of Southsea, commissioned the design from Gamon and Humphry, Fitzroy ... St John's College and Portsmouth Grammar school already occupied their current.
PORTSMOUTH REMEMBERS: THEN & NOW Imagine this: you are standing in front of a table upon which stands a bowl of water and a box of pebbles…You take a small pebble from the box and drop it into the bowl. Now watch the ripples as they spread out in concentric circles across the water….
Perhaps this is a reasonable visualisation of the ever- widening impact of just one soldier's death. The first circle, closest to the impact of the death, represents the grief of the families; the parents, wives, brothers, sisters and sweethearts. As the impact of the news spreads, schools , workplaces and parish churches react to the loss. Multiplied by the 750,000 losses in UK and Ireland, it is easy to appreciate that most of the nation would have been buffeted by one or more of these circles of grief, shock and loss and would have felt the need to remember. The modern trend of placing a bunch of flowers , toys or football scarves by the roadside or on a bench near to the site of a fatal accident , making an impromptu shrine, reveals that this compulsion to remember, to mark the loss, is a deeply- rooted need, even in an increasingly secular society. The scale of losses in WW1 was so huge that the clearly -perceived need to have the the lost, citizen armies remembered is evident even very early on in the war. Sergeant Will Street, who died at Serre on the morning of July 1st 1916 , on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, had already written his poem “A Soldiers'Cemetery” in which this self -taught son of a Derbyshire miner, envisaged that; “When war shall cease this lonely and unknown spot Of many a pilgrimage will be the end And fame upon it through the years descend: But many a heart upon each simple cross Will hand the grief, the memory of its loss.” Sgt. Street, himself 'walking -wounded ' and making his way back to a first aid post, went to help another, more seriously wounded soldier when both were killed by shelling nearby. Similarly, the famous words of what has come to be called “The Incantation”; lines from Laurence Binyon's poem, “For the Fallen”, were written in 1914, long before the concept of an Imperial War Grave Cemetery had been decided upon. It is strange to think that he was writing on behalf of men who were still alive and yet to become “the fallen”. Evidently, he was anticipating something apocalyptic , something that would have to be remembered in the future. So, when at each November Remembrance Sunday ceremony, we hear his lines; “They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them.” -2-
and reinforce his pledge by repeating the last line, “We will remember them”, what are we actually promising? Is this a collective show of emotional solidarity; a declaration to keep the faith, as it were?. Certainly, we have inherited an unbroken tradition of Remembrance. Every night since its inauguration in 1927, the Last Post ceremony under the Menin Gate in Ypres has included these words. When the German army invaded in WW2, the bugle and the ceremony carried on in Brookwood cemetery in Surrey, and legend has it that when the first liberating tanks rolled under the archway towards the end of the war, a soldier played the bugle once again under the Menin Gate. This unbroken act of public remembrance, takes place at 8pm every day of the year; not just in the tourist season and irrespective of whether there are several thousand people crowding under and around the archway, or a dozen people on a wet Thursday in January. Remembrance is a complex and multi-faceted concept. This investigation aims to discover how Portsmouth chose to remember, to mark the loss, in the immediate post war period and compare / contrast this with what remembrance means to those of us who cannot personally remember anyone who fought and died in WW1; but whose attitudes to the war are perhaps guided by the memorials and inscriptions chosen by Portsmouth people one hundred years ago.
Portsmouth Cemeteries; the first 'ripple 'of remembrance. At the end of his recently published and excellently- detailed book, ”Portsmouth's World War One Heroes”, military historian, James Daly says; “Perhaps the most poignant- but often overlooked- reminders of Portsmouth's role in the First World War are the hundreds of war graves in Portsmouth cemeteries, cared for by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. There are 221 First World War graves in Highland Rd cemetery, 378 in Kingston and 194 in Milton cemetery. Many men died in Britain of wounds, illness or of natural causes, yet their sacrifice has often been overshadowed by better -known war cemeteries on the Western Front.” A revolutionary idea had been debated and passed by Parliament in 1920, despite considerable public outrage. It was that the British dead would NOT be repatriated but their remains would be buried in military cemeteries close to where they fell.
