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War memorials and commemoration
War memorials and commemoration

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4 Form of memorial

I now want you to think about the form of ‘your’ war memorial. I don't think you will have had any difficulty in knowing what to look for when I asked you whether you had a memorial near to you, and where it was. You may have had to think about the question, and search for the memorial, but you knew what you were looking for.

Exercise 4

Can you recall what you expected 'your' memorial to look like and, if you have now seen it, what it did look like? I suggest that you answer that question by writing a list on the left-hand side of your page, and one to correspond on the right. If need be, use Illustration A.

What I expected What I found


I wonder if you have different things in your two columns? Overleaf is the list I made looking at the war memorial at Lavendon, Buckinghamshire (Illustration B).

What I expected What I found
A cross, in stone or marbleA cross, carved
A list of namesA list of names, many more from the First World War than from the Second, but three names from wars since 1945
A surround, perhaps a squareA plinth and surround
GrassNo grass
A wreath of poppiesPoppies, empty flower-holders
A carved figure, perhaps a soldierNo soldier, some carvings, probably religious ones
An angelNo angels
Illustration B Lavendon, Buckinghamshire, Mike Levers/The Open University

Was there any similarity between your two lists? There was, to some extent, with mine. When you wrote your list on the left-hand side, I imagine that you had, as I had, some notion of what a war memorial should look like. It might have just been a hazy idea, or perhaps you had a much clearer image or general idea – a concept.

In asking what you expected it to look like, I could assume that you knew what I meant by the term ‘war memorial’. I could also assume that we would share certain ideas about what a war memorial in the UK looks like. We can say that there is a general idea about this, and that this general idea is based upon what we think an appropriate form should be for the function a memorial holds.

We could also say that it was appropriate for the war memorial, in a Christian country or location, to refer to Christ and not the devil; to look solemn and not be gaudily painted. Other memorials commemorating dead of other religions may have different forms.

In addition, we might also agree that it was appropriate for the war memorial to be in a prominent position and not be hidden away in a back alley or on a town's busy bypass. Look at the positioning of the war memorial in the market square in Olney, Buckinghamshire (Illustration C).

Illustration C Olney, Buckinghamshire, Mike Levers/The Open University