When I came to Britain and started learning about British culture in situ, I was astonished by the place The World War I (WWI) had in it. It was a yardstick, a dark but indelible part of national identity. Just like World War II was for Soviet Union.
My eventual explanation for why for people from Eastern Europe WWI was just another historical war, like Napoleonic and for the British – The War has two arguments. Once I waited in a government building, I think it was a post office. It had a plaque on the wall listing members of the same organisation who died in First and Second World Wars. The list of WWI was five times longer. Also, while the Russian Empire had two revolutions caused by WWI, which totally eclipsed the War and the successor government forced to sign an agreement with Germans, Great Britain won.
2014 is 100 years since The War started and the British Government prepared a number of activities to “celebrate” it (the word had caused some controversy, you cannot celebrate a begin of war some argued, and I agree with them, but the verb stuck). This trickled down to my local library where I picked up a leaflet advertising the writing workshop.
We were going to write a Letter to Unknown Soldier depicted as a sculpture at the Paddington Station in London. The letters are on line for a year and then they will be preserved in the National Archive – forever. I would be highly ironic if my letter survives longer than any other contribution to culture: genetic, scientific or journalistic.
The Letter to an Unknown Soldier is open to submissions until 11p.m. (BST) on the night of 04 August 2014.