Claire’s war centenary mission

Magazine Journalism graduate Claire Douglas has been at the forefront of events to mark the centenary of the start of the First World War – including mixing with royalty.
Claire, who has been working with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) since the start of 2012, graduated with an MA in Magazine Journalism the November before. This is her story…
“Arriving at Nottingham Trent University with a BA in English, I was under the impression I could already write a good story and was just after the piece of paper to prove it. One week into the course, and following my first encounter with Dave Welford’s red pen, I became all too aware that this was not the case. In fact, even when hitting the send button on this piece, part of me will be waiting for the return email telling me to start again!

Mixing with royalty: Claire Douglas and the Duke of Kent.

Mixing with royalty: Claire Douglas and the Duke of Kent.

On leaving CBJ, I embarked on a six-month internship with the Waitrose Chronicle, the in-house magazine for Waitrose staff. I enjoyed a wonderful period of Heston-inspired lunches and was occasionally let loose to practice my shorthand on a number of unsuspecting subjects ranging from Mark Wright to Prince Charles.
But the real work had to start at some point, and I have since spent almost 2½ years with the CWGC – the organisation responsible for commemorating the 1.7 million men and women of the Commonwealth Forces who lost their lives in the two world wars.
I’ll forgive you for wanting to fall asleep at this point but once I’d got all the ‘how hard is it to do PR for the dead’ jokes out of the way, I’ve had a fascinating and really rewarding couple of years.
At the end of my first year on the job, I’d written the annual report, re-branded a range of information leaflets and helped implement our first social media strategy, to name but a few. They were projects that I would have found it hard to imagine ever being involved in when I was struggling to string a sensible sentence together in my first news writing sessions.
Operating in 153 countries across the world, I’ve been given a fair few opportunities to dust my passport off as well – my hand was the first in the air when discussion turned to raising the profile of our sites in Turkey!
I can’t pretend it’s all been plain sailing. I’ve learnt the hard way that stilettos will not survive a trip down a replica First World War trench and I’ve also learnt that there is no cold like the cold of a cemetery on the Western Front, and perfected the technique of getting into a hot bath at the end of the day, without taking your coat off. But it’s all just about been worth it.
Things stepped up a notch as the organisation prepared to mark the centenary of the start of the First World War.
As well as making sure our cemeteries and memorials were ready to receive the extra guests, we were also looking at all aspects of our communication with the general public, working to raise the profile of the CWGC, and therefore ultimately to raise the profile of those we commemorate.
It involved months of hard work, lost evenings and weekends and even missing my own birthday party (!) but we finally got there. And last week I was part of the team welcoming the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, accompanied by the world’s media, to our cemetery in Mons, Belgium, for the UK Government event to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.
CBJ may not have taught me to curtsey but I’m pretty sure it prepared me for most other things that came my way on the day.
My one piece of advice (if you want one) when looking for jobs after the course would be to think outside the box. Just because a company seems a bit obscure, or even boring, doesn’t mean it can’t offer a great opportunity.”

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