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Epic commemoration of World War I

An epic commemoration of the First World War will begin in 2014, 100 years since its start.

This year sees the start of four years of events across Britain and further afield to mark the centenary of the Great War.

The war began in June 1914, with Britain joining on August 4 1914. As war was waged over the next four years, millions of lives were lost as the devastating conflict raged, until the armistice was signed on November 11 1918.

A century on, the country will commemorate those who gave their lives with a programme of events that will run throughout the four-year period.

Each of the 430 men awarded the Victoria Cross - the British Empire's highest medal for military valour - in the First World War will have their names enshrined in a paving stone in their home town as part of a Government drive to mark the centenary.

Each stone will be installed on the 100th anniversary of the action for which each medal was issued, and will include a digital sign or QR (Quick Response) code giving people more information about the person whose memory it preserves.

The first two, laid in August 2014, will commemorate Charles Garforth of Willesden Green in London and Sidney Godley of East Grinstead.

The scheme has also been extended to see foreign combatants who won the VC fighting for Britain during the First World War honoured.

More than 170 heroes from Commonwealth countries including Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, Pakistan and South Africa will be remembered across the globe, as well as Nepalese Gurkhas whose stories are to be preserved.

The paving stones are just part of a huge commemoration programme, with a national series of events starting on August 4 2014 - the 100th anniversary of the date Britain entered the war.

Events include a service for Commonwealth leaders at Glasgow Cathedral; an event at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission St Symphorien Military Cemetery in Mons, Belgium; and a candlelit vigil at Westminster Abbey.

The Government has contributed more than £50 million of funding to support commemoration activities, including a £5.3 million educational programme providing the opportunity for two students and a teacher from every state school in the country to visit First World War battlefields and research local people who fought in the war.

There will also be a Christmas Day Truce football match on the battlefields of Flanders to mark the anniversary of the historic match between British and German soldiers.

In one of the conflict's most famous episodes, troops fighting on the Western Front halted hostilities to play a game in no-man's land and later posed for pictures and exchanged gifts on Christmas Day 1914.

The Premier League is to donate a state-of-the-art floodlit football pitch in Ypres by November next year as part of commemorations.

Meanwhile, some 2,500 local war memorials are being given the opportunity to win listed building status, reflecting their historical special interest, and Liverpool War Memorial is to be upgraded to a Grade I-listed building.

Other projects include £34 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund, including a new £6 million community project fund to allow young people working in their communities to conserve, explore and share the local heritage of the First World War.

Up to £1 million is also coming from the National Heritage Memorial Fund to support HMS Caroline, the last surviving warship from the Battle of Jutland.

The ship is set to have a secure future in Belfast, where thousands of people will be able to visit her and learn about her role in the Great War.

Ahead of the centenary celebrations, Prime Minister David Cameron and Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny paid their respects to the First World War dead as they visited the former Western Front, including the Island of Ireland Peace Park at Messines, a memorial to the 50,000 Irish war dead who fought in British uniform in an era of heightened tension at home; the site of the Boxing Day truce football match; the Menin Gate Memorial, dedicated to British and Commonwealth soldiers whose graves are unknown; and Tyne Cot Cemetery, the largest cemetery for Commonwealth forces in the world.

Mr Cameron, whose own great, great uncle Captain John Geddes died in the second battle at Ypres in 1915 - the first of five members of the Prime Minister's family to be killed in the war - has said he feels a strong connection with the members of his family who gave their lives in the war.

The Prime Minister used the visit to announce £5 million in new funding to help conserve, repair and protect First World War memorials and graves across the UK and overseas where British and Commonwealth servicemen and women are buried.

The extra money, funded by Libor fines and spread over the four years of the First World War centenary, will also fund new educational materials.

Speaking on the trip this month, he said the centenary of the start of the First World War would be a time for the nation to reflect on the events that saw so many young people make the ultimate sacrifice.

"Nearly all of us in Britain have some family connection with that conflict, and it is the many millions of small, personal stories that resonate as loudly for us as the big, world-changing battles and campaigns.

"As part of that, it is absolutely right that we help communities up and down the country to ensure that their local war memorials are a fitting tribute to the fallen and increase people's understanding of what happened.

"We simply should not tolerate damaged war graves in our country."


From Belfast Telegraph