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Thursday, November 11, 1999 Published at 05:50 GMT


Net plays remembrance role

World War II British Gurkha graves in Italy

Peter Francis of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission explains how a one-year-old website has encouraged new generations to take an interest in remembering the dead of World Wars I and II.

For the Commonwealth War Graves Commission every day is a day to remember, as it works to maintain the graves and memorials to the 1.7 million young men and women of the Commonwealth who died during the two world wars.

Since it was established in 1917, the Commission has been working to sustain this commemoration for the war dead at some 23,000 locations and in around 150 countries.

While the maintenance of the structures and gardens around which remembrance is focused is the Commission's primary task, there is a very clear challenge echoed in the words, Their Name Liveth For Evermore, chosen by Rudyard Kipling and carved in stone at Commonwealth cemeteries and memorials around the globe.

[ image: The website has helped millions to remember the dead]
The website has helped millions to remember the dead
If future generations are to be encouraged to remember the war dead, they must be engaged in the commemorative heritage of the Commonwealth, instilled with a sense of value and meaning in maintaining the cemeteries and memorials, and encouraged to bring their own unique contribution to the commemorative debate.

This can be achieved by using the Commission's records, and in particular The Debt of Honour Register, to personalise the 1.7 million names of those commemorated by the Commission - a figure that perhaps otherwise transcends ordinary human comprehension.

In effect, the Commission's records reunite families with the achievements and sacrifices of their forebears, but they also provide a very real and personal dimension to the human cost of the two world wars.

From the earliest days, next-of-kin, families and comrades-in-arms have given due recognition to the debt of honour by locating and visiting graves and memorials.

Even in the 1920s the voluminous records maintained by the Commission made it possible to identify precisely where any casualty was commemorated.

However, locating the place of commemoration was a difficult and time-consuming task involving a search of these extensive records.

Millions of hits

In November 1998, the Commission made these records accessible on the internet as the Debt of Honour Register at its website.

Since its launch the site has registered millions of inquiries, with current activity running at over 250,000 hits per week.

The internet launch not only encouraged people to use the Commission's records but through generous publicity afforded to the site, more people than ever became aware that this service was possible.

Liam Hanna, a spokesperson for the Commission, said: "The success of the Debt of Honour Register has taken everyone by surprise. Enquiries come from all over the Commonwealth and range from the grateful daughter of a First World War veteran, to the inquisitive school child in the Australian outback.

"You simply cannot put a value on a service that reunites families, friends and comrades with the records of their loved ones and at the same time encourages new generations to take an interest in the act of remembrance."

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission will always take up the challenge to keep faith with the war dead.

Through the Debt of Honour Register, millions of people are doing the same and providing substance to the words Their Name Liveth For Evermore.

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