First World War commemoration inspired by Warwick schoolgirl

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A schoolgirl’s surprise that some First World War graves were left unremembered has inspired an online campaign of remembrance – leading to a meeting with Prince William.

Gemma Coton was 15 in 2012 when she toured the battle sites and visited Tyne Cot cemetery, which has 11,871 burials and a memorial wall with the names of 35,000 names of men with no known grave.

She found the sight of the largest Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery in the world very sobering and noticed many of the fallen appeared to have nobody to remember them, while other graves had poppy crosses on.

A Scout, she was on the trip with the Warwick Explorers, and said: “The thing that got me was the number of unknown soldiers buried. The headstones had ‘Known unto God’. It was dreadful.

“I know that not everyone can be remembered as individuals, but I felt it was a shame for some to have dozens of poppies and crosses, while others had no one left to remember them.”

After discussing it with her Scout leader Dave Charles they contacted the Royal British Legion (RBL) and her comments led to the launch of the Every Man Remembered project - which aims to encourages people to find out about those who died during the war and commemorate them online.

Dr Stephen Clarke, head of remembrance at RBL, said: “We’re asking the public to commemorate every one of the 1,117,077 men and women who died during the First World War.

“You can look up a family member, namesake, or make a random search – the important thing is that not one is left without a dedication and recognition of the role they played.”

Now aged 17, Gemma, of Hatton Green, has online-remembered a Joseph Henry Cotton, from Yorkshire, who was killed in action, aged 35, in May 1918.

Gemma said: “We don’t know if he’s related, but he’s a namesake. One day I hope to visit his grave in France and put a poppy cross on it.”

Her interest in remembrance saw her invited by the RBL to meet Prince William when he visited the War Memorial Park in Coventry for the launch of Fields in Trust, Centenary Fields project, which aims to secure and retain recreational space to honour the fallen of the First World War.

Gemma said the prince spoke with her about getting more young people involved in remembering people who had died in wars and conflicts and she added: “He said the only way to move on and make the world a better place was to remember the dead and why they died.

“I was very nervous, but I did remember to curtsey. He was very nice and his manner put me at ease.”

For the Every Man Remembered project go to