Tag Archives: war memorial

A Wound in our Nation’s Psyche: The Somme

19240 Shrouds of the Somme

19240 Shrouds of the Somme, Northernhay Gardens, Exeter, Devon, 1 July 2016

One hundred years’ ago today, the Battle of the Somme – one of the Great War’s bloodiest battles – ended, having begun on 1 July 1916. On the first day alone almost 20,000 British soldiers died.

To mark its centenary, an art installation memorial, 19240 Shrouds of the Somme, re-imagined the physical reality of the losses on the day the battle began. Laid out in rows on the grass of Northernhay Gardens, Exeter, were 19,240 twelve inch figures in shrouds.  Each figure represented a British soldier killed on the first day of battle. It brought home an idea of the scale of the carnage to our 21st century eyes. It was almost beyond belief.

The men the figures represented gave their lives for King and Country, but the impact went far beyond the battlefield.  Each soldier’s loss was felt by a particular loved one and then by a family unit back home. Then, as the full horror gradually emerged, this sense of loss spread and spread until it sliced a deep wound in our nation’s collective psyche that perhaps will never fully heal.

19240 Shrouds of the Sosmme

Individual figures from the 19240 Shrouds of the Somme.


Even a century later, the name The Somme, still stirs a visceral horror in our hearts. It continues to echo down the decades and retains the power to move us.

Photographs by Susan Hughes


WWI Centenary. Lest we forget.


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Linking the Past to the Present

WW1 memorial

Upper North Street School Memorial.

On this day, 23 June 1919, a memorial to eighteen London school children killed during a German Gotha raid during WWI was unveiled in Poplar Recreation Ground, London E14.

Such memorials are each unique pieces of public art which link the present and the past and form part of our common history and belong to our collective memory.

I came across this striking memorial as I was walking along the East India Dock Road in London’s East End.  The angel statue stands on top of a four-sided pillar upon a white stone stepped base. The inscription reads:


The date of the tragedy also marks the first day of German aircraft daylight bombing raids on London during WWI. Prior to this, most air raids had taken place under cover of darkness. Poplar was near the commercial docks – a frequent target during enemy air raids in both world wars – and Upper North Street school may not have been the intended target when Gotha airplanes dropped their bombs on that day, but the school suffered a devastating direct hit.

Most of the dead were infants, aged between four and six. It caused a huge international outpouring of public grief and sorrow as well as outrage and outcry, inciting widespread rioting against German owned shops and premises in Britain. It prompted questions in the House of Commons about the pressing need for a more effective air raid early warning system.

Some of the schoolchildren's names

Some of the schoolchildren’s names

Before the 1914-1918 war,  most war memorials were of famous generals who won celebrated victories in battle. After the slaughter in the trenches and deaths from air raids on the Home Front, there was a change in public mood and this change is reflected in the many and varied public memorials commissioned in its aftermath. These are visible in our cities, in town squares, on village greens, in local churchyards, in parks, at railway stations and in the designs on church windows. They speak to us of commemoration and sacrifice – of civilians as well as service personnel – not celebration.

Above all, they allow us and future generations to remember. And hope for peace. Always.

What about you? Are there war memorials in your home town? How do you feel about them?


WWI Centenary. Lest We Forget

Quote from de Toqueville "When the past..."






Photographs © Susan Hughes


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