I have always liked the sound of rain, particularly when I could enjoy it from the comfort of a shelter, whether a handy mature tree or the home in which I grew up. Recently, I was listening to a shower when – call it an occupational hazard for a historian fascinated by war and peace if you like – the soft drum roll of drops on windows and roof put me in mind of others who heard a similar sound as they huddled in waterlogged trenches, shivering in the mud. What must those young men from Halifax, Harrow, Honfleur and Heppenheim have thought as they stared out across the early morning misted flats of No Man’s Land somewhere in northeastern France or Belgium almost a hundred years ago?
It has been those sorts of questions that have underpinned my own quest to understand the past. For others, the reminders of what went before are more present and tangible. A recent piece in the Brantford Expositor tells the touching story of Hannah Beckett, a student at Brantford Collegiate Institute. Her great uncle is one of the many whose names are recorded on a memorial plaque dedicated to those who gave their lives in the First World War. It is these names – so near and yet so easily overlooked in the rush of life – that lie at the heart of a fascinating initiative of which I am proud to call myself a part: the Great War Centenary Association, Brantford – Brant County – Six Nations.
The GWCA is a not-for-profit organization seeking to “preserve and make available to the public, a permanent record of our community’s involvement during the First World War…” It is the creation of Geoffrey Moyer, a librarian and local historian who has long held a passionate interest in the World Wars and their impact on his hometown. With the hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War approaching, he has brought together a team of educators, museum professionals and other community members dedicated to telling the stories of the men and women who served in the Great War.
The GWCA stands at the nexus of history and memory, inviting all those with an interest in the First World War to recall, reflect and remember. Its crown jewel will be its website, featuring the data that Moyer has painstakingly collected on all those who took part in the conflict from Brantford and environs. However, it has already launched a highly successful First World War lecture series and has begun working in partnership with local schools to enhance knowledge of the War and those it touched. In the same way that each drop I hear through the open kitchen window nourishes the garden below, each act of commemoration undertaken as the centenary of the Great War nears helps foster a fuller appreciation of 1914-1918, both the horrors it inflicted and the heroic sacrifices it prompted from soldier and civilians alike.