PARTS of the installation of ceramic poppies at the Tower of
London are to remain in place for a while longer. That the campaign
for the project's extension has been led by the Prime Minister and
Boris Johnson will make the ears prick up of anyone who listened to
The Why Factor: Memorialisation (World Service, Thursday
of last week).
For did we not hear that memorials are there not to preserve
memories of the past, but to set agendas for the future; to
prescribe virtues for the nation which the Establishment would like
to see encouraged? Or, as Sir Hew Strachan put it, we do not
remember the wars: we remember how we remember.
Dr Dacia Viejo Rose argued that memorialisation creates a debt
on the part of the living to those who "made the ultimate
sacrifice" - a debt that the living feel constrained to pay through
investment in a particular image of the past and its values.
General Franco recognised this in his programme of memorials to the
dead of the Spanish Civil War.
That memorials change significance over time is demonstrated by
the way in which the Gallipoli "experience" has altered in the past
As the programme's presenter, Mike Williams, discovered, the
Turkish state's shift from secular to Islamic values has been
reflected in the way in which the tour of the sites where modern
Turkey was born has become a pilgrimage. Guides speak less of the
deeds of Atatürk, and more of the martyrdom of the faithful.
Perhaps the strength of the poppy as a symbol lies in its multiple
There is no doubting the symbolism of the newsletter Young
Crescent, or the Gingerbread group, whose stories were told in
Sunday Feature: God and the Great War (Radio 3; Comment, 7
November). The breaking of gingerbread as a sign of comradeship
among young soldiers, and the sending of sweets to boys on the
Front, to be eaten while praying - both bear witness to a strongly
eucharistic character in wartime spirituality.
Legend has it that the Great War destroyed the authority and
dignity of Church-based Christianity, as cheerleaders for the
senseless atrocity. The war poets, and the subversive reinvention
of hymns in Oh! What a Lovely War, suggest that the war
turned for ever people's respect for organised religion.
But, as Frank Cottrell Boyce's feature described, the Church of
England had much less bad a war than we have been led to believe.
Part of the problem is Anglican hand-wringing at what the Church
saw as a loss of influence, when what it couldn't see was the
activity springing up around, for instance, the Gretna munitions
settlement or the Brighton Pavilion hospital.
The C of E has come off particularly badly from the myth-making
of the war poets: Robert Graves, for instance, described the futile
part played by a C of E chaplain confined to working behind the
In fact, as this documentary revealed, the Anglican presence on
the Front was as vigorous as the other denominations; and church
leaders did not take a credulous and uncritical view of the war