Every man who died and could be identified should have a named headstone and every man whose remains could not be found or identified, would have his name inscribed on a Memorial to the Missing. The Imperial War Graves Commission, (now the Commonwealth War Graves Commission), chaired by Fabian Ware, established the basic ethos: Every headstone would be uniform in size and design There would be no differentiation on the basis of rank, race or creed. The headstone would be of white Purbeck stone and show the name, date of death if known, regiment/ number, and display a religious symbol if required. The space at the foot of the headstone could display an inscription paid for by the family Cemeteries would be park like, open , bright places, planted with lawns and flowers
This insistence on equality in death was remarkable, since in Service and in civilian life, hierarchy was the way society organised itself in the early twentieth century and rank mattered hugely. Nevertheless, the decision was made that, “men who joined together, fought together and died together should lie together” . Of course, the logistics of bringing home the remains of the dead after four years of fighting would have been colossal as would the political implications of every city, town and most villages burying their young men . Only six villages in the entire country welcomed home all their soldiers alive. So, how is it that, despite this, Portsmouth has almost 800 First World War graves in local cemeteries? Simply, it was logistically convenient; Portsmouth had Hospitals near to Docks. Men wounded at the front or showing dangerous symptoms of illness or infection were, rather efficiently ,conveyed down the evacuation process from First Aid Post to Casualty Clearing Station to Field Hospital and then by ship and ambulance to a ward in hospital in Blighty.
The men in our cemeteries left the Western Front alive but died later of their wounds, the effects of gas , infection or disease. The cemetery records are often difficult to decipher but many , in the column for cause of death simply state “Infection” or “Pneumonia” or “Influenza”. Some of the headstones do show inscriptions from the family. Their choice of words shows us directly not only how they remembered their loved one but also how they wanted him to be remembered by future generations. Most inscriptions are simple and conventional, chosen to bring comfort probably from a booklet of suitable epitaphs, provided by the undertaker. As early as 1915, the Church Crafts League was intent on making “a special effort to direct the pious intentions of bereaved relatives into proper channels”! So, strolling round Milton , Highland Rd or Kingston cemeteries , we find popular choices include; ”Lost awhile, our treasured love, Gained forever, safe above” , “Peace, perfect peace” , “To memory ever dear”. and “Home is the sailor”. The inscriptions reveal that these families saw death as eternal rest, a place of safety for their loved one, now at peace in the care of a loving God. More personal is the wording given by Mrs Kingswell to commemorate ,“my dear husband, his duty nobly done.” The headstone reveals that her husband had served on HMS “P12” and had been awarded the Distinguished Service Medal. Her choice of wording demonstrates that her grief is matched with pride in his achievements. Similarly, we share the family's grief through the inscription of A.S.Bull in Milton Rd Cemetery when the popular ”Peace perfect peace” is followed by “Our dear boy, sadly missed by all who loved him. “ Mr & Mrs Bull's boy died aged 19. Religious and patriotic inscriptions were also popular; , “Eternal light shine on him” appears many times . The powerful biblical quotation, “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friend.” chosen for the headstone of AML John Wotton. emphasises faith in the ways of God, as do the simple words of total acceptance conveyed by, “Thy will be done”.
Every headstone has its own story, though the records of soldiers and sailors buried in civilian cemeteries are notoriously hard to track down as many were destroyed by bombing in WW2. One delightful story is known about the man buried in Plot R Row 11 Grave6 of Milton Cemetery; Sidney James Day V.C.
SIDNEY JAMES DAY V.C. CORPORAL 11th Bn THE SUFFOLK REGIMENT MEDAL WON IN FRANCE 26 AUGUST 1917 GAZETTED: 11 OCTOBER 1917. BORN: NORWICH 3 JULY 1891. DIED: PORTSMOUTH 17 JULY 1959 MEDAL NOT PUBLICLY HELD.
