I visited Derry a few weeks ago for another round of Siege of Derry app testing. In between circuits of the walls I was able to visit the city’s First World War memorials to see if I could discover my great-uncle’s inscription. I visited the beautifully restored St Columb’s Cathedral and was able to locate the First World War memorial half way down the north aisle. The memorial consists of a bronze plaque surrounded by carved white stone. I read the list of the names of soldiers who died during the war and found my uncle’s name; Robert Hamilton. Above the list, the dedication reads:
“To the the glory of God and in thankful remembrance of all [those] loyal men connected with Derry Cathedral, who, [not] counting their lives dear unto them, went out to fight for us in the Great War 1914-1918. Remember especially those whose names are recorded here who were thus called into the larger life.”
Next, I visited the Diamond War Memorial. I had passed the monument numerous times before but had never appreciated the quality and beauty of the sculptures. The memorial, made of portand stone and bronze stands in the centre of the Diamond. The centre piece is a figure of Victory on top a stone column with four bronze plaques, inscribed with the names of fallen soldiers, around the base. Two pedestals stand either side of the column; one carries a sailor braced against elements, the other; a soldier with rifle and bayonet poised, ready to attack. The memorial was unveiled in 1927 and was to be ‘a perpetual memorial to the men whose names ought to be held in everlasting remembrance’. It was dedicated to the 756 citizens of Derry killed and the 4,000 who volunteered for service in the Great War.
First World War memorials are a common fixture in the urban landscape. We pass them daily, yet how often do we take time to stop and look, to read the list of names and to think about the soldiers’ experience of battle? A family connection gave me the opportunity to appreciate the importance of these memorials. Now that the First World War is out of living memory, these familiar landmarks provide a connection with the past. By selecting a single name on a memorial plaque, we can use the range of archives available online and in libraries, museums and public record offices to build up a picture of a single soldier’s experience of First World War. History becomes more immediate and relevant when retold from a personal perspective. By researching the individual narrative we can deepen our understanding of the war and bring the event to life.
The Imperial War Museum has a War Memorials Archive website which contains an online database of war memorials located throughout the United Kingdom, Channel Islands and Isle of Man. IWM’s War Memorials Archive (formerly UK National Inventory of War Memorials) is working to compile a record of all war memorials in the UK and to promote their appreciation, use and preservation. If your local memorial is not listed, you can add the details to the list.
Arts and culture have their role to play in helping us better understand the history of war. The Imperial War Museum has an extensive collection of art depicting the First World War. They have teamed up with Google to showcase a number (78) of the paintings in Google Arts Project: