The spaces were living memorials, spaces for reflection and enjoyment, stillness and activity.The Duke of Cambridge
As President of the charity Fields in Trust, I had the privilege of being in Coventry's War Memorial Park to launch their Centenary Fields Programme, the charity's initiative to safeguard war memorial parks up and down the country from ever being lost to residential or commercial development in the future. Our aim is to protect one memorial field in each local authority district in the country as a way of creating a living legacy of the Great War centenary commemorations. The plan is not terribly complicated - there will be a memorial field that already exists near you - nor is it particularly costly, but it does require support.
The unprecedented horrors of the Great War touched neighbourhoods in this country in a way that we can barely imagine these days, even for those of us who have served in the Armed Forces. War memorials for the first time became part of our national landscape: crosses, statues, plaques - you will know where your nearest is. But some communities were even more ambitious, setting aside fields for recreation in memory of those who had fallen.
No response could ever be adequate to the scale of death, but these spaces could - in a very modest way - give expression to the freedom for which men had fought, or at the very least to a sense in which men had died so that the world of the living would become a better, more peaceful, place. The spaces were living memorials, spaces for reflection and enjoyment, stillness and activity.
As someone who has always enjoyed sport, and now as a new father, I appreciate the importance of allowing our children the freedom to experience outdoor space. And not just children - adults benefit just as much, for a stroll, to walk the dog, to exercise or just to get some fresh air. Outdoor space is more than a nice-to-have for every community - it is an inalienable part of living well.
Over the past one hundred years, further conflicts have renewed each generation's relationship with these spaces of reflection. 'The war to end all wars' was sadly not the end of the story. Yet pressures are mounting on these spaces if they are to continue to serve their purpose. They may not survive another century without help. Residential and commercial pressures mean many have been already lost, and more will be lost without the kind of safeguarding that Fields in Trust offers.
I am delighted that Fields in Trust is working with the Royal British Legion - the national custodian of remembrance - to protect these Centenary Fields. But their work cannot be achieved without the support of the local community. I sincerely hope that other local authorities and landowners will follow Coventry City Council's lead and work with Fields In Trust and the Royal British Legion to dedicate at least one recreational space near you.
I believe it is our duty to preserve these important outdoor spaces, not only given the vital role they play at the heart of local communities, but also to help our children, and their children, understand the importance of remembrance. I am aware of the unique and highly trusted relationship that local newspapers have with the community they serve and so I am grateful to this paper for helping support what I believe is a very important local issue.
The anniversary of the Great War will be commemorated in many ways over the next four years. Through this significant contribution, Fields in Trust and the Royal British Legion are providing a fitting way for communities to both remember the past and protect the future.