Details of Action On 26 August 1917 east of Hargicourt, France, Corporal Day was in command of a bombing section detailed to clear a maze of trenches still held by the enemy; this he did, killing two machine gunners and taking four prisoners. Immediately after he returned to his section a stick bomb fell into a trench occupied by five men, one badly wounded. The corporal seized the bomb and threw it over the trench where it immediately exploded. He afterwards completed the clearing of the trench and established himself in an advanced position, remaining for 66 hours at his post which came under intense fire.
The Portsmouth Connection Although employed as a butcher in pre-war civilian life, from 1932 Sidney Day is known to have run his own Tea Rooms called the "Sidney James VC Tea Rooms" at 12 The Arcade, Landport which was off Edinburgh Road. The tearooms were opposite the Arcade Picture House. The building was lost to the bombing on January 10th, 1941. After that Day became a messenger in Portsmouth Dockyard but had to retire in 1948 because he developed TB. He was living at 182 Kirby Road, North End at the time but by 1956 he was living in a prefab at 37 Penhale Road, Landport. A year later records show him living at 18 Fraser Road, Bedhampton and from there he was taken to Queen Alexandra's Hospital where he died on 17th July 1959. His wife, Doris, survived him, living until 1982 when on 18th June she died, also in Queen Alexandra Hospital, aged 76. At the time of her death she was living at 43 Thrush Walk, Wecock Farm. She was buried in the same grave as her husband in Milton Cemetery.
Churches and Parish memorials
Churches have always been keepers of memory; in scrupulous Parish Records of Births, Marriages and Deaths, in statues, art works and plaques commemorating significant events which impacted on the local community from the sinking of “Mary Rose” to the loss of a local fishing boat and crew. Portsmouth's Cathedrals and churches are a rich store of remembrance of WW1 casualties. As the ripple of the local man's death affected his fellow parishioners, who had known him , money was raised and suitable memorials commissioned after the war had ended. Their commemoration of parishioners killed in the First World War gives a great deal of insight into how it was then thought appropriate to remember the dead and, for the modern visitor and offers many fascinating discoveries and delightful surprises. After WW1,wealthier families , even those whose sons had CWGC headstones on known graves on the Western Front sometimes chose, in addition, to create a personal focus of remembrance in local churches. In St Thomas's Cathedral, the Wyllie family chose to create memorials to their two sons killed in the war. Wyllie, of course, had been the Nation's choice to remember the Victory at Trafalgar in his huge, splendidly- detailed panorama of the battle displayed in the Navy Museum in the Dockyard. Wyllie decided to paint a picture dedicated to his first born son and commissioned a bronze effigy to his second son. Both are in St. Thomas's and leave permanent memorials and art works for all parishioners and visitors to enjoy and think about, giving every visitor to the Cathedral a share in remembering the family's loss & ensuring that the memory lives on.
Art works convey a kind of immortality, as Shakespeare emphasised, “So long as men can breathe and eyes can see So long lives this and this gives life to thee.” Sonnet 18
Just to the right, inside the High Street entrance to St Thomas's , is Wyllie 's huge painting “The Miraculous draught of Fishes” dedicated to ;
“Our beloved son Robert Theodore Morrison Wyllie Coy 1st battalion London Scottish ,who fell at Messines, October 31st 1914”
Wyllie has chosen to paint the moment when Jesus directs the fishermen, who have worked hard but found no catch, to cast their net on the other side of the boat, so that soon their nets were bulging with fish. The structure of the picture is organised to enhance the figure of Jesus, by the shape of the unusual frame, borrowed for the purpose from another location in the Cathedral. Could the suggestion here be of a richer life to come for those who follow Him? Just two years later, more tragedy was to come for the Wyllie family with the death in action of their second son. This time, Wyllie commissioned the memorial which he dedicated,
“In loving memory of our second son 2nd Durham Light Infantry Died Montauban 19th July 1916 acting as Brigade Major, buried in Mametz cemetery. He leaves a widow and three children.”
