Wednesday, 11 November 2009


Worthing’s war memorial is both ugly and nondescript, a by-numbers marble pillar topped with a forgettable statue. It’s so forgettable that, although I’ve lived in this town for most of my 27 years, I cannot actually tell you what it depicts. I’ve often thought that the young men who died deserve something more likely to make you stop and remember.

Next to the memorial is a raised grass area, edged by marbleish looking slabs, normally attractive yet blank space. Not now though. Now it is studded with smallish wooden crosses, each one representing a battalion or military unit. In front of these stand clusters of smaller crosses, each one decorate with a poppy and a name, written in plain black capitals.

This was something that made me stop, consider the lives the crosses represented, remember that most of these men were younger than I am now. I wondered about their characters, their hopes, the people who mourned them.

I watched an elderly man, perhaps in his late seventies or early eighties, who was pausing in front of each cross-and-poppy crop. I wondered about his wartime memories, if he was thinking of brothers, cousins or friends who never came home, or someone who was in the way of a bombing raid.

It reminded me of being in the Turner exhibition at the Beijing City Art Gallery, when I was surprised by a heroic style painting of the Battle of Waterloo. Despite the Roman detailing and cherubs and general lack of mud and gore, there was a power in the painting which reminded me that these figures were real. Real men had died, and died horribly, in a battle that I was more used to contemplating as an abstract historical event to early 19th century literature.

At 11am this is what I’m going to remember: that people who’ve died in war zones aren’t just chiselled names, or flag draped coffins, or a sentence in a history book, or symbols of valour or patriotism, they were real, broken off amidst their cherished, imperfect, human-like-me lives.


  1. Very true. Every person who dies is more than a number.

  2. sobering timely reflections...

  3. When I see the huge expanse of crosses at a national cemetery, the huge and tragic cost of war is brought home to me. So true that each soldier who gives his life had his own hopes and dreams, now forever lost.

  4. Yes, it's so easy to depersonalise and distance (and perhaps partly necessary, you can't grieve for every person who's died), and the war dead just become part of another faceless ritual or monument.