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History student helps ensure war dead aren’t forgotten

  • Date

    Thu 15 Nov 18

Olivia Smith giving a reading at the Thiepval Memorial

Essex student Olivia Smith has played a crucial role in ensuring First World War centenary commemorations in northern France went without a hitch, and has had the experience of a lifetime working for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC).

MA History student Olivia gave Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron a tour of the Thiepval Memorial to the missing of the Somme, where she’s been working as a CWGC intern helping keep the memory of those who died alive.

Olivia has spent four months working for the CWGC giving tours of the memorial, telling the personal stories behind the names engraved there and helping families find the names of their ancestors.

She got what she calls “the bite for the history of war” when she first visited the battlefields of northern France as a sixth form student. Today she is completing her Masters dissertation on how the centenary commemorations have redefined and modernised the way we think about the First World War.

Olivia Smith being interviewed by the BBC )
Olivia Smith being interviewed by the BBC

Writing about her experiences for student blog Essex Spirit, Olivia said: “It is an experience I truly wish didn’t have to end…I am proud to say I have been a part of the centenary and I am more proud that I have played a role in ensuring the men of the First World War will not be forgotten.”

As well as the British and French leaders, school groups and families, Olivia has given tours to former rugby international Mike Tindall and Chief Scout Bear Grylls, picking up valuable communications and research skills along the way.

Olivia Smith on her first day at the Thiepval Memorial
Olivia Smith on her first day at the Thiepval Memorial
Olivia Smith giving President Macron and Prime Minister Theresa May a tour
Olivia Smith giving President Macron and Prime Minister Theresa May a tour

“I feel very sad that the internship is coming to an end. I have no war dead in my family, but I have built up a wonderful personal connection with the stories of the men I have learnt about and I feel strongly that as part of the younger generation, it is now our duty to ensure these men will never be forgotten,” she said.

“Working at the memorial I found you become quite desensitised to it all but I have had moments where it just hits me, and you reflect on what it was all for as you look up at the thousands of names on the memorial.”