Complexities of Commemoration

Portsmouth is a city built around memorials. ( The majority commemorate WWII, unsurprisingly given the important role of the city and its defense in that conflict. But the less well known conflicts are perhaps more telling in understanding what memorials do within an urban landscape. Memorials are a particularly interesting heritage resource because they were created with posterity in view. No matter how old or recent the monument it was built with one eye on its contemporary audience and one eye on the future.

Especially in a Naval port like Portsmouth, memorials serve many purposes. At their most basic, the commemorate the men (almost exclusively) who have died in service (though there are a number of civilian memorials as well). But in that commemoration, the conflicts they died in are commemorated and validated too. So they hold a national history as well as a personal one. 

I’m just beginning a project looking at these sites, so I’ll be writing much more about them over the coming months, but I wanted to begin with looking at two recent monuments which don’t commemorate Portsmouth’s losses.

The first must be the least imposing monument to the attacks of September 11, 2001 that I have ever seen. Its possible that this was erected to support the family of Melanie de Vere, a Portsmouth resident who died in the attacks but it seems to be a more general monument. It ties Portsmouth to the events, expressing solidarity with America


Nearby, and standing within the planting of the Garden of Hope, is another to a less well known attack at Halabja in Iraq. Although, this attack took place in 1988, the monument was not erected until after the 2002 Garden of Hope.

I can find no link of Portsmouth residents to Halabja, so I take its meaning from its context in the Garden of Hope.


Taken out of their context, in relation to each other and in relation to the Naval port of Portsmouth, these monuments would seem to have only personal meaning.

Taken together they act as an explanation for the involvement of the city in the Invasion of Iraq in 2003. 

One of the ships used in that conflict has just been decommissioned and this account of her last voyage from Portsmouth shows how intertwined remembering people and conflicts can be.


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