Essex history student chosen for prestigious internship

  • Date

    Mon 5 Feb 18

Olivia Smith

Final year history student Olivia Smith will be travelling to the battlefields of Flanders this summer after winning a highly competitive Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) Centenary Internship.

Olivia will be acting as an ambassador for the CWGC, welcoming visitors and helping them to understand the experiences of those who fought in the First World War.

The CWGC is anticipating large numbers of visitors to the battlefields, cemeteries and memorials of Flanders this year, as we move into the final year of centenary commemorations, and the 100th anniversary of the Armistice, in November 2018.

Olivia said: "Nearly three years ago exactly, I went with my college on a history trip visiting ww1 battlefields, and little did I know three years later I would be given the chance to live on the continent and work with the CWGC. As a history student this opportunity, at this point in the centenary years, is one in a million."

Telling the story of First World War 

CWGC Director General, Victoria Wallace: ‘This programme offers a fantastic chance for young people to engage personally, and with others, in the stories of those who fell in the First World War.’

In November 2017, Olivia won an internship with the Western Front Association, and travelled to Ypres, the base for the British military in Flanders, to participate in ceremonies and events marking the centenary of Passchendale, the Third Battle of Ypres, in which almost half a million soldiers were killed, wounded, or declared missing, lost in what had become by then, a landscape of deep and viscous mud.

You can read her account of her experience on the History at Essex blog.

Putting research skills into action

Olivia is currently working on her final Research Project, researching the social and cultural impact of Vera Brittain’s autobiographical Testament of Youth, from its publication in the 1930s, as part of the wave of ‘war generation’ writing of that time, up until the 2014 film version, released as part of the commemorations of the war’s centenary in Britain.

The CWGC Centenary Internships were launched by George Osborne at the commemorations for the centenary of the battle of the Somme in July 2016, and are sponsored by the British government.

They are designed to help introduce visitors to the battlefields, cemeteries and memorials of Flanders and Northern France which have become such a central motif of British cultural memory of the First World War, with the young age of the interns (the same age range of the majority of the war’s dead and missing) acting to powerfully convey the impact of the war on societies that experienced it.

The picture on this page shows Olivia at the Thiepval Memorial which commemorates more than 72,000 men of British and South African forces who died in the Somme sector before 20 March 1918 and have no known grave, the majority of whom died during the Somme offensive of 1916. The Thiepval Memorial is the largest Commonwealth Memorial to the missing in the world.