Saturday, 27 November 2010

War memorials

It was a bit of a cold morning but I managed a ride of about 20 miles around familiar lanes. It's now a couple of weeks after Remembrance Day, but I went with the intent of adding some of the local war memorials to Open Street Map.

The one in the picture is on the edge of Waltham St Lawrence. It commemorates those who died in both world wars, but I suppose it is understandable to associate war memorials mostly with the first. Apparently from this village of around 900 people, 220 served, and 29 died between 1914 and 1918.

It is estimated that 16.5 million people were killed in the first war, of which almost a million were from the UK. Just over one in 50 of the population were killed. So the village of Waltham St Lawrence suffered a bit more than most, but there is nothing really unusual about the number of casualties from this particular parish. There must be a similar number of names on tens of thousands of similar memorials.

The first world war ended a long time ago, but these monuments still show how determined they were at the time that their sacrifice would be remembered. Like many of them, one of the other memorials I visited today is inscribed "lest we forget". When the local MP unveiled this one he described it as “a memorial for all time”.

In many ways I suppose we have succeeded in keeping the memory alive, but I suspect most of us find it hard enough to understand how individuals coped with the impact on their own family. I, for one, cannot begin to imagine the overall magnitude of the slaughter. I find these memorials from a small community very moving. Perhaps that's because they bring something unimaginable down to a scale that I can cope with. But they are also so common and so familiar that I regret to say I normally pass without taking any particular notice. I'm glad that I took a bit of time to search a few out, and to make a point of pausing and reflecting.

The UK National Inventory of War Memorials is here, and the War Memorials Trust is here. The idea of adding war memorials to Open Street Map came from an OSM project of the week here. And I'm hoping that the one in the picture will appear on the map here.


William said...

I must admit I'm impressed on several accounts:
Firstly, more people need to get involved with OSM.
Secondly, any cyclist out in the cold must be a good thing, and makes the rest of us seem less than freaks.
Finally, and most importantly, it is brilliant that you don't simply wear a poppy for a few weeks, but that you actually (and obviously) deeply care.

gom1 said...

Thanks for the kind comment William