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War memorials and commemoration
War memorials and commemoration

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3.2 Public or private memorial?

The choice of location has wider implications, too. If the chosen site is in a public place, such as a park or village green in public ownership, then the building is accessible to all. No specific interest controls it (though of course there may be special arrangements made for its upkeep) and no particular individual owns it.

On the other hand, if a memorial is created by a family in memory of an individual, then the location of the memorial reflects that gift. Such memorials are often found in a church where the family worship, and in that way the church is linked to the family, and the family to the church. Churchyards, and churches themselves, often contain memorials for the use of the whole parish, with their location signifying a specific connection to that church, community, and a particular faith.

So, already in thinking about the location of a war memorial, we are beginning to raise questions about its positioning, and who controls decisions about its design and its setting. You may already be realising that the siting of a war memorial may hold more implications than originally thought. Let's spend a few moments thinking even more widely, beyond the particular memorial you have identified.

There are memorials to the dead in every country that participated in either or both of the two World Wars, and in practically every village, town and city. That was why I was so certain that you would have a memorial in your vicinity. War memorials are probably the most numerous of all public monuments, and certainly the most widespread. There are war memorials in every major city of the United Kingdom, and in the countries of continental Europe that were affected by those two wars.

However, although – as we shall see – the period immediately after the First World War produced the majority of these memorials, memorials to war, and battle, were often erected in the past. In addition, they have common properties: they are placed where people can see them and expect to have access to them, whether the site is within a church, on the top of a hill, or in the centre of a town.

If you live in the UK, you may have thought of the location of the Cenotaph in London, close to Parliament and the offices of government, which is the national monument for the UK. You might also think of the locations in Paris, Washington, Berlin, Canberra, Cardiff, Brussels – and so on. You might possibly have taken a photograph of one that you felt to be particularly striking, or had personal associations. All in all, I want to make the point that there are many examples of memorials to those who died in war.