“Reposed upon a pedestal of black Belgian Marble and French Bronze” – materials of Flanders Fields, resting place of a lost generation of Wales’ sons and daughters – sits the WW1 Book of Remembrance: the rollcall of the fallen that accompanies Wales’ National War Memorial in Alexandra Gardens, opposite the Temple grounds.
Bound in Moroccan leather, with over 1,100 pages of handmade Vellum Parchment , each name is individually transcribed in mediaeval revival illumination using gold leaf and rich Indian Inks – the detail of which can be fully appreciated by viewing the recently digitised version at www.BookfofRemembrance.Wales (see link below).
Creation of the book over the course of several years was overseen by the world-renowned calligrapher Graily Hewitt of Lincoln’s Inn, London; with inscription of the 35-40,000 names individually and painstakingly completed by a group of women working from Midhurst, Sussex. Curation of the list of names was an enormous feat in itself, as no centralised lists existed in the 1920s of those who had died in WW1, soldiers or civilians; so the names were collected town by town, village by village, street by street. Throughout history, the Book has been been quoted as listing 35,000 names; but when WCIA and the National Library of Wales worked together to digitise the names in 2016-17, it was discovered that the total number of names of the fallen is 39,917.
The names are recorded by Regiment and Battalion, and thence mostly alphabetically, mostly recording servicemen (and women’s) home town. But variations to this standard include Navy servicepeople, who are recorded by their ship’s name (eg ‘HMS Queen Mary, HMS Indefatigable’); and Officers (eg Captains, Majors etc), who are often listed at the start of a regimental entry. Some Regiments, such as the Royal Welch Fusiliers and South Wales Borderers, run to many hundreds of pages; whilst some pages feature many regiments from Welshmen serving around the world, from the Indian Gurkhas to New Zealand Expeditionaries – each with incredibly beautiful illuminated titles.
Even with the unveiling of Wales’ National War Memorial in 1928 to mark the 10th Anniversary of the WW1 Armistice, when the Book was signed by Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VIII), it was acknowledged that the book ‘could not claim to be an definitive list. This was not just down to the challenge of finding the names; in the charged emotional fallout after WW1, some families felt that the glorification of remembrance was endangering future generations, and refused for their loved ones to be ‘coopted by the state’ as they saw it. However, many later changed their minds, and (along with individuals who had been missed in the initial listings), many pages feature ‘addendums’ at the bottom.
Over the WW100 Centenary, the Book was the catalyst for a major WCIA heritage project, ‘Wales for Peace’, during which the Book was digitised for online access, and a touring exhibition created – ‘Remembering for Peace’ – which took the book to Aberystwyth, Bodelwyddan (Denbighshire), Anglesey, Caernarfon, Narberth (Pembrokeshire), Swansea, Cardiff Castle and Senedd, and Llandaff Cathedral. Many thousands of people, from veterans to school children, participated in uncovering ‘soldiers stories’ prompted by digitising the names of people found in the book.
From grandparents who were conscripted across all communities (including Wales’ Black and Asian Minority Ethnic communities of 1915), to Conscientious Objectors offering first aid and alternative skills, and women serving as Nurses and communications operators…. Behind every individual name is a hidden history of everything they represented before war. Explore some of their stories, and in this sanctuary of Remembrance, take a few moments to reflect.