WHAT ARE WAR MEMORIALS?
From the Acropolis to the Arc de Triomphe, war memorials have been central to the history of European architecture and public sculpture. They have also been important symbols of national pride and identity and confirmation of national leaders prowess or a general’s valour.
Following the mass slaughter of the First World War the ordinary soldier made his first significant appearance on war memorials;the war was also the major period of war memorial building as the ignored victims of war - the grieving parents, wives and girlfriends relatives and friends - sought consolation and meaning in the events that shattered their lives.
The style of previous war memorials - statues of generals and admirals, victory arches and so on felt inappropriate, too patriotic and insufficiently sensitive to the desolation and loss of millions of ordinary people. For this reason other forms of commemoration emerged during and after the war; these tended to expressed sadness rather than exhilaration and many attempted to addressed directly the experience of bereavement.
Two motifs emerged - war as both noble and uplifting and tragic and unendurably sad. These are present in virtually all post-war memorials but differ in the balance struck between them - a balance that was never fixed. No enduring formulae emerged though traditional religious images were used repeatedly to try and give meaning to the carnage of the war.
War memorials became places where people grieved, both individually and collectively and the resulting monuments, still to be seen in virtually every town and village throughout Europe, provided a focus for ceremonies of public mourning from the decade following Armistice Day.Such ceremonies continue today but in a vastly different context and for totally different reasons.
A wider discussion of the meaning of war memorials coming soon.