Why do war memorials look the way they do?
The War Memorials Trust estimates that there are 100,000 war memorials in the UK, and many of them follow a similar range of designs. There’s the statue of an infantryman, as in the memorial in Otley. There’s the Cenotaph style memorials that mimic the original design created for London by Edwin Lutyens in 1919. Some places, such as Victoria Park in Leicester, have an archway reminiscent of the Menin Gate in Ypres. Many smaller towns and villages have a memorial in the form of a simple cross.
The First World War defined remembrance for the 20th century. Wars had been commemorated before, but the sheer scale of the conflict and its impact on towns and villages across the country sparked a response to anniversaries beyond anything seen before. The BBC has a great summary of how the response to conflict ‘set the blueprint’ for commemoration. Now, at nearly a century’s remove from the events of 1914-18, it seems appropriate to reflect on how the formal commemoration events that began in 1919 have influenced who and what we remember in our commemoration events today, and how they are enacted. Who is remembered, and who is not? More importantly, why? We’ll return to this topic in future posts.
As part of our project we’re researching seven names from the war memorial in Otley, West Yorkshire. All were soldiers with the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment and all had different experiences of the war. We’re using a range of sources including medal indexes, service records, battalion war diaries, death and burial records and personal memoirs of soldiers who served with those battalions to build up a picture of their war service and how they died. We’ll report back as our research unfolds.