Names on a Memorial: Honor for the Individual

Britain started planning memorials before World War I ended.  The Thiepval memorial’s designer, Edwin Lutyens visited the Somme during the battle, which lasted for several months after the massacre on the first day.  His visit was sponsored by the newly established Imperial War Graves Commission under the direction of Fabian Ware.  It was Ware who insisted that casualties be named individually, either in a separate grave or on memorials for the missing.

Prior to World War I, soldiers were not usually memorialized individually.  There are several theories about why this changed.  One is the improved status of soldiers.  The men at the Somme were volunteers.  They were not mercenaries nor had they been bashed over the head in a tavern and dragged into the army.  The war and their motives for fighting in it were considered honorable (Mosse, 1990).

Entire British towns drummed up regiments only to see a generation lost on the battlefield.  These towns all built memorials.  There are even memorials to men who lived on single streets (Boorman, 1988).  This level of individualized honor may have helped the British absorb the loss and share the sorrow (Dyer, 1994).

In Monument Builders, Edwin Heathcote articulates one more reason – guilt.  He calls the war a pointless endeavor.  This applies especially to the Battle of the Somme.  Young inexperienced soldiers followed their leaders into a massacre.  The British ultimately won the war, but perhaps more troops would have returned home to their families if the Battle of the Somme had not been so poorly executed.

When it was all over, the British weren’t quite ready to blame the generals.  They even erected monuments to General Haig.  It’s hard to tell a nation that their fathers, sons, husbands, and brothers died for inept leadership.  We all want to believe sacrifice is warranted.  So they put the names of the dead and missing on cemeteries and memorials in foreign battlefields and they put the names of local heroes on monuments throughout the towns of Britain.

Feb 2007

Names on a Memorial: Follow the Leader

World War I erupted because Germany, which had invaded France in 1870 for the Franco-Prussian War, wanted to do it again.  The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne, and his wife, provided the perfect excuse.  When Germany started getting belligerent, Russia made obvious moves toward a preemptive strike.  On August 1, 1914, Germany declared war on Russia.  On August 3, they invaded Belgium, heading for France.  Britain declared war on Germany and Austria, and started recruiting. One of the big draws was the “Pals” battalions.  Soldiers who signed up together got to fight together.  Units based on geography guaranteed that many towns lost a generation of young men.

At the Somme on the Western Front, both sides burrowed into an elaborate system of trenches with a no man’s land in between.  Britain’s generals, Sir Douglas Haig and Sir Henry Rawlinson, planned a surge to divert German attention from Verdun.  They called it the “The Big Push” and set it on July 1, 1916 at 7:30am, giving Germans full light for their aim.  Announced in advance with poorly timed explosions and the cessation of a week long bombardment, “The Big Push” found Germans in full battle preparation as inexperienced British troops marched into the shooting gallery.  The first half hour claimed 2000.  At the end of the day, 21,000 Britons were dead or missing, and 35,000 wounded (Stamp, 2006).

Then both sides settled back into their trenches and continued fighting until winter arrived four months later, with a loss of 300,000 on all sides (Gilbert, 2006).  So many died, it was impossible to identify individual corpses due to massive wounds, decomposition, or the lack of anyone left alive to recognize bodies.  Ninety years later, skeletons are still found.  Seven German soldiers were uncovered during construction of the Thiepval Visitor’s Center, which opened in 2004 (Stamp, 2006).

Despite its huge losses, Britain was declared winner of the campaign.  The Battle of the Somme did divert German attention from Verdun, and with American help, France and Britain won the war.  Everyone went home and built monuments and rested up.

Twenty years later the next round started when German soldiers followed a corporal, who had been wounded at the Somme, into Czechoslovakia and new levels of efficient brutality.

(The primary resource for this post is The Somme Then and Now: A Visual History, by Duncan Youel and David Edgell, 2006.)

Feb 2007

Names on a Memorial: A Path Among the Missing

(These essays in the “Names on a Memorial” series are sometimes published on significant days of mourning.  The previous post, Comrades in Vietnam and the Somme, was on Martin Luther King’s birthday.  February 4 is the birthday of my grandmother Margaret Hardeman Applegate.  Her husband and my grandfather, Julian Eugene Applegate, served with the U.S. Marines in WWI at Belleau Wood in France.  Severely injured on the first day of battle, he spent the rest of the war in a Parisian hospital.  My grandmother met him after he came home.)

The names on the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme in Thiepval are arranged on 16 piers in British Army Order of Precedence.  The path among the piers emphasizes Edwin Lutyens’ magnificent architecture and the inspirational view, along a trail of adjacent panels that generally keeps regiment names in proximity.  If the names in a regiment encompass two panels, most visitors need only turn a corner or cross an aisle. Thiepval memorializes 163 units; five require three panels to list their missing.

