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Remembering War

By CMS in War memorials

This is the first blog post on our new web site – and I hope the first of many. I can always think of things to blog about – our Twitter feed suggests topics every day – but I am also keen to encourage other members to write blog posts. Send them to me at madeleine.gray@southwales.ac.uk – with high-resolution photos if you like.

In this centenary year we have been focussing in our Monument of the Month series on war memorials and memorials to individual soldiers from the First World War. Some of the posts have dealt with the practicalities and local debates over the design and installation of memorials; others have considered iconography and the thinking behind individual monuments. Future plans include something on memorials to soldiers from elsewhere in the Empire, particularly the Indian and African troops for whom the war was, in the title of Shrabani Basu’s book, For King and Another Country.

As a medievalist, all this is new territory for me. We haven’t had a Monument of the Month for May or June, as the web site was being reworked and content was being moved over. New postings would just have confused things. Instead, I have done a series of catch-up postings with photographs and short notes on war memorials that various people have sent me. This has involved a bit of research, and I have been grateful for the number of web sites that are now available on war memorials.

The first stop in any research is the Imperial War Museum’s War Memorials Register https://www.iwm.org.uk/memorials.

A random selection of others, mostly for specific areas:

Welsh Memorials to the Great War, http://war-memorials.swan.ac.uk/, is specifically geared to memorials in churches and chapels, workplaces, schools and clubs.

Peter Francis has published on Shropshire memorials and his blog about them is at http://shropshirewarmemorials.blogspot.com/.

The West Wales War Memorial Project is at https://www.wwwmp.co.uk/.

Specifically on one of the most beautiful areas of north-west Wales, http://www.mawddachestuary.co.uk/warmemorials/

https://www.powyswarmemorials.co.uk/

(These are all a bit Wales and the Marches: do send me links for others in other areas.)

 

These various projects have clearly gone beyond the collection of names to recapture the texture of a whole society. Remembering and commemorating war is difficult. How do we commemorate without glorifying? This gets even more problematic for  earlier church monuments. How should we regard a superb piece of sculpture praising someone whose actions we now deplore? Back to Wilfred Owen:

My subject is War, and the pity of War.
The Poetry is in the pity.

(A good blog post on Wilfred Owen at http://blogs.bl.uk/english-and-drama/2014/03/wilfred-owen-the-poetry-is-in-the-pity.html.)

But I am also reminded of the words of Major Kirby, who built and ran the Royal Welch Fusiliers’ regimental museum in Caernarfon Castle. (When I say built, he did it all himself – constructed floors, staircases and display cases in an empty stone tower. He had a little office hidden in the middle of the display cases where the regimental archives lived.) When I was working for the Gwynedd Archive Service, I was sent to help him catalogue the archives. Having seen active service in the Second World War, he said he ran a regimental museum, not to glorify war, but to demonstrate what a dreadful thing it was, in the hope that we would not be so stupid as to do it again.


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