The first name slowly comes into view: Francis N. Cluff, a lieutenant in the Canadian infantry from Alberta who died in the last year of the First World War, on Aug. 28, 1918.
It is projected onto a 45-foot screen overlooking the Rideau Canal, attached to the downtown government conference centre, a former train station that will house the Senate while the Centre Block undergoes renovations.
But Lt. Cluff’s name is not the only one up on the screen. Surrounding it are those of eight other soldiers – from Italy, France, Germany, South Africa.
Lt. Cluff didn’t fight alone. And he didn’t die alone, either.
This is The World Remembers, a Canadian-led project that pays tribute to the millions of soldiers, nurses and military personnel from 16 countries who were killed in the First World War. Although the numbers are by no means comprehensive, the project represents the first time they have been compiled this way to represent a global view of the war’s toll.
Lt. Cluff’s is one of 1,003,167 names that will be broadcast on screens to honour them and the millions more who were killed in 1918 – the deadliest year of the war.
Running until Nov. 11, the display, which also features photographs from the war, can be seen at 83 locations in seven countries, including the United States.
In Canada, the locations include museums, libraries and public schools, as well as the main location across from the National War Memorial in Ottawa, which was funded by the departments of Veterans Affairs and Heritage. A new name appears every 90 seconds, representing the 23,731 Canadian soldiers and others who lost their lives. (Of those, 67 are women.) The display runs over a 12-hour period during the day and overnight, beginning at 8 p.m. at the main site in Ottawa. The project also includes a website and database that allows family members to search for loved ones.
The project, now in its fifth and final year, is the brainchild of actor and director R.H. Thomson, who first conceived of it in 2010 with his production partner Martin Conboy. With an estimated cost of $1.8-million over eight years, it is supported with a modest amount of federal funding and donations. Mr. Thomson hopes to find a permanent home for it after November.
He says the goal of the project is to humanize the cost of the war – and that means those from abroad, too.
“If you only remember your own, you’re only remembering part of the story. So you have to remember everybody,” said Thomson, who lost seven great-uncles in the war.
“It’s the people that matter, and no one’s named them.”
He says the project also remembers Canadians from different ethnic backgrounds who fought in this country’s name and were never properly honoured.
At a reception for the display in Ottawa this week, representatives from around the world gathered to celebrate the project.
“I think it is a real tribute to those soldiers and sailors … that gave up their lives to essentially ensure the life that we now have,” said Michael Salvador, New Zealand’s defence adviser. “At the end of the day, when you’re buried, you’re alongside a whole range of different nations, and it doesn’t make any difference what they believe in. They’re all lying side by side."
Mr. Thomson says he is convinced that such a project could only be conceived by Canadians.
“When the Canadian turns up in Bucharest or Prague or Budapest or Brussels or London, the person from that country goes, ’Oh yeah, Canada, you’re everybody,'" he said. “Canada is in a perfect position to actually say everyone should be part of this project, because everyone’s part of Canada.”