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Have your say in new memorial in honour of First World War dead

Artists invite people from across the country to write a Letter To An Unknown Soldier for a project which will create an online archive

Letter writers with an envelope designed by the artist Bob and Roberta Smith
Letter writers with an envelope designed by the artist Bob and Roberta Smith

Creators of a unique war memorial are hoping hundreds of Journal readers will contribute to the national project by putting their thoughts in writing.

In their first collaboration, novelists Neil Bartlett and Kate Pullinger have come up with the idea of a memorial to the war dead made up of words and are inviting everyone to write a Letter To An Unknown Soldier. All will eventually form part of an online archive.

The pair were inspired by the statue at London’s Paddington Station of an ordinary soldier reading a letter and the project, a special commission in the year marking the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, is intended to create a snapshot of how 21st Century Britain views the conflict a century on.

They said: “We’d like instead to hear what people think – what they really think – and for them to write to the unknown soldier a letter.

“If they were able to speak to him now, with all that has been learned since 1914, and with all their own experience to hand, what would they say?”

The project has already attracted interest from the likes of Stephen Fry, Andrew Motion, Malorie Blackman and our own David Almond who were among 50 authors asked to contribute letters – but it is open to anyone who might be inspired to pen a few lines.

Those interested can do so online or can revive the art of letter writing by putting pen to paper - as First World War soldiers did so beautifully in letters home from the front.

Neil, who is also a theatre director, and Kate Pullinger, a university professor of creative writing and digital media, added: “2014 is already proving to be a year jammed-full of commemoration.

“For us, the creators of the project, it is important to move away from the usual imagery associated with war and commemoration.

“This is everyone’s chance to be part of a new national conversation about remembering the war, and to have their voice heard.”

Other well-known contributors include author and former SAS Man Andy McNab and Sebastian Faulks, author of Birdsong, a modern classic about the First World War which is now on teaching syllabuses.

Several schools are also taking part in the project, an art commission by 14-18 NOW which is a member of the First World War Centenary Partnership and an independent programme hosted within Imperial War Museums.

The letters received will be published online and at the end of the project the entire collection will be added to the British Library’s web archive.

The memorial, being curated by Neil and Kate, will take shape online from June 28 with letters being published as they arrive up until the deadline of August 4, the date war was declared.

Anyone wanting to contribute can do so directly on the website www.1418NOW.org.uk/letter – where notes for teachers are also available – or by post to Letter To An Unknown Soldier, PO Box 73102, London, EC1P 1TY.

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