Memorials to the Missing by Stephen Wyatt

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BBC Radio 7, 11 November 2008

This play, broadcast on the ninetieth anniversary of the end of the First World War, told of the persistence of one General Ware (Anton Lesser) who overcame scepticism, prejudice and sheer naked indifference to establish the war graves in France, commemorating those who fell on the Western Front. Wyatt emphasized how difficult Ware’s task was; he had to resolve arguments between the architects Baker and Edwin Lutyens (Michael Maloney) who squabbled about the design of the graves; contend with religious prejudice from the British upper class, who objected to the idea on the grounds that it was planned as a multi-faith memorial; and convince politicians of the value of funding the whole project. Director Peter Hall underlined the importance of Ware’s work by interspersing the dialogue with voices of fallen soldiers speaking from the dead about their need for recognition. They did not want to believe that their sacrifice had been in vain; the graves would help to prove this true. One soldier underlined the point by quoting regularly from Shelley.


The impact of the graves, once they had been constructed, was considerable; Hall made this point by introducing testimonies from ordinary people (not actors) who described their experiences of visiting them. This device invested Wyatt’s play with a drama-documentary flavour that made it appear all the more immediate to listeners. If nothing else, Memorials to the Missing made it clear that the efforts of those who fought in the War, as well as those who constructed the graves, should not be forgotten.