1918-2018: Gibraltar marks centenary of the end of World War I

by Priya Gulraj and Gabriella Peralta

On the eve of tomorrow’s 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, a local man paid tribute to his great uncle who was killed in action just nine days before Armistice Day in 1918.

Corporal Richard James Brown, who served with the Lancashire Fusiliers, died at the age of 26 in the area of Landrecies in Northern France.

Dr Keith Farrell and his brother Melvyn published an In Memoriam in the Gibraltar Chronicle to celebrate Cpl Brown’s life and show he is not forgotten.

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“When people are buried in military cemeteries in Europe, it is easy to forget about them,” Dr Farrell said.

“The location where our great uncle died during the last fighting was within days and in the same area as Wilfred Owen, the famous war poet, was killed.”

“The fighting during the Last 100 Days, as they call it, was when they were fighting in the canals around the area before the Armistice was signed towards the end of the war.”

“It is very unfortunate to have died so close to the end, but people died right up to the very end.”

Cpl Brown’s grave.

Cpl Brown’s grave.

This message of remembrance resonates every year on Armistice Day but, 100 years on, will take on an even more special significance tomorrow, not least because it coincides with Remembrance Sunday.

In the run-up to the event, school children in Gibraltar have learnt about WWI and the meaning of Armistice Day and the importance of remembering the sacrifice of others who came before them.

An exhibition organised by the Gibraltar National Archives explained Gibraltar’s role in that conflict. On Main Street yesterday, retired and active servicemen including the Commander British Forces, Commodore Timothy Henry, were at the Piazza for the annual Poppy Appeal.

Several events in Gibraltar tomorrow will mark the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, commencing at dawn where pipers Anthony Galliano and John Mascarenhas will be playing Battles O’er at the Cross of Sacrifice.

At 6am sharp Mr Galliano and Mr Mascarenhas will perform in remembrance of those fallen pipers who lead troops to the battleground.

The remembrance event is part of a global initiative organised by UK pageant master Bruno Peek that will see over 1000 pipers from many different countries perform at 6am local time.

“First light is the usual time that attacks would have taken place and pipers in the first world war died by the hundreds taking troops over the top and through the battlefield,” Mr Galliano said.

“Pipers have been given the honour of playing at 6am throughout the world.”

He added: “Millions of people died in the war and they didn’t die in vain, they died for freedom. This means a lot to me as I was serving in the Royal Gibraltar Regiment for 27 years and that was the utmost sacrifice and they should be honoured for it.”

“The last event for us that happens on the day is a performance of ‘The Last Post’ by buglers.”

The bugler’s performance will take place at 6.55pm also at the Cross of Sacrifice.

Before that at 11am, the traditional Armistice Day wreaths will be laid in the lobby of the Gibraltar Parliament, followed by a Remembrance Sunday service at the British War Memorial.

A second ceremony will be held at the American War Memorial and in the evening, a poppy will be projected on the Moorish Castle and the giant silhouette of the Tommy figure, which represents all soldiers fallen in combat, will be projected onto the north face of the Rock.

FRAGILE PEACE

Yesterday, both the Governor and the Chief Minister underscored the importance of remembering the past not just to honour those who died fighting for the freedoms society enjoys today, but also to understand that peace must be safeguarded daily.

“Every year on Remembrance Day the People of Gibraltar, along with the rest of our Commonwealth Family, rightly reaffirm our heartfelt admiration, respect and gratitude for those brave, selfless and unyielding men and women, both civilian and military, that sacrificed their today for our tomorrow in the defence of freedom and our way of life,” said the Governor, Lieutenant General Edward Davis.

“This year is no different, apart from in two regards. First, on the 100th Anniversary of the end of the First World War, it is crucial that we harness our reflections on this atrocious global conflict – that cost the lives of 20 million people – to redouble our efforts to ensure that it never happens again.”

“If we let our guard down, a 21st century global conflict is not unthinkable.”

“Accordingly, those that might be tempted to think that war is a viable, quick and low-cost way to achieve their ends must be deterred.”

“This can only be done by over-matching both the hard and soft power of those that wish us ill.”

“The price of peace will always be eternal strength and vigilance.”

Lt Gen Davis highlighted too that the centenary of the end of WWI served as a reminder of Gibraltar’s strategic importance to Great Britain and its allies in a time of conflict.

“Gibraltar’s pivotal role in the First World War, both militarily and economically – which has recently been so superbly showcased in an exhibition by Gibraltar’s National Archive – is yet another example of the Rock’s enduring relevance to Global Britain’s hard and soft power,” he said.

“In peace and war, Gibraltar’s essential character is, and will always be, its vital destiny.”

Chief Minister Fabian Picardo also highlighted the significance of tomorrow’s anniversary.

“It may be a 100 years ago already, but the message of remembrance is perhaps more important today than it ever has been,” Mr Picardo said.

“‘We will remember them’ is as much an ode to those who have been lost to war, as it is a warning to those who might forget the price of war is paid in the lives of men and women who are lost to their families as a result.”

EMOTIONAL

For the Farrells, for whom the memory of Corporal Brown lives on, the personal impact of war is all too real even after all this time.

Growing up, Dr Farrell did not know much about his grandmother Julia’s brother’s life as she did not share much information about him.

“We always knew of him because he formed part of our family history,” he said.

“But we don’t have any photos of him, and we never knew if he was married or had a family.”

Cpl Brown’s medals.

Cpl Brown’s medals.

Cpl Brown was born in Plumstead in East London and enlisted to serve in the army at the age of 22.

He left for the war on August 22, 1914, and served for four years in the 15th Battalion with the Lancashire Fusiliers.

Dr Farrell explained that Cpl Brown must have served as soon as he arrived in France as he was given a Mons Star medal, having fought in Belgium and France in 1914.

The medals are with his brother Melvyn, and the brothers were inspired to look into their family history.

“I knew of the medals, and we went to North France to visit in 2005,” Dr Farrell added.

“My father always wanted to go see his uncle’s grave but he never made it, so I went on his behalf.”

“It was very pristine and to be honest, it was very emotional.”

“At these cemeteries, you will see lots of graves of people who all died close to where they were killed at around the same time.”

Cpl Brown was buried alongside his fellow soldiers in the cemeteries, with lots of New Zealanders as well.

The graves were changed after the Commonwealth War Graves Commission undertook upkeep of the site, and said all headstones should be uniform and no distinction should be made on account of military rank, race or creed.

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