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Conference Papers
Publications : Chapters in Books

Paul Gough
‘Commemoration of War’
In Graham. B. and Howard, P. (eds.) The Ashgate Research Companion to Heritage and Identity (London: Ashgate) p.323-347 (2008)

In the four weeks leading to 11th November 1928 the now defunct illustrated newspaper Answers published a ‘magnificent series of plates celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Armistice’. Under the strapline ‘Ten years after, 1918 - 1928’ the plates were published as four pairs of pencil drawings by the former soldier-artist Adrian Hill. They depicted the principle buildings on the old Western Front in Belgium and France as they appeared in ruins in late 1918, and under restoration ten years later. Arras Cathedral, the Cloth Hall at Ypres, Albert Basilica, and the Menin Road had become icons across the British Empire as the immutable symbols of the trauma of the Great War.

Indeed, in the months after the Armistice, Winston Churchill had strongly advocated ‘freezing’ the remains of Ypres and preserving it forever as an ossified commemoration of the war. Its pulverised medieval buildings, he argued, would be more articulate than any carved memorial or reverential monument. Churchill’s predilection for bombed ruins surfaced again during the Second World War when he argued that a portion of the blitzed House of Commons ought also to be preserved as a reminder of the bombing of the capital. (Hansard 25 January 1945)

As with many grand commemorative schemes, Churchill’s vision was not to be realised. Indeed, after both wars many of the grander commemorative schemes floundered: a national war memorial garden in the precincts of St Paul’s Cathedral was abandoned as a project in the late 1940’s; ambitious plans to house the national war art collection in an imposing ‘Hall of Remembrance’ came to nothing twenty years earlier, as did a similar architectural scheme in Canada.

Although, many ideas were realised, though few were achieved without some degree of argument.

In this chapter I will examine how the desire to produce a common understanding of the past has resulted in material forms such as the plinth and the pedestal which have become the key visual components of ideological and rhetorical urban topography, I want to contrast them with the concept of ‘reified place’, in particular preserved or reconstructed battlefields which have become the focus of commemorative rites; the places where ‘one takes personal narratives’.