A map of the Memorial shows 16 piers in four rows of four, with two rows to the south, two to the north, and a wide middle aisle with east and west steps leading to the central Stone of Remembrance.  The Stone, also designed by Lutyens, is placed in all larger military cemeteries of the British Commonwealth.  It looks like an altar and Lutyens wanted to call it that, but his friend James M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan and Wendy, convinced him that Presbyterians would prefer the word “Stone” (Stamp, 2006, p. 78).

The entrance to the Memorial is on the east.  The west side features a terrace and a sunset view of the cemetery.  The base is approximately 8 feet high, with the panels above at about twice that.  The exterior panels on the east and west are viewed from the ground or the terrace, so the highest names are about 24 feet above where the visitor stands.  There are no names on the exterior north and south panels.  In the interior, you can stand next to the panels and touch the lower names, but many names are too high to reach.

Order of precedence creates a path of names within the Memorial.  The piers and faces in path order are listed after this post.  Using the map, you can easily follow the trail.  It begins at the south side of the front exterior (1A, 8A).  Visitors enter the Memorial and walk up to the Stone of Remembrance and down to the west.  Cross the main aisle, walk up to the Stone of Remembrance again and down to the east.  Exit the Memorial to view the names at the north side of the exterior front (9A, 16A).  To get to the next panel (8C), visitors must return to the entrance, crossing one pier and the central aisle and again climbing the first flight of stairs.  The interior panels are fully contiguous, leading ultimately to a panel near the front (9C).  For the final panels, visitors again walk up to the Stone of Remembrance and down to the west.  Exit the Memorial onto the terrace, cross one pier to the north and then walk south along the terrace with the four final panels (13C, 12C, 5C, 4C) to the east and the cemetery view to the west.

This path of names demonstrates decisions of arrangement design.  Assuming that Lutyens’s architecture was non-negotiable, the Thiepval arrangement serves three goals:  (1) the path should follow order of precedence, (2) the path should keep regiment names together on contiguous panels, and (3) the path should enhance the architecture.  The design of 16 piers only allows two of these goals to be fully met.  Order of precedence was the priority, so a decision was made between keeping regiment names together or enhancing the architecture.

The designers of the path chose to enhance the architecture.  The path begins at the front of the Memorial, includes three walks alongside the Stone of Remembrance, twice exits the Memorial, and ends at the west terrace with a sunset view of the cemetery.  In making that decision, the path designers disrupted the names of two regiments.

The Royal Fusiliers of the City of London Regiment are one of the five units with names on three faces of the Memorial piers (9A, 16A, 8C).  Their names begin with the second walk along the front exterior of the Memorial.  Then visitors must cross one pier, re-enter the Memorial, cross the central aisle and climb the first flight of stairs to get to the third panel.  Near the end, the names of the London Scottish 14th Battalion London Regiment (9C, 13C) are disrupted by a third walk along the Stone of Remembrance, completely traversing the Memorial from front to back and arriving at the terrace cemetery view.

As an expert in information arrangement, I, of course, believe that keeping the names contiguous is far more important than admiring magnificent architecture, but a primary skill of arrangement is working within parameters to meet the collection’s goals.  The goal of the Thiepval Memorial is to mourn the dead and inspire the living.

Lutyens’ WWI architecture eloquently serves this goal.  His Cenotaph at Whitehall in London is inscribed with the years 1914 and 1919 and a simple phrase selected by Rudyard Kipling, “The Glorious Dead.”  At Thiepval, the massive size, the Stone of Remembrance, and the stirring view all honor sacrifice in war.  By promoting an emotional architectural experience, the path of names contributes to this theme, perhaps inspiring future generations to fight again.  And they did fight again.  The Cenotaph was later inscribed with the dates 1939 and 1945.

Path of Names at the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, Thiepval (See map:

1A, 8A     South front exterior of the Memorial

8D, 7D, 6D, 5D     Enter the Memorial, then up the stairs on the south side of the Stone of Remembrance and down the stairs to the west.

12B     Cross the central aisle on the west side

11B, 10B, 9B     Up stairs on the north side of the Stone and down to the east

9A, 16A     Exit to the north front exterior

8C     Cross one pier to the south, re-enter the Memorial, continue south across the central aisle, climbing the first flight of stairs

8B, 1D, 1C, 2A, 2D, 2C, 3A, 3D, 3C, 4A, 4D, 5B, 5A, 6C, 6B, 6A, 7C, 7B, 7A     Interior of south piers

10A     Cross the center aisle to the north

10D, 10C, 11A, 11D, 11C, 12A, 12D, 13B, 13A, 14C, 14B, 14A, 15C, 15B, 15A, 16C, 16B, 9D, 9C     Interior of north piers

13C     Up the stairs on the north side of the Stone, then down to the west, exit onto the terrace, and cross one pier to the north.

12C, 5C, 4C     Walk south along the terrace overlooking the cemetery to the west

(I am grateful to Peter Francis, Media & PR Manager of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, for providing the map and the list of regimental locations on the Memorial.)

Feb 2007