4/ CRITICAL How does your response to Sassoon’s “On Passing the New Menin Gate” make you reassess your reaction to war memorials in your own country? Try to be as honest as you can about this.
I was admittedly taken aback by Sassoon’s poem as it challenged my own understanding of war memorials. I visited my grandparents who live in a little town called Greta within the Hunter Valley last weekend. In the local cemetery I passed a memorial that commemorated those that had died in war. There were roughly 20 graves laid out for those that served in the World Wars. It was striking considering the size of the town in that time and was a powerful reminder for me, that carried into the examination of war poetry.
I would contend that memorials in the current time serve an important function of remembrance and possess a substantial educational purpose. The Australian War Memorial, for example, is a vital repository of Australian history (albeit one subject to debate as I will discuss later). It is important for posterity these events be commemorated visibly and publicly. In my experience they are for remembrance, not glorification. I did some research on the memorial in question and discovered the following:
At the opening ceremony in 1927, these words were spoken: ‘It was resolved that here at Ypres, where so many of the missing are known to have fallen, there should be erected a memorial worthy of them which should give expression to the nation’s gratitude for their sacrifice and their sympathy with those who mourned them. A memorial has been erected which, in its simple grandeur, fulfils this object, and now it can be said of each one in whose honour we are assembled here today: “He is not missing; he is here!” ‘https://allpoetry.com/On-Passing-The-New-Menin-Gate
Traffic is halted and The Last Post is played daily at the memorial, which attracts a fair volume of local tourism. I would consider those to be highly positive outcomes. Such a strong visual reminder should (hopefully) discourage the repetition of such awful, meaningless tragedy, but I do understand his possible frustration at the lack of greater acknowledgement and true representation of the horrors of war. Impressive monuments can be a poor medium to convey the mud, blood and death of the trenches. He may also have taken issues with its scope in light of the fear that it glorifies war rather than serves a sobering reminder of its inevitable consequences. It is possible to interpret the line of ‘nation’s gratitude for their sacrifice’ as only a breath away from ‘Dulce decorum est pro patria mori.’
In a similar vein, the most recently proposed expansion to the Australian War Memorial has attracted criticism, being labelled ” a slipshod and arrogant exercise in public administration, a deeply flawed process … The work, the Memorial development, is unnecessary and has many objectionable features.” Part of the proposal is to demolish the design award winning Anzac Hall and replace much of the space with decommissioned vehicles and aircraft.
As one Australian war widow noted:
“Replacing it with a gigantic structure to display decommissioned military hardware and an F-111 fighter jet serves to distract and distance us from the understanding of commemorating and honouring our war dead. Bigger does not mean better, and more expensive does not buy broad commemoration”https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-07-15/australian-war-memorial-development-criticised-inquiry/12456226
When I consider that this is the same as the concerns that underpin Sassoon’s work, I become much more understanding of them. Remembrance cannot turn into worship or glorification.
3 thoughts on “Blog #2: They Will Be Remembered”
This was certainly a thought-provoking post, Andrew; you offer an excellent and well-rounded critique of Sassoon’s “On Passing the New Menin Gate”. What I thought you asserted particularly well was that war memorials “are for remembrance, not glorification”, and proceeded to illustrate the various viewpoints of this topic. Your discussion discerns an appreciation of war memorials, though also acknowledges the harrowing nature of war within itself. This was an articulate and carefully considered piece, though perhaps be a tad mindful of sentence structure and clarity at times. Nonetheless, you approached this topic with admirable respect and sensitivity to such confronting events of the past. A great read! – Mariama 😊
A thoughtful reflection on the meaning and place of memorials. Your challenge does meet Sassoon but it would be interesting to hear him out on why he was so angry about the Menin Gate. Maybe there was so much anguish for him in the events of the time that nothing could relieve that pain.