Featured Articles - Why do we remember?
A simple cross placed by a child by the Methodist obelisk, Lostock Hall.
Image (C) Charles O'Donnell
People often have a powerful need to commemorate those who have died. They may have lost someone close to them, or they may be thinking about loss of life in disaster or war. Such memorials take different forms, from flowers left at a particular spot, to public triumphal arches and works of art dedicated to the memory of specific individuals.
The Great War reached out and touched almost everyone’s life in some way or other. Children grew up in the shadow of battle, their fathers absent or lost. Women became directly involved, picking up the pieces of industry and agriculture as the men went off to fight. By 1918, they too could join the army and serve their country.
The power unleashed by modern war resulted in previously unimagined losses. Over 9 million soldiers died as a result of the fighting. Food shortages, sometimes deliberately inflicted by blockade and sometimes resulting from failed harvests, weakened the people who remained on the home fronts. Nearly 6 million civilians died from disease or starvation. Almost 1 million more were killed as a direct result of military operations. In all, the estimate of dead resulting from the war stands at over 16 million.
We also remember the Great War for the examples of perseverance in the harshest adversity which its study reveals. The way in which individuals faced up to the grim realities of life and death in the war’s many fronts and theatres seems nearly incomprehensible to many today. The motivations of those who took part were undoubtedly varied and complex.
The choice of location for a memorial has wider implications. If the chosen site is in a public place, such as a park or village green in public ownership, then the building is accessible to all.
No specific interest controls it (though of course there may be special arrangements made for its upkeep – South Ribble Council looks after three local memorials) and no particular individual owns it. On the other hand, if a memorial is created by a family in memory of an individual, then the location of the memorial reflects that gift. Such memorials are often found in a church where the family worship, and in that way the church is linked to the family, and the family to the church. For example, there are plaques to individuals in St.Marys, Penwortham (Lieut-Col HM Finch DSO, 2nd Lieut FM Finch, Capt TG Rawstorne) and St.Leonards, Walton-le-Dale (Capt G Woods, Capt AL Harris, the Crozier family). Churchyards, and churches themselves, often contain memorials for the use of the whole parish, with their location signifying a specific connection to that church, community and a particular faith.
There are memorials to the dead in every country that participated in either or both of the two World Wars, and in particular every village, town and city.
War memorials are probably the most numerous of all public monuments, and certainly the most widespread. There are war memorials in every major city of the United Kingdom, and in the countries of continental Europe that were affected by those two wars.
The period immediately after the First World War produced the majority of these memorials. However, memorials to war, and battle, were often erected in the past (the Boer War memorial in Avenham Park, Preston).
In addition, they have common properties: they are placed where people can see them and expect to have access to them, whether the site is within a church, on the top of a hill, or in the centre of a town.
Edited & republished 30 September 2016