Friday, March 25, 2016

This is one of the oddities of London

From Slightly Foxed No. 49, Spring 2016. London at War by Juliet Gardiner, page 83. Reviewing Michael MacDonagh's In London During the Great War (1935).
In November 1916, the journalist-diarist noted the number of 'War Shrines' to be seen in the more residential and crowded areas of central London 'where neighbourliness prevails':
Usually the shrine is a decorated wooden tablet surrounded by a cross, put up at a street corner and containing the names of those from the street who are serving in the Army or the Navy or who have been killed in action. There is a ledge for a vase of flowers . . . I have not noticed any shrines in suburban districts where people might live for years yet know nothing of their next-door neighbors . . . this is one of the oddities of London.
Regrettably there is a steep memory discount with the passing years. In old prep schools in England and and the East coast of the US, and in old churches and in the little country towns of England which are the reservoir of immemorial English spirit, I find it still chilling, saddening and moving to see the long banners of the long ago lost dead and on the memorial monument in the town center. Much like the similar monuments in small Southern towns to the dead of that long ago War Between the States.

The dead are long gone as are even those who knew and mourned those dead. The stories have evaporated into the ether. But we who are modern and unconnected would do well to visit those memorials and speak those names and to remember
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
It is gruesome and morbid to dwell too long on past tragedies but they should not be forgotten. Those past pains, agonies and anguishes should serve as judicious council of life's seriousness and serve as a sojourn from the quotidian trivialities and the contrived passions which can carry us into similar storms of our own making.

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