brutality. Through his letter archive, I got tiny glimpses of the man. Cynical. Funny. Rebellious. A terrible soldier. A frustrated writer. A man fed up with the war. That was a man I could write about.
It’s been a pleasure to be a member of the editorial team for Armistice 100 Days, a massive thanks to John Simmons for so kindly extending an invitation to be part of such a brilliant project, and to Lisa Andrews, Ed Prichard and Neil Baker for being such great co-editors.
Another big shout out to the wider editorial team, including Rishi Dastidar, Elen Lewis, Richard Pelletier, Lucy Beevor, Wendy Jones and Sue Evans, we couldn’t have put everything together without your support.
Huge thanks to David Carroll for the beautiful book design, and to Sue Evans for helping to put everything together, your eagle eyes miss nothing!
Finally, a massive shout out for my fabulous writers, Stuart Delves, Elise Valmorbida, Ezri Carlebach, Charlotte MacKenzie, Francesca Baker, David Baty, Paul White, Sue Evans and Sally Harper. What a lovely bunch you are. All of your centenas are brilliant, it was such a privilege to support you throughout the project.
You can see all the work on the project website, including the story behind each centena, at http://www.1914.org/armistice-100-days/
You can purchase a copy of the book, and support War Child UK all for a tenner on our Just Giving page. G’waaaaaan. Buy a copy. It’s a beautiful book for a brilliant cause.