The reclining bronze shows the young, soldier in profile, laid out, calm and seemingly uninjured. Is he sleeping or dead? (It was forbidden to show the bodies of dead British soldiers on public War memorials)The figure seems idealised, calm and at peace, dressed casually,in short -sleeve order, and holding an olive branch .The image is thought -provoking and triggers several associations . Is he now seen as being at peace in death or do his parents also want to convey their belief that his death helped ensure that others could live on in peace? Ironically, you will find this memorial in the space below the medieval wall painting, the cover of which Wyllie had used as the frame of his elder son's memorial picture.
On the wall of the oldest part of the Cathedral, is this superb lancet window ; literally, a glowing testament, in memory of Major Gillman , originally accompanied by a bronze plaque and screen which are now in storage His parents, Mr and Mrs Gillman of Southsea, commissioned the design from Gamon and Humphry, Fitzroy Square. London. This would have been an expensive commission. -9-
The beautiful design shows Major Gillman as St George. He wears medieval armour and his English standard is lowered, since his battle is over and won. Young and curly -headed, he kneels before Christ, who blesses him. Their choice of image guides our response to view their son as they wanted him remembered; fighting for King and Country, his duty nobly done. This is how they viewed his death and our response is guided by the images they chose.
“To the glory of God And the immortal memory of Those who went to fight and die For freedom, honour and peace in the Great War 1914-1918 “ “Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee the crown of life.”
Families who could not afford a private memorial saw the names of their loved ones inscribed on a parish memorial in the grounds of the church. The Cross of Sacrifice outside St Thomas's is a simple , rustic cross and the language on the dedication is plainer and more restrained than many others. The wording guides our response . Intriguingly, this is how the parish chose to remember in the 1920's but their wording fixes this in “Immortal Memory”, as the way in which we are encouraged to remember.
Every parish church has its story to tell about who died and how they were remembered immediately after the war; most raised funds to build a parish memorial. Many chose the cross as an appropriate memorial, overlaying effectively the religious and the military by bringing together the sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the soldiers.
The CWGC cemeteries do this more explicitly by positioning a sword, blade down , in the centre of the Christian Cross. This reflects the desire to have the dead remembered as Christ-like figures, holy warriors willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friend”
Particularly poignant is this plaque inside the porch of St John's Cathedral.
Funded by the Catholic Womens' League, it reflects the need of the grieving womenfolk; mothers, widows , sisters to find some 'closure 'as we would say, and to cope with the lost hopes and futures that were not to be. The positioning of the plaque, as you enter the church, is important; everyone would pass through the porch, see the names and remember every time they went to mass. The plaque would have been expensive and so, perhaps, the women must have found some comfort in the common purpose of fund raising to commission the memorial. They also asked for masses to be said “in perpetuity” for the dead on every November 11th. ; ensuring that their efforts to remember would be continued through the generations to come.
019 No 23035 L CPL E COOLEY 1st Hants 23rd AUGUST 1916
Most unusual and mysterious is this WW1 grave marker in St Wilfred's Church, it is the wooden cross that would have marked the grave of Lance Corporal Cooley in the Cambrin Battlefield Cemetery in France where he now has a named CWGC headstone. It is touching to imagine that it was perhaps brought back, once the permanent headstone was in place, as a personal tribute of remembrance and placed in the local church for safe keeping, to preserve the memory of a lost friend.
The Church of the Ascension in Stubbington Avenue chose to install an impressive altar screen or reredos in memory of its lost parishioners. Again, as worshippers look towards the altar, they see the tribute of remembrance , which bears the inscriptions ; “I am He that liveth and was dead and behold I am alive for evermore and with Him live those who died for us.” and “Grant them O Lord eternal rest and let light perpetual shine upon them”
The choice of wording offers comfort by reminding worshippers of the promise of eternal life to faithful followers. -13-
PRAY FOR THE SOULS OF ALL WHO FELL IN THE GREAT WAR ESPECIALLY THOSE HERE INSCRIBED
Remembrance in action; 21st Century students meet the young men from their school who served in the Great War St John's College and Portsmouth Grammar school already occupied their current sites when war was declared. Before the outbreak of war in 1914, they had already established traditions of school magazines, class photographs and Old Boys' Associations , which were to serve them well as a “template for remembrance” , making them both rich and vibrant sources of information about their young men who served in the War, what they were like and what happened to them.
