Hugh Dennis at Islington Cemetery: ‘There are 300,000 amazing war stories’
- Credit: Nigel Sutton
Lance Corporal Constantine Morris lived in Nicholay Road, Archway. He was wounded in the Battle of the Somme on September 15, 1916: the first day of major tank warfare in one of the most devastating battles in history. He returned to his home country for treatment, but died on October 20, aged 33. L-Cpl Morris was with the Coldstream Guards and had a wife, Alice Morris. He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, but little more is known about him. And that is the point.
On Monday, comedian Hugh Dennis launched the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s (CWGC) campaign to encourage people to visit war graves and learn their stories to mark the centenary of the Somme.
From July 1 to November 18, the 141 days of the offensive, the CWGC is looking to hold 141 events across the country to mark each day.
The launch took place at Islinton and Camden Cemetery, in East Finchley, where L-Cpl Morris’s grave stands among those of other men and women who lost their lives during the two world wars.
Special guests were members from Age UK Islington’s photography group, who have been ahead of the game by running a war grave project of their own.
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The group, which meets at the Drovers Centre in North Road, Holloway has been inspecting graves around Islington and Camden and Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington.
Edward Mence, 68, of Tollington Way, Holloway, said: “I’ve always had a thing about the First World War. These graves, where L-Cpl Morris is, are immaculate, but it’s also important to remember those graves tucked away from view.
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“War graves are scattered across this cemetery, and a lot of them aren’t really in the best condition, so we ought to remember those ones as well.”
Sheona Josiah, 54, of Arthur Road, Holloway, has been studying the role of Afro-Caribbeans in the war.
She said: “They are simply not recognised. It’s emotional to see. These are 18, 19, 20 years old. I don’t see much about them in the media and it gets me.
“It wasn’t even their war so that’s what I’m focusing on.”
Andrea Sinclair, art co-ordinator at Age UK Islington who led the project, said: “I loved doing this and would absolutely urge other people to try and discover some of the stories behind the graves.
“It’s very hard work, but it opens your eyes to things you never even heard about before.”
Mr Dennis, famous for his role as a panellist on TV’s Mock the Week, agreed.
Both his grandfathers fought on the Western Front, while his great uncle Frank died in Gallipoli, Turkey.
He told the Age UK Islington group on Monday: “These are incredibly poignant places. What came as a surprise to me is that there are 300,000 war graves in Britain.
“There are people who came back to be hospitalised, but who then died, and they are no less deserving of commemoration than those buried in France.
“The Battle of the Somme was one of the terrible battles of our time. With my two grandfathers and uncles, I am very lucky to have been able to follow their stories.
“There are amazing stories. All we are asking is for more people to try and reconnect to this very important event in history, an event that really shaped our times.”
For more information on the grave project, visit cwgc.org
The Age UK Islington group would also like to work with a school on its photography project. For more information, email email@example.com