Tag Archives: first world war

We Are Dreamers 2018


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As some of you may know, I’ve been working on an art installation with Arc to commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War.

There will be hundreds of ‘dream’ boxes from local children, adults and artists depicting their dreams and aspirations.

Ten of the boxes, (of which mine is one), will honour the life of a Stockport soldier who lost his (or her), life.

The point of these ten boxes is to honour these people as human beings who had lives outside of being a soldier. In fact, this is what made up the vast majority of their lives. And they had dreams and aspirations too. What would have become of them?

 

The soldier I picked lived locally to me in Heaton Mersey. His name was Herbert Jackson. He worked for Cheshire Lines Railway in Cheadle Heath and played several instruments in the Heaton Mersey Prize Band.

He was due home on leave in the Spring of 1918 to marry his fiance. Unfortunately, his leave was cancelled due to the massive German Spring Offensive of March and April. He was wounded by artillery fire on the 26th April and was moved to a Casualty Clearing Station where he died the following day aged 25. He is buried in Haringhe (Bandaghem ) Military Cemetery, Poperinge, Belgium.

The letter, (which rests on top of the box), is not real. It is something I thought Herbert might have written to his fiance whilst in hospital. Tonally, however, it is based on actual letters from a friend of mine’s grandfather who fought on the Somme.

The ‘Princess Mary’ tin, which was given to all soldiers I imagined would contain mementos of his fiance, such as a lock of her hair.

For me, Herbert’s dream for the future was to come back to the two things he loved most – his fiance, and music.

The sheet music, which lines the interior of the box, is by J.S. Bach and the lyrics are in German. Whilst I doubt that Herbert would have spoken German, they would share the common language of music.

This tribute is to honour the life of Herbert Jackson and all the other men, women and children from every nation, who died in the First World War, and to what futures there might have been.

The We Are Dreamers 2018 exhibition opens on the 11th November, 2018 at the Stockport War Memorial Art Gallery.

Private Herbert Jackson’s biography details were provided courtesy of http://www.stockport1914-1918.co.uk/

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A Soldier’s Dream


I’m really excited (and honoured) to be taking part in an art exhibition to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.

The exhibition is being organised by ARC (a charity I do quite a lot of voluntary work for).

The exhibition is being held at Stockport War Memorial Art Gallery from 11th November.

After the war, residents of Stockport, rather than erect a traditional war memorial to commemorate the dead, decided to build an art gallery so that future generations may benefit from their sacrifice. Which I think is a brilliant idea.

The theme of the exhibition is ‘A Soldier’s Dream’.

Because, all of these soldiers were, once upon a time, civilians who worked in factories and mills, merchant companies and railways. They had wives and children, brothers and sisters. Mums and … well, you get the picture.

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Scale model of the exhibition.

Instead of focussing on what they did in the war, the exhibition aims to show them as ordinary everyday people who had hopes, dreams and aspirations. Rather than just one aspect of their lives which was to give it in service of their country.

The part that I am involved in is to create a ‘Soldier’s Dream box’. This takes the form of ten 40cm x 40cm wooden crates and each one will ecapsulate the dreams of a soldier who lost his life.

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I can’t tell you what mine will be about yet as I am still in the research stage. I have been finding out about people local to my area in the Four Heatons who lost their lives.

I have always loved history, in particular, the First World War, so I was really excited and passionate about getting involved. (I even did a tour of the Somme a few years ago. I know, I’m a great laugh to go on holiday with.)

As part of my research, (provided by the brilliant website www.stockport1914-18.co.uk), I have been reading brief biographies of soldiers from the Heatons who died. Of which there are many.

But, reading about where they worked, who they married, their children’s names, what team they played for, makes it all the more personal. They aren’t soldiers anymore. They are real people who lived real lives. And I guess that’s the whole point of the exhibition.

Some of the biogs even give their address! These are houses I pass every week. The stories that must be contained between their walls must be incredible.

Well, that’s all for now. I’ll keep you posted when I have something new to tell you.

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Shame on Sainsbury’s


The new Christmas ad from Sainsbury’s makes a mockery of the sacrifice of so many people during the First World War. It offends me on so many levels.

I didn’t see anyone with frostbite. I didn’t see any bodies on the barbed wire nor any shattered limbs in frozen shell craters. (If you want to see what it was really like in the trenches see my last post.)

This is schmaltz at its worst.

Obviously, it’s an ad that polarises opinion. Some people, like me, hate it for the reasons above. Others love the fact that it is on behalf of the Royal British Legion.

Well, let me tell you – it isn’t.

True, they may be donating all the profits from the sale of their retro chocolate bar to the Legion. (They’ll more than recoup their ‘charitable’ losses with sales of other products.) But, do you think that’s what the Generals down at Sainsbury’s had in mind when they first hatched their Xmas offensive?