Both schools have Roll of Honour Boards listing the Old Johannians or Portsmuthians who died in the war. These are not just lists; the important and distinctive difference is that both schools have the records which enable them to know the young man behind the name; which one was Captain of Rugby, who was musical, that, for instance, Charles Graffin from St. John's, declared unfit for active service, was unlucky enough to be killed when his parents' Perfumerie took a direct hit in Paris from a German bomb! With an established practice for commemorating Remembrance Day, these schools are at the forefront of maintaining links to their students killed in the war, the young men who walked some of the same corridors , climbed the very stairs and entered through the same gates as pupils in 2014. In a very dynamic way, they preserve the memories of their Old Johannians or Old Portsmuthians and see Remembrance as a valuable part of the ethos of the school and the formation of their 21st Century students. The “History of St. John's College”, edited by Michael Magan, pins its colours firmly to the mast. “ Our ideal is to be in the full sense of the term the “college gazette”, for the boys, about the boys and, as far as possible, by the boys.” The intimacy and immediacy of the Gazette instantly resets our coordinates , transporting us from modern- day Portsmouth back to College life and Southsea at the outbreak of war by recording the memories of pupils in the war years. -15-
This is July 27th 1914: “ School had already broken up for the holidays, of course,and only the community was present. Half a mile away, a barbed wire fence was being set up round Southsea Castle; the garrison was alerted; and a young Territorial, looking debonair in khaki tunic and riding- breeches, pale puttees, a white canvas haversack and, no doubt, a Boer War rifle and bayonet, was on sentry duty.” The sharp visual detail in this memory brings it vividly to life. Chapter Four of the Gazette ,covering1908-1976, has the title “War and Pestilence”., and opens by recording the memory of Tommy Oliver, in the 1950's, nearly fifty years and two world wars later. Looking back, he remembers with such clarity a noise he had never heard before in Portsmouth and has never forgotten; “I do not know what examination I was taking in 1914-- probably the Preliminary Oxford- - but as I walked down to Pembroke Road from East Southsea, the Grand Fleet, which had been reviewed the previous day, was leaving, and I heard the roar of hundreds of anchor chains, all being hauled up at the same time, a noise which will probably never be heard again in Portsmouth .”
The Editor reports that :
A moving audio memory is described by another Old Johannian :
Sounds and sights so often seem to be the keys that unlock memories. Thanks to St John's College and the Gazette, we can share these eye witness accounts.
Portsmouth Grammar School “Honouring the 130” Students at Portsmouth Grammar School are currently engaged in an ambitious , imaginative project , “Honouring the 130” . To mark the centennial anniversary of WW1, its aim is to have a poppy cross placed on the named grave or at the relevant memorial to the missing for each of their 130 Old Portsmuthian casualties. A wide range of current pupils with their parents on holiday visits, parents abroad on business trips, staff, friends and former students have been harnessed by PGS Archivist, John Sadden, who has mobilised them to visit a particular grave and place a poppy cross on behalf of PGS. Everyone involved has been asked to bring back a photograph showing the named headstone, the poppy in place and the person who has placed it. The photographs of graves and memorials from the Western Front to Tanzania will then be gathered into a Book of Remembrance which will be on permanent display in the school's Sixth Form Library. This is remembrance in action and will surely provide never- to -be -forgotten experiences for the current students making pilgrimages to Old Boys of the same school. An important part of the ethos of P.G.S. is the awareness of the history of the school and the stories behind the names on the Roll of Honour Boards. At the last Remembrance Day service, John Sadden, the School Archivist, used a school photograph , found by chance in a junk shop and sent in by a former pupil, to conduct an assembly, bringing to life the names from 1914. -17-
Having identified each one and told any little anecdote about him, his interests, role in the school, where he lived and so forth, John then showed which of the smiling pre-war faces died in action and never to come home to Portsmouth. It was about half. The impact on the current students was very powerful indeed. These are just three of PGS's roll of honour names with their poppy crosses on the Somme battlefield. Imagine all 130 headstones and names on memorials to the missing, each tracked down, visited and marked by the school in 2014.
