Category Archives: Remembrance

Stolpersteine

Stolpersteine [stumbling stones], Luisenstraße, Wuppertal, Germany

I was walking along a back street, Luisenstraße, in the little German town of Wuppertal on a bright spring morning when I first stumbled, as the artist intended, upon an example of a Stolperstein, which literally translates as “stumbling stone”.

The expression metaphorically refers to a “stumbling block” – one of Gunter Demnig’s many brass pavement setts installed across Europe to commemorate victims of the Holocaust, memorialised at their last freely chosen place of residence. 

Here are four together, stating simply “Hier wohnte…” [Here lived…] Emil and Henriette Hirschberg, ermordet [murdered] in Minsk, and Samuel and Sophie Zuckermann, ermordet respectively in Chelmno and Auschwitz.  There are now over seventy thousand of these poignant reminders, deliberately designed to trip up the unthinking passer-by, from Spain to Greece and from Poland to Sicily. 

There were two outside my 1950s Berlin hotel in the heavily bombed area of Friedrichshain, and I found another on a pavement in the modern development that replaces the bombed wastes of Potsdamer Platz, where the course of the Berlin Wall created a dead zone that lasted a generation after the war ended.

I spotted another, in Budapest, embedded in the pavement of what had been the Jewish Quarter but which became, at the end of 1944, the ghetto.  Here the last fragment of the ghetto wall was dismantled in 2006 but a reproduction, using some original stone, was erected as a memorial two years later.

Gunter Demnig’s work is much less likely to be obliterated, even if a few setts are discarded, and there can never be too many reminders of the mass murders of 1933-45.

It’s idle to believe that such a crime could never happen again.

I carry with me the last line of Bertholt Brecht’s 1941 play, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui:  “The bitch that bore him is in heat again.”

Tyson Smith

21107-Liverpool-city-centre

21109-Liverpool-city-centre

Cenotaph, St George's Plateau, Liverpool

Cenotaph, St George’s Plateau, Liverpool

I first came across the work of the sculptor Herbert Tyson Smith (1883-1972) in a roundabout way.

I was struck by the majestic war memorial on Hamilton Square in Birkenhead, because alongside the set-piece Portland stone cenotaph by Lionel Bailey Budden (1887-1956), embellished with Tyson Smith’s sculptures, lies a phalanx of simple black marble slabs placed by local community groups to remember their own heroes – those who were killed at Dunkirk, in the Blitz, in Normandy, in the Burma campaign, Korea, numerous regiments including the Welsh Guards and the Irish Guards, “all shipmates who crossed the bar in the service of their country”, Merchant Navy seafarers and Merseyside aircrew.

Somehow, these recognisable cohorts are more immediately moving than the huge list of 1,293 names of the individuals killed in the First World War.  The names of those who died in the Second World War are recorded in a Book of Remembrance in the Town Hall.

The original plan was to locate the Great War memorial on the north side of the square, but by popular demand the statue of William Lever, the founder of Birkenhead, was moved to the west so that the war memorial could stand foursquare in front of the Town Hall portico.

Tyson Smith did the sculpture for other civic war memorials for Widnes (1921), Accrington (1922), Southport (1923) and Fleetwood (1927), but his reliefs on the Liverpool cenotaph outside St George’s Hall, unveiled in 1930, are the most powerful.

The cenotaph is a simple, shaped block of Stancliffe stone, designed like the Birkenhead memorial by Lionel Budden, carrying two 31-foot bronze relief panels of haunting poignancy.

The panel facing St George’s Hall shows ranks of grim-faced soldiers, each face distinct and individual, marching relentlessly from left to right, above a quotation from Ezekiel 38:15 – “OUT OF THE NORTH PARTS A GREAT COMPANY AND A MIGHTY ARMY”.

On the other panel, facing Lime Street Station, Tyson Smith depicts those left behind, the mourners, of all ages, men, women and children, in contemporary dress, some bringing wreaths and flowers.  Underneath is a verse from the second book of Samuel 19:2 – “AND THE VICTORY THAT DAY WAS TURNED INTO MOURNING UNTO ALL THE PEOPLE”.

It’s impossible to walk past this monument and not remember what it stands for.

Hong Kong hero

Hong Kong Cemetery:  grave of Driver Joseph Hughes GC

Hong Kong Cemetery: grave of Driver Joseph Hughes GC

Understandably, Remembrance brings foremost to British minds and hearts the two World Wars and the conflicts within living memory – particularly the Falklands, Afghanistan and Iraq.

In fact, British servicemen and women have given their lives in every year but two since 1945:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/01/01/forces-have-first-year-since-1968-no-one-killed-operations.

One such I found when I explored the vast cemetery in the centre of Hong Kong.

On March 21st 1946 Driver Joseph Hughes of the Royal Army Service Corps was driving his three-ton lorry of ammunition and explosives when it caught fire.

Joseph Hughes tried desperately to remove the burning netting covering the load of munitions, and then he tackled the blaze with a fire extinguisher.

He survived the explosion but died of his wounds two days later.

He was awarded a posthumous George Cross, because his sacrifice was not in the face of an enemy but was nevertheless an act “of the greatest heroism [and] most conspicuous courage in circumstance of extreme danger”.

Not much seems to be known of Joseph Hughes, who came from the Glasgow Gorbals and would have been about twenty-four years old:  http://www.rascrctassociation.co.uk/hughes.html.

We honour such heroes, who are trained to run towards danger when the rest of us would run away, among all those who have given their lives in military service.

Some mother’s son

Unknown serviceman's grave, Kirk Patrick Churchyard, Isle of Man

Unknown serviceman’s grave, Kirk Patrick Churchyard, Isle of Man

My friend John pointed out to me, in the Manx churchyard of Kirk Patrick, a grave to an unknown serviceman, with the motto “Some mother’s son”, a white marble cross inscribed “British – unidentified – interred 27th Feb 1918” and, in tiny lettering at the foot, “Erected by Florrie Forde, 1927”.

Very little seems to be recorded of the circumstances of this story. Florrie Forde (1875-1940) was a hugely famous music-hall singer, Australian by birth, who dominated British variety theatre from the beginning of the twentieth century until the start of the Second World War.

She kept a cottage on the Manx coast at Niarbyl, where this unidentifiable but clearly British serviceman was washed ashore.

Rather than allow him to be buried in obscurity, Florrie wanted to make sure he had a grave, if not a name, as his unknown mother would have wished.

Florrie was entertaining troops when she died in 1940, and her passing was commemorated by the poet Louis MacNeice in ‘Death of an Actress’: http://wordcount-richmonde.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/death-of-actress-i-see-from-paper-that.html.