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Frequently Asked Questions

I've been back through my email archives and these queries, or questions very like them have been asked many times. Where possible I have always tried to answer questions from visitors as promptly as I can (providing I know the answer, of course) or have pointed them to one or more useful sources of information. But there is a limit to the time I can give to researching other people's questions.

You may well find the answer to your question by using the search facility in the side panel. I do realise that many people looking for infomation on the internet are doing so for the first time but it really is very simple to use a search engine like Google, and almost certainly quicker than waiting for me to get back you.

Anway, the following questions may help some of you on the road to the information you require. Please feel free to get in touch with me if you think I can help, but I just can't promise to get back to you straightaway.

Q. My grandfather died in the First World War. How can I find out more about him?
Q. Which memorial carries an inscription something like "We gave our tomorrows for their today"?
Q. How many men are left alive who fought in the first world war
?
Q. Surely someone must know the real identity of the Unknown Warrior?
Q. Why do many war memorials say the Great War 1914-19 when it ended in 1918?
Q. What were the causes of the first world war and what were the results?

Q. My grandfather died in the First World War. How can I find out more about him?
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has their "Debt of Honour" register online and here you can search their records of all those who died in the Great War. The soldier's regiment, place and date of their death, together with details of where they are buried (or commemorated if they have no known grave) is given. You may also find other information about their parents, or the inscription on their headstone. It is very easy to use, although the more information you have about your relative the better - especially their first names and the year of their death. Clearly if your name is Smith or Jones and you don't know your grandfather's first name or the year he died you will be presented with a huge number of names.

Once you have that initial information you may well be able to take your search further. I suggest a good starting point would be Chris Baker's website The British Army in the Great War. This provides an unrivalled wealth of information on military and other matters. You'll find other helpful websites listed on the my Useful Links page.
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Q. Which memorial carries an inscription something like "We gave our tomorrows for their today".
It's amazing how often I am asked this question. The inscription in question reads


"Tell them of us and say,
For their tomorrow,
We gave our today."

The words, or similar phrases may well appear on other war memorials, but the only record I can find of them being used is on the monument erected at the British military cemetery at Kohima, Assam, India, in memory of those who died in World War II's largest Asian land battle near there in 1944. The words are attributed to John Maxwell Edmonds (1875 -1958), an English Classicist, who had put them together among a collection of 12 epitaphs for World War One, in 1916.

According to the Burma Star Association the words were used for the Kohima Memorial as a suggestion by Major John Etty-Leal, of the 2nd Division, another classical scholar. The verse is thought to have been inspired by the Greek lyric poet Simonides of Ceos (556-468 BC) who wrote after the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC,

"Go tell the Spartans, thou that passest by,
That faithful to their precepts, here we lie."

There's also a cemetery in Vietnam at Muc Wha (a former French garrison post) where 300 French troops are buried with a sign quoting that same phrase (a film with the title Go Tell the Spartans was made in 1978 with a story centering round this cemetery).
I also think that the title of Ernest Raymond's 1922 book Tell England (a massive best seller in the twenties & thirties) refers back to this same epitaph. It ends with one of the main characters dying at Gallipoli - and asking his friend to write a book memorialising the courage of those who died. "Tell England, ye who pass this monument, We died for her, and here we rest content."
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Q. How many men are left alive who fought in the first world war
In 2001 it was calculated in Britain that of the five million men who fought in the British armed forces in the first world war only about 160 were still alive, the youngest of them 101. In America, which sent arond two million men to the European battlefield, there are probably even fewer survivors. Sadly of course, in another five years or so there may be no-one alive who had actual experience of the horror of that war.

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Q. Surely someone must know the real identity of the Unknown Warrior?
A: That is most unlikely. The way the body was selected in 1920 made it virtually impossible for the dead soldier to be identified even then. You can find out much more by reading my article on the subject. In recent years of course the availability of DNA testing has made it much more difficult to select an unknown soldier from a battlefield grave, and that problem became very real in the case of America's Unknown Soldier from the Vietnam war. In Britain and elsewhere such a problem will not arise as the soldier selected from the First World war stands as a representative of all those missing soldiers from all subsequent conflicts.

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Q. Why do many war memorials say the Great War 1914-19 when it ended in 1918
Though the Armistice (i.e. a total ceasefire) was declared on 11 November 1918, peace treaty negotiations continued until July 1919. During that time there was still a very real possibility that hostilities could flare up again, and so the "official" end of the war is always stated as being in 1919. War memorials vary widely in their practice.

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Q. What were the causes of the first world war and what were the results?
I put this question in as an example of the kind of query I often receive from school students desperate to finish an assignment for the following morning. By the time I receive such cries for help it is probably too late and in any case I have neither the qualifications nor the time to help. And here I would like to say that while the internet is a massively useful resource for school and college work it is not the only resource. Books are still (imho) the most vital resource for anybody trying to learn anything.

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Tuesday 7 February 2006