William says Great War was a 'terrible chapter in our history' as he launches fundraising drive
23:23 GMT, 26 April 2012
The First World War was a ‘terrible chapter in our history’, but it also demonstrated ‘the extremes of resolve and courage’ of the British people, Prince William said last night.
Accompanied by his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge, the prince, an RAF helicopter pilot, was attending a reception at the Imperial War Museum (IWM) in London to launch a 35million fundraising effort to transform its First World War galleries.
Last night’s reception was hosted by the IWM Foundation, an independent charitable trust set up under the chairmanship of Viscount Rothermere, Chairman of the Daily Mail and General Trust.
Reception: Viscount and Viscountess Rothermere with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge last night
Fundraising drive: The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge view a model of the proposed new galleries which will cost 35million at the Imperial War Museum
The charitable trust, of which Prince William is patron, aims to raise 35million – of which 20million has already been collected – to transform the museum’s First World War galleries to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the conflict in 2014.
Lord Rothermere announced that donors so far include the Queen.
Original objects, including letters and diaries written by those on the front line, will be exhibited in interactive multimedia displays exploring the stories of those who lived, fought and died in the Great War.
The IWM has always focused on the human dimension of war, mindful of the enormous sacrifice made by millions.
Dazzling: The Duchess of Cambridge wears an Amanda Wakeley dress as she arrives at the Imperial War Museum last night
Tribute: Prince William, who said the First World War was a 'terrible chapter in our history' talks to Lord Rothermere last night
Kate the Great: The Duchess is shown paintings of two of Lord Rothermere's Great Uncle's who were killed during the First World War
In a deeply personal speech, Lord Rothermere paid tribute to the prince’s support and highlighted the ‘devastating impact’ the First World War had on many thousands of families in the country, including his own.
Lord Rothermere’s great-grandfather, the 1st Viscount Rothermere, Harold Sidney Harmsworth, tragically lost two of his three sons in the fighting.
Captain Harold Vyvyan St George Harmsworth was severely wounded while serving with the Irish Guards at Cambrai in November 1917 and died from his injuries the following year. He was awarded the Military Cross for his bravery in taking out two enemy machine-guns under heavy fire.
Lieutenant Vere Sidney Tudor Harmsworth, of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, was also killed in action at the Battle of the Ancre in November 1916 aged just 21.
Fundraiser: The Duke and Duchess are shown round the Imperial War Museum in London last night
Already a combat veteran, he was deafened by gunfire during service in the Royal Navy, captured at the bombardment of Antwerp in October 1914 and interned in Holland before escaping and going on to serve at Gallipoli. Turning down offers of safer jobs, he volunteered to return to the front line in France and was cut down by a shell as he advanced, wounded, across No Man’s Land – showing such endurance and courage, according to his commanding officer, that ‘the men of his battalion who survived the action are thrilled with pride in his name’.
He was, Lord Rothermere said, ‘the sort of dashing young man for whom the very expression might have been invented and for whom flower of English youth sadly soon would be’. Indeed, three weeks before his death he wrote a haunting letter to his family, saying: ‘We came into the trenches this morning and go over the top tomorrow. It will be about dawn… Whether I am to emerge from this show, I do not know.
Address: Lord Rothermere talks at the Imperial War Museum last night as the Duchess of Cambridge and Lady Rothermere listen
‘Fate has not definitely informed me… I may have been born to live my 21 years and then fade away. It may have been my mission in life. If I fall, do not mourn but be glad and proud. It is not a life wasted but gloriously fulfilled.
‘The crowning consolation is the knowledge that one will have done one’s utmost to leave the world better than one found it.’
His words moved his grieving father, who was himself Director-General of the Royal Army Clothing Department during the First World War before being appointed Air Minister in 1917, to donate the building which houses the Imperial War Museum today.
Fundraising fight: Prince William talks to Lady Rothermere at the Imperial War Museum last night
‘He was determined that the selflessness and heroism of their entire generation would always be remembered, would always be honoured, would always – always – be part of our national story,’ the present Lord Rothermere explained.
‘I share that determination. If imaginative and intellectual engagement with the past matters, if a sense of personal connectedness to those who have gone before matters, which surely it does, then this museum and our centenary campaign matter too.
‘And matter more than ever as the shadow of time passes over each new generation.’
Dazzling Duchess: Kate, wearing a slender grey dress, talks to guests at the Imperial War Museum last night as she is stood next to Viscount Rothermere