On Platform 1 of Paddington Station in London there stands a statue of a World War One soldier reading a letter. He is the ‘Unknown Soldier’. And this is the letter I wrote him …
It must be so scary out there in the chaos of war where there is no certainty of what happens next. Man after man – killing just to win each other’s territories. If only humans can find a way to resolve differences, to be more respectful of each other and to be happy with themselves.
I think about my fellow pooches who are in service with the British Brigade. I think of their bravery in fighting alongside their human soldiers. They know no better but only to follow orders. They know not the danger to their lives but only know to be loyal till the end. They guard, they detect, they fight only with their physical being – unprotected against guns and other weaponry.
They know not how to duck from firearms and bombs thrown in their direction. They have to be brave without choice. They know not what survival is in the context of war. They too must be confused with all the fallen bodies around them, the deafening sounds, the raining of mortar – just the whole chaos of war.
I hope that in the quiet moments of dark nights that they have been of comfort to the soldiers lying next to them. I am sure they must have heard many stories of the loved ones left behind, as well as the hopes and dreams of many a young man – looking forward to a normal family life when the saga of war is over.
We only have one wish – that you will all come home safely.
– From a four-legged friend
May’s comment: On 28 June 1914 a shot was fired in Sarajevo that toppled Europe into war. On the 4th August, Britain officially declared war on Germany. From that day till November 2018, over 800,000 British soldiers were killed.
The vast majority of the dead were never brought home because of the devastation and because there were so many.
So when an anonymous body was dug up in France, it was brought back across the channel and buried in Westminster Abbey. That was the grave of the Unknown Solider – a token to the many who died anonymously.
The statue of the Unknown Soldier on Platform One at Paddington Station shows a soldier reading a letter. Letters was the only was that linked the troops with their loved ones. At the height of the First World War over two million letters made the journey from Britain to France each day. And it seems appropriate to re-create the messages of love, of despair, of hope – sometimes even anger that their loved ones have left to go to war.
To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first Great War, the statue of the Unknown Soldier has inspired the project – Letter to an Unknown Soldier, as part of the arts event 14-18 NOW. Members of the public are invited to write their own letter to the unknown soldier – to form a collaborative tribute of words as a war memorial.