J.R.R.Wiles Denville Wood Cemetery
E.L.Hall Poziers Cemetery
This dynamic, living tradition of remembrance is seen by both St John's College and Portsmouth Grammar School as part of the formation of every student, not measurable by Examination Board but character forming and a truly value-added dimension of school life. St John's College reports the 2013 Remembrance Service :
Public Memorials to the Missing.
The ripples from the stone dropped in the bowl of water with which we began have now spread across the surface of the water and reached the side. This is the ring of remembrance we are most familiar with; the huge, public memorials to the Missing which are the focus of Armistice Day commemorations. Both the memorial in Guildhall Square and the Royal Navy memorial on the seafront are daily sights to Portsmouth people. So much so perhaps that we take them for granted and may not realise what is distinctively different about them as public memorials. They are certainly worth another, closer look.
Before you leave Guildhall Square, take a moment to visit the two machine gunners who seem to guard the Cenotaph.
What does Guildhall Square have in common with Hyde Park Corner?
A. Both have figures on their WW1 memorial sculpted by C. S. Jagger, one of the foremost artists involved in designing memorials after the war. The impressive Royal Artillery Memorial at Hyde Park corner is his .There he came as close as could be allowed to breaking the rules governing what could and could not be appropriate. No dead British soldier was to be depicted on a public war memorial. Jagger managed to toe the line with perfect precision by sculpting a dead soldier---- ---covered by his greatcoat, only the boots stick out !
We imagine the dead body that he isn't allowed to show. So,the shrouded body, because it cannot be identified, becomes every man lost Look at faces of our machine gunners. There is no hatred, no anger, these are men doing a mechanical job. Perhaps Jaggers is emphasising that, in war time, this is their work just as operating a different machine had been their work in peacetime? Jagger reminds us that this was a war of slaughter on an industrial scale by state of the art weapons. “The slaughter of the unseen by the unknown.” There is no malice, just intense concentration. These are ordinary men at work.
When you next stroll or jog past the Naval Memorial on the seafront, consider this riddle!
Q. In what way can a vast memorial be of daily, practical use? A. When is is designed to be a “ leading mark” to help navigation at sea.
The memorial's design was decided by the Admiralty Committee, who recommended that the three manning ports in Grt. Britain; Chatham, Portsmouth and Plymouth, should have an identical memorial of unmistakable naval form; an obelisk that would serve as a leading mark for shipping. So, every day, sailors negotiating the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour, use the mark to identify their position and to navigate the, “Swashway Channel which lies between Hamilton Bank and the Spit Bank. This carries a bit more water (min.1.8m) By steering about 50degrees and lining up the War Memorial with the right hand edge of the yellowish-coloured apartment building you will then be in the channel”
Both Portsmouth's public memorials are impressive and huge in scale; perhaps to remind us of the unprecedented scale of the losses by filling the gap left by the war dead with something colossal and substantial. Fabian Ware, Head of the Imperial War Grave Commission worked out that if all the men killed in WW1, from the British Empire, marched four -abreast down Whitehall, it would take three and a half days for them all to pass the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London Despite their size, there is something personal and even intimate about these lists of names. Captain Seigfried Sassoon M.C., who survived the war , criticised the “impossibly nameless names “ in his poem of 1927, “On First Passing the Menin Gate”, written just after that memorial's inauguration in 1927. Yet, still in the 21st century, finding the name of a lost Grt. Grt. Grandfather on the Ypres memorial seems to bring what we would describe as “closure” to descendants. Their instinctive reaction is often to touch the name, if it is reachable, among the 54.000 on the Gate. As General Plumer said in his speech at the Official opening of the memorial, “Madam, he is not missing, he is here. “
Remembrance; looking back or looking forward? Imagining the ripples spreading across a bowl of water and thinking of them as the widening implications , touching different groups of people affected by just one soldier's death, has given some insight into what we mean when we say, in 21st century, “We will remember them”. Certainly, the form establishing the style of Public Remembrance was designed and set in place by those who lived through the War. They invented the shape of it which we have followed ever since; the two minutes' silence, the wearing of the poppy, the tone of solemn dignity and the coming together in an act of national solidarity that is patriotic but which has no trace of jingoism . It seems that the Act of Remembrance has been very deliberately handed on from 1920's as a civic responsibility from them to us and, from us, on to future generations. They were , of course, looking back, remembering the young men who marched away. Yet, quite explicitly, they were at the same time looking forward, telling us how they wanted us to go on remembering. Echoing Lt. Col. John McCrea' s words from his 1915 poem, “In Flanders Fields”; “ To you from failing hands we throw the torch Be yours to hold it high, if ye break faith With us who die we shall not sleep Though poppies blow in Flanders' fields.”
