Bradley Stoke, a new town in Gloucestershire, has built a blank ‘war memorial’ to honour those who will die in future wars. I feel I could almost end this blog post here.
What vision of heritage makes a community feel that without a war memorial it isn’t a proper town? It isn’t just the architectural form they are looking for (in fact while looking worn, it isn’t a particularly identifiable or attractive style). Its about not being a real community until you’ve lost something. And there is a truth in that which we shouldn’t look away from. I know that burying someone in a place attaches you to that place in a way that other life experiences don’t. The shared loss of war certainly creates bonds in communities but I hope they wouldn’t be the only ones.
Can public space for celebration with no reference to war or conflict develop a bond as strong? The spaces outside government buildings are often places of conflict memorials eg. Trafalgar Sq in London. But not always, eg. Nathan Phillps Sq in Toronto. But do they gain their real bond through internal conflicts such as demonstrations. There’s been a lot of good stuff written on how public space supports cities in relation to Occupy Gezi
What vision of heritage creates a future that carries the worst parts of the past – like war – with it? How do we acknowledge a warring past and really imagine a peaceful future? The idea that these people plan for a future in which they will lose people to war seems unimaginably pessimistic. But there is a reality that Britain is still at war, and nothing in our public culture or policy leads us towards peace. Could this empty memorial be a healthy acknowledgment, a place for reflection? Could it stand as a criticism?
The imagination of future wars was on my mind before I read this piece in thinking about the symmetry of WWI memorials (like the Naval Memorial in Portsmouth above). Although the memorial needed to be substantially expanded to acknowledge those who died in WWII, elements of symmetry in the original monument called out for the next war like a family tombstone calls out to the beloved wife. The rhetoric of remembrance always calls to a future which faces the past. As the Bradley Stoke memorial will be engraved “We will remember them”.
Causalities of subsequent wars have been added piecemeal, perhaps even personally, as with this flower holder at the base of the monument. Another major set of losses would require a new structure, this monument feels complete now. Is that hopeful, or a sign that we turned a tired back on commemoration in the post war years?