Views and Reviews

War Memorials of the Great War: Britain, France, Germany: Jay Winter

Monday, 24 March, 2014 by Hannah Rutherford-Roke

Jay Winter

Jay Winter

People have died in thirty-one separate armed conflicts so far in 2014, the centary year of the outbreak of the Great War, thought at the time to be the war to end all wars. The fact so military conflict continues to claim lives and the approaching anniversary of the start of the Great War, meant that Jay Winter’s seminar ‘War Memorials of the Great War: Britain, France, Germany’ certainly hit home. The very name of the Great War of 1914- permanence and remembrance: to be great, whether for better or for worse, is to be remembered. Yet how does one memorialise war that remains not so great? Conflict memorialisation is riddled with blame and atrocity, therefore how do we remember these events effectively without lessening the horror of the event? And how does it remain current, a message to be passed on to future generations?

The implications of glory and greatness formed one dimension within Winter’s seminar, whilst the other culminated in an exploration of the cult of names that developed as a result of the Great War, as names became substitutes for the deceased; developments in artillery in the early 20th century reshaped modern warfare, rendering the bodies of the deceased unrecognisable. The other half of Winter’s seminar focused on a perhaps unanswerable question: how does one memorialise the lives of five million men who have vanished? To my mind he seemed to highlight the issue of how the memorials that have attempted to do so have in-corporeally vanished in front of our eyes today, receding into landscape of our surroundings.

The questions that formed the core of Winter’s seminar are, in my opinion, unanswerable – and although Winters brought them to light, his attempts to answer them were rooted in his perception of the Great War. The use of names, tangible materiality and the abstraction of monuments seemed to be his answer, derived from the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme. The development of warfare has of course progressed even further, if we consider for example the invention of nuclear weapons – more damage can be done, more lives can be lost and this seems to indicate that memorialisation needs to develop to keep pace with these horrific changes in the very nature of warfare.


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