IT was five years ago this month that I sat in a little chapel in northern France. Rain had been lashing down that morning, but suddenly sunshine appeared in the window as the chatter around me, in English and French, faded.

The chapel was filled with people - a contingent from West Yorkshire and dignitaries, veterans and schoolchildren from the nearby village of Hebuterne - for a ceremony unveiling a memorial to the Bradford Pals.

I was there with members of Bradford World War 1 Group. We travelled together on a bus, visiting former battlefields where many local men lost their lives, and cemeteries where they lay buried. We went to a village where the Pals were billeted, with other regiments from around the world, and from where they marched to the Somme. We stood in the barn where some of the lads had built a makeshift cinema, the little bar where they enjoyed a last drink and sing-along, and the church where they scratched their initials onto walls.

Finally we unveiled the memorial, made of Yorkshire stone and funded by the T&A’s Honour the Pals appeal. Standing in the chapel garden, overlooking Serre Road cemeteries, it is a lasting tribute to the Bradford men who lost their lives on the Somme, and now lay beneath the ground there.

It was hard to imagine, that bright November morning when the sun came out, that these had once been fields of horror, where young men who’d turned out to enlist in Sunday suits and polished shoes never stood a chance.

I’d written about local men who perished in the First World War, and although they were sad stories, I felt no connection to them. But to stand in a windswept cemetery in rural France and see some of their names on gravestones and memorials to the missing was deeply moving.

Some of the group I travelled with had their own reasons for the trip. At St Vaast cemetery one man placed a poppy cross at the grave of his great-uncle. He was one of five brothers in the war - two never came back and one returned so badly injured he was unrecognisable. Another man found his grandfather’s cousin’s name on the Loos Memorial. A Donegal man, he served with the Irish Guards, died in 1915 and was branded a traitor in Ireland. “A century on, I think he can finally be remembered,” said his descendent.

We also visited graves of men from the Indian Army and British West Indies Regiment, buried at cemeteries including Vieille Chapelle, Arras and Hooge Crater, Belgium. “We want to tell their story, it is one that’s generally left out of accounts of WW1,” said a retired schoolteacher inspired to research these untold stories when a pupil from a South Asian family asked him: “What about our war?”

Today, on Armistice Day, we remember those who died in all conflicts, around the world. In my job I have met men who served in the Second World War - among them a former pilot from the Dambusters squadron, the last surviving Chindit in Yorkshire, a former Japanese prisoner-of-war, a Dunkirk veteran and members of the Polish armed forces - and the Korean and Gulf wars, and women who were military nurses, munitions workers and land girls. Each November, there are fewer of these men and women at the cenotaphs.

It has been a great privilege to talk to them about, and write about their experiences. This ‘living history’ is slipping away, and it is up to those of us left behind to keep their stories alive.