The sun shone brilliantly on the beautifully manicured lawns of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) in Maidenhead on Thursday 15 June when the students from St Michaels School in Maidstone paid a visit as part of their school project with Diversity House to ‘break the myths’ about the involvement of Africans in WW1.
It turned out to be the best history lesson for the students who learnt about 5000 memorials built to commemorate everyone who died in both World Wars whether known or unknown. The children were engrossed and found out about the stories behind the names engraved on the headstones. One boy asked about the youngest person buried at the grounds and was touched to learn it was a 15 year old South African boy not that much older than him who had given his life so early.
Others asked about the designs and beautiful landscaping which evoke an air of peace and tranquillity throughout the grounds.
Volunteer Guide, Eugenia Brooks and Archives Manager, Andrew Fetherstone gave expert commentary and explained that 23,000 locations in 154 countries are all maintained in the same way costing 63 million each year.
Students passed through the US section where the memory of American heroes are still maintained by the US authorities and marked by the tallest edifice.
A cluster of Muslim graves are built facing the East as a mark of respect to their faith. South African graves raised the memory of the SS Mendi and all the African servicemen who died in appalling circumstances aboard the ship.
Commemoration of Jewish, Polish, Czechoslovakian and even German service men were included and given equal attention which chimed well with Diversity House mission to paint a more inclusive picture of all those involved in the war. Mrs Christine Locke, Diversity House, Founder and CEO was shown a photo of the construction of the CWGC in Abuja, Nigeria and assured that the Commission is making an effort to recognise the ‘retrospective ‘contribution of West Africans.
The End of the day was marked by the touching ‘act of remembrance’ by all those involved in the trip when they were asked to pick a name of a fallen hero and lay a flower in his name, saying in unison, “We Remember You”. As the sun lessened its glare marking the passing time, the teachers, students of St Michael’s School and members of Diversity House pledged never to forget the stories of the servicemen and women at the cemetery and the lessons of their school trip to CWGC.