Of course they didn’t. It’s just cynical piggy-backing. It was to get as many punters into their supermarkets as humanly possible to buy all their groceries in the run up to Chrimbo.

If, on the other hand, you think Sainbury’s are just being charitable with their advertising budget, then I suggest you go in and only buy the chocolate bar, then get your groceries elsewhere.

Some doubters about the idea of the ad are still raving about it as a ‘beautiful masterpiece’. I don’t even think it’s a particularly well made film. Whilst I can understand why we don’t see rotting horse carcasses or trees splintered by heavy artillery. Nor men screaming from having their entrails bayonetted out into the mud, or mown down in a hail of machine gun fire. There isn’t even a sniff of grime on their faces or uniforms. (Even the Lynx guys have stubble.) They all look like they’ve just returned from the Army Surplus Store in their brand new duds. And where the hell did all the barbed wire go when they came out of the trenches to meet each other!

It certainly isn’t a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination. Nor do I think it’s beautifully shot. It’s a saccharin, sanitised, cynical piece of tripe that trivialises the horrors of WWI into a Saturday afternoon Disney matinee.

And, yes, the Jerries did win the match. On penalties.

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Things for which I am grateful #36/365


The poet Wilfred Owen.

Please note, this post contains graphic and harrowing images of war.

In the year when many are ‘celebrating’ the centenary of the First World War, it is worth sparing a thought for those, such as Owen and Sassoon, who spoke out against its horrors and our government’s mishandling and inept military tactics. Particularly at a time when such things were unheard of.

I’m a lover of poetry and history. And it sickens me to to the core to see how many men’s lives were sacrificed needlessly due to incompetence and profiteering.

I went to the Somme once on holiday. (Ibiza isn’t really my cup of tea.) The thing that struck me most was that one minute I would be strolling through the undulating, idyllic French countryside on a summer’s afternoon and, the next, I was confronted by tens of thousands of white marble headstones.

Inscribed on one gargantuan monument I saw in Arras are the names of 75,000 men and women. They don’t have any headstones. Because nothing was ever found of their bodies. They were vapourised by shelling. Ponder that for a moment. Vapourised. Their atoms scattered to the winds.

‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’ roughly translates as: ‘It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.’

Remember, this poem was written at a time when most poets romanticised or glorified war. And also a time when governments could censor and suppress what the public read or saw.

Dulce Et Decorum Est

by Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!–An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

N.B. Wilfred Owen was killed in action one week before the end of the First World War.

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Revelon, gefallener Deutscher

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So, on the one hundredth anniversary of the War to End all Wars, spare a thought for all the victims, whichever side they fought for.

I know it doesn’t seem like something which I should be grateful for, but pioneers like Wilfred Owen, paved the way for the rest of us to dissent against irresponsible governments. For that, I am truly grateful.

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Remember me, 1916.


I once went to visit the The Somme. It wasn’t really my intention. I got a cheap flight from Dublin to Beauvais and rather than go into Paris, (a city I’d been to on several occasions), I decided to head north.

I found myself in places like Albert, Amiens and Arras. Pretty much the front line back in 1916.

There’s a monument in Arras upon which are engraved 70,000 names of men and women who were killed. They weren’t the only ones killed there. (The total figure is around 158,000.) They were just the ones whose bodies could not be found. They had been vapourised by shelling.

Vapourised.

Monument at Arras

Near Amiens I saw a bomb crater. Nothing unusual in that. The fact is, this crater was about 100 feet in diameter. And about 30-40 feet deep. It was on the German front line.

In Albert, I was walking down a country lane and, when I turned a corner, I was confronted by a Commonwealth cemetery. I have never seen so many white marble headstones in my life. Row upon row stretching into the distance. Many engraved with the epitaph: Here lies an unknown soldier.

Commonwealth cemetery.

It was one of the most moving experiences I have ever had.

My thoughts go out to all the people of all nations who have died in conflicts around the globe. And obviously, to their surviving ancestors. Though, I am finding it a little difficult to extend that sentiment to the Taliban at the moment.

 

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Not much has changed in 90 years


‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’ roughly translates as: ‘It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.’

Regular readers of this blog will know I have a penchant for poetry, but as yet, I haven’t included any of the great war poets.

After seeing some very disturbing images on The Guardian website of injured children in Afghanistan, this classic by Wilfred Owen came to mind. I appreciate that the victims in the news photographs are non-combatants, unlike the ones Owen describes in his poem. However, by the looks on the victims’ faces, it does seem poignant over 90 years after he wrote it.

The ways in which wars are fought these days might have changed. But not the ways in which we die.

Dulce Et Decorum Est

by Wilfred Owen


Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!–An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

 

P.S. It’s worth noting that Wilfred Owen was killed in action one week before the end of the First World War.

 

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