I often hope that whatever I create, whether novels, poetry, or blog posts, will live on as a memorial to the past. Memorials stand all over the world in bricks, metal, and stone; but I know that memorials can exist in the written world as well. Remembering the sacrifices of the past is of utmost importance to me, and I hope that I am doing my part to see it through.
For awhile now I’ve been wanting to publish a post focused on the status of war memorials today. For many of us, war memorials are simply a block of stone in the centre of town that we drive past every day; and gather round every May 9 or November 11 when it is time to remember. But upon examination, war memorials are much much more. The multitude of names inscribed upon them represent hundreds of thousands of hours of courage and sacrifice; hours dedicated to the owners’ fellow man. War memorials commemorate the darkest hours of history; hours which many people feared would never come to a happy end. As you will see in this post, war memorials are infinitely more than monuments we only notice once a year. They represent entire lives given in sacrifice, and they live just as much today as those men and women lived for us so many years ago.
Here, civilians march past the “Motherland Calls” statue on Mamyev Kurgan, site of some of the fiercest fighting during the Battle of Stalingrad. Copyright Sputnik/Kirill Braga https://sputniknews.com/photo/20160509/1039314582/russia-victory-day-celebrations.html
Some of the nicest moments of remembrance are spontaneous ones. It’s great to have the dedicated day of November 11 where the world makes a concerted effort to pause and remember, but unplanned moments are wonderful too. Throughout my travels in Canada, America, and Great Britain I’ve come across many memorials that weren’t on my radar; and those memorials are usually the ones which have the greatest effect on me.
Huge thanks are in order to Michael from Forties Photos for offering me this and the following two photos! While visiting the (Canadian-run) Juno Beach Centre in Normandy recently, he noticed some maple-leaf clad cyclists passing by and convinced them to pose for a picture with the Canadian memorial sculpture. What a photo op!
I love the surreal yet evocative feel of this sculpture.
The Canadian memorials at Juno Beach appear to be well-remembered, even today.
I expect that there are similar traditions in other countries as well, but at the Remembrance Day service in Canada’s capital of Ottawa, the custom is to place one’s poppy on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier after the service. Although it happens every year, it’s still a very beautiful sight to see the grey and sombre tomb slowly become covered by a blanket of red poppies.
We don’t know his name, but we remember him nonetheless. Fred Chartrand/ The Canadian Press http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/in-photos-canadians-honour-fallen-soldiers-on-remembrance-day/article5173239/
Ottawa’s remembrance service is always broadcast nationwide on TV, and it’s always exceptionally well-attended in person too. Image from Wikimedia Commons, attributed to Mikkel Paulson. Public domain.
I am personally quite transfixed by the Soviet Union’s part in World War II; and consequently in Russia’s continued remembrance of it. Russia is a deeply patriotic nation, and her citizens both young and old are eager to remember and demonstrate their remembrance. On May 9 (Victory Day), young people hand out flowers to veterans and everyone turns out in patriotic garb to commemorate the event. One of my favourite examples was one I discovered while doing a high-school project on wedding traditions around the world. I read that many Russian brides lay their wedding bouquets on a war memorial after their wedding ceremony. This is akin, of course, to the Queen Mother’s gesture in Westminster Abbey back in 1923; but what I love about the Russian tradition is that it is embraced by the masses. Masses of Soviet citizens fought to the death from 1941 to 1945, and it is beautiful that newly married couples of new generations recognise the sacrifice that afforded their futures.
Here in Stavropol, two young Russians light memorial candles for the 70th anniversary of the Great Patriotic War. Reuters via http://www.telegraph.co.uk
Even inside the Arctic Circle, this Memorial for the Defenders of the Soviet Arctic has been laid with flowers and wreaths. This region is nearly forgotten by civilisation; yet its memorials are remembered. Image from Wikimedia Commons, attributed to Vincent van Zeijst. CC-BY-SA 3.0
I wanted to close with one of my favourite photos ever. It can’t exactly be substantiated, and so often Internet finds are not what they profess to be, but regardless this photo makes me emotional. It makes me wonder what surviving veterans must really feel when they look at memorials today. So many years have passed, but I doubt that their memories ever will.
Countless Russian towns and villages employ WWII tanks as gate guardians; reminders of the battle that was waged 70 years ago. And still- note the flowers atop this T-34- they are remembered. Image from englishrussia.com