Over 700,000 British servicemen died in the field of battle in the First World War and it has been estimated that around 3 million people across Britain lost a close relative.
As a country, Wales recognised this sacrifice through the creation of the Welsh National War Memorial in Cathays Park, Cardiff, unveiled by the Prince of Wales in 1928. However, the individual names of the fallen were not listed, so the National Book of Remembrance was created and subsequently acts as a roll of honour in conjunction with the monument.
The Book has recently been ‘on tour’ and arrives at Narberth Museum on 9th February as the basis of a Remembering for Peace exhibition and programme of events. These will tell the story of the Book and some of the names within it, as well as developing some of the stories specifically relevant to Pembrokeshire. Held originally at the National Museum of Wales, in 1938 the book was transferred to a specially built crypt under the new Temple of Peace and Health in Cathays Park. Funded largely by Lord David Davies of Llandinam, this building was the home of two organisations: the King Edward VII Memorial Association, which worked towards the elimination of tuberculosis in Wales, and the League of Nations Union in Wales. On the morning of November 23, 1938, Mrs Minnie James of Dowlais, representing the war-bereaved mothers of Wales (she had lost three sons in the war) turned the key to open the door of the Temple, built, according to Lord Davies, as “a memorial to those gallant men from all nations who gave their lives in the war that was to end all wars”. The National Book of Remembrance was placed in the crypt that was purpose-built in the foundations of the Temple. The crypt was – and remains today – a place for quiet contemplation, and the symbolism is clear: this is the reason why we should strive for peace.
Since 2016, the building has been occupied by the Welsh Centre for International Affairs: a registered charity whose vision is that everyone in Wales contributes to creating a fair and peaceful world. The Book of Remembrance in the crypt beneath them, quite literally forms the foundation of their work. In 2014, the WCIA secured Heritage Lottery Funding for the Wales for Peace project – which over the next four years will ask the question: ‘in the 100 years since the First World War, how has Wales contributed to the search for peace?’
Having already visited the National Library in Aberystwyth, Bodelwyddan Castle (as part of their Armed Forces Day activities,) and the Royal Welsh Fusiliers Museum in Caernarfon Castle, Narberth is delighted to be involved in such a prestigious commemoration of fallen soldiers and ultimately, a celebration of peace. The museum also intends to contribute to the search for peace and to develop the exhibition further. The experiences of both local soldiers and civilians, peacefully going about their everyday lives, will be recorded in a community scrapbook. The original Book of Remembrance is written in beautiful calligraphy, and illuminated with intricate patterns on 1,100 pages of vellum. The names of 35,000 service personnel (including some women) who died in the field of battle are included, and are listed according to regiment. All either served in a Welsh regiment or were of Welsh birth or parentage serving in a British or Commonwealth unit.
Narberth Museum’s project will document the experiences of those from all ages and walks of life as researched by their dedicated team of volunteers. Some of the stories will be obscure, some poignant and others joyful. The only criteria will be that they occurred in the local community between 1914 and 1918 and that they reveal the human side of living through war. The purpose is to bring people together, celebrate their shared experiences and feeling of community; simultaneously binding together past and present as represented by the creation of the scrapbook. If anyone is interested in contributing a double page to the book, or simply discovering more about it, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
As well as bringing people together, another aim of this project is to make the Book of Remembrance available to as many people as possible. A digital copy of each page of the Book is now accessible at www.llgc.org.uk/llyfrycofio, and visitors to the exhibition will be able to view this alongside the original.
While at Narberth Museum, the book will inspire a series of talks, workshops and events including a research workshop for volunteers on 2nd March, a digital ‘Instagram’ exhibition inspired by peace, an art installation and a talk on War Poetry by local historian Terry John. Full details will be available at www.narberthmuseum.co.uk. Similarly, to discover more about the project as a whole or if you have any stories of soldiers or events during WWI, you can visit walesforpeace.org or email email@example.com.
To view our online Instagram exhibition for the promotion of peace, please click here: https://www.instagram.com/a_minutes_silence/