Individuals and families have shown in their choice of inscriptions on headstones , the local, private memorials and in the huge public memorials to the Missing , the way they wanted their loved ones to be remembered. Astonishingly, even in 1914, there is evidence that men fighting at the front foresaw that this war would have to be remembered in the future. Ironically, the very ones who knew best what war was really like, did not speak of it or communicate their memories of it. Typically, returning soldiers, perhaps suffering from survivor guilt, bolted shut the doorway to remembering. Many stammered , some were mute for years. The memories were too ghastly to let loose. Harry Patch, the longest -surviving British Tommy from the Western Front, did not speak of the War until he turned 80. Only then did he feel he had the chronological and emotional distance to open the memories. Uncomfortably , for some revisioninst historians and politicians, the ones who 'told it as it was' were the soldier poets who felt it was their duty to speak up for the suffering of the men. Lt. Wilfred Owen M. C. saw his role as a writer in these terms: “All a poet can do these days is warn, That is why the true poets must be truthful.” It is from them, almost all Kitchener volunteers, that we hear the remembered, first hand experiences of what WW1 was like. Owen 's shell shock is triggered by nightmares of a gas attack, when,“In all my dreams before my helpless sight he plunges at me guttering, choking, drowning” and he challenges us to imagine a sound he can never forget, “If you could hear ,at every jolt, the blood / Come gargling from his froth corrupted lungs ---” . Siegfried Sassoon asks “Do you remember the rats and the stench of corpses rotting in front of the front line trench”-------” , and urges us to “Look up and swear by the green of the spring that you'll never forget” But forget what? The reality of life on the battlefield, the filth, stench and horrors of trench warfare , the wretchedness of the killing, the lack of imagination in the tactics of the High Command and the waste of young lives. But this is profoundly uncomfortable, so it will not be Sassoon or Owen we hear at Remembrance services. Usually, Rupert Brooke ( who was dead by 1915, killed by sepsis after a mosquito bite) is preferred, “If I should die, think only this of me / That there's is some corner of a foreign field that is forever England” (The Soldier) or Lt.Col. McCrae 's, “ In Flanders fields the poppies blow----” They are fine poems and they are certainly more comfortable. With their pastoral images , elevated language and idealism, this is the way we would prefer to remember the First World War, with the emphasis on noble sacrifice, “For King and Country”.
Repeating the traditional, “We will remember them” on November 11th 2014 is indeed a complex and multi-faceted promise to carry through; we will keep the faith and perpetuate the way that it was thought the war should be remembered .We have much to explore in our own family histories,in our local churches, cathedrals, schools and civic memorials. Look again; pause , stand and stare and see what response they evoke in you in this centennial year of the outbreak of WW1. Sassoon would have the last word, “Look up and swear by the Slain of the War that you'll never forget.” Aftermath.