As roll of honour outreach officer here at the museum, remembrance and commemoration of the Great War is naturally a constituent part of the project I am undertaking.
Many of the 2,125 names that appear on the Prittlewell Priory memorial have living descendants today that make an effort to pay their respects throughout the year. These names are also replicated in parish churches throughout the wider-borough area, where services are held to remember them and the circumstances in which they passed a century ago.
Left – the Roll of Honour at Prittlewell Priory.
Right – the Roll of Honour book for Southend, published locally by John H. Burrows & Sons, LTD., “Standard” Printing Works, Cliff Town Road.
There are servicemen who are buried in Sutton Road Cemetery, who were wounded on the front and sent to Queen Mary Royal Naval Hospital, where they died and were buried as a result. There are also burials of other hospital patients in cemeteries and graveyards throughout the borough, including some local servicemen who are buried in their parish churches.
There are stained-glass memorials for local congregation members killed during the war, as well as lists made by some local businesses that lost employees during the war.
At Southend Police station, there is a memorial plaque for Police Officers who were killed having enlisted.
The tone in which the lives, and deaths, of these local servicemen is commemorated and remembered is one in which sincerity and solemn respect ought to be employed.
Remembering those who lost their lives during – or as a direct result of – the war should also include those who were victims of air raids (some 39 locals), as well as those who died in the pursuit of non-violence; who died in prison having received the death sentence (reprieved to 10 years in prison), or equally, the sad case of victims of “Shell Shock” who were executed on account of cowardice, to name some.
There are also cases of local servicemen who died of wounds between 1919-1920, in the case of one, “gas poisoning”, another “shell shock”. It would be most difficult to quantify the number of people killed from chronic medical conditions as a result of wounds sustained during the war.
On the one hand, remembrance and commemoration consists in focusing attention on these people, however, for me at least, remembrance and commemoration also consists of the loss of an age in Southend. That is, not of an age between 16 (which was frequently the case) to 48 or above, but an age of people born in the Victorian period, born in the years following the European-wide 1848 Revolutions to the twentieth century.
These were a people who saw bourgeois liberal democracy at its Belle Époque in the western world: a second industrial revolution created work and wages for a progressive, an evolving, society; where women’s suffrage was being openly discussed (The Subjection of Women, Mill, 1869), people moved, travelled and holidayed (to Southend itself from c.1854), and the rising national pride in the creation of the Delhi Durbar (1877), to name but few examples.
It was also an age of antithesis; with growing nationalism in the western European powers during the period of colonialism, epitomised in the age of Imperialism (for instance the “Scramble for Africa” c.1881). This age also encouraged national (and racial) rivalries and superiority complexes which would culminate in the diplomatic division of Europe – and consequently the world – into the camps of the Central Powers, and the Triple Entante, but also the cultural and social divisions between different classes, races, ethnicities, and peoples.
This was an age which was culminating in a catastrophic event which would usher what historian Eric Hobsbawm termed as “The Age of Extremes”: an age epitomised by “unreason” and extraordinary acts of aggression and violence, not just in the Great War and the Second World War, but of the Cold War; with its derision of colonials and their subjugated indigenous peoples, of genocides throughout what became known as the “Third World”, with its devastating famines and ecological/environmental disasters that continue to this day.
The age that died with the end of the Great War was an age short-lived, in part wholly ignorant of what kind of cataclysm would befall them, but aware of a great change in the tempestuous winds of history nonetheless.
I remember this age because to remember it – and to commemorate it – is to develop ones self-awareness of the propensity for individuals, as well as peoples, to reiterate the errors for our ancestors.
I remember its achievements, and I commemorate its loss.
Remembrance and commemoration can be a highly personal experience. It can be as intrinsic and focused as one person looking at one person in the past. It can be a family member, a loved one, a friend. It can, too, be an idea, or an ideal; one which as (again) Hobsbawm notes, “[…] the historians business is not praise or blame, but analysis.”
I remember and commemorate these ideas, ideals, and people with the critical analysis of an historian, however, when I read into the lives and deaths of victims of history (often the first person to observe them in one century), I cannot but help wonder at the futility of war, of its destruction to life, and to console myself with the heightened appreciation of the sanctity of life itself.