Just about everyone I know has reported the same phenomenon – expecting this year’s commemoration of the Great War to be dutiful but dull, only to be progressively drawn into the story by every twist and personal detail that emerges – perhaps thanks to the engaging new ways in which history is now told to us. My own most recent encounter with WW1 was at Kennington Park’s war memorial in south London – a few steps away from my home which I must have passed several times a day for twenty years without ever giving it much thought. And alas, neither did anyone else, while moss formed over the white stone, wearing away the lettering, and the yew hedge behind overgrew so much that a homeless man slept in it for quite a while.
However, the impending centenary of the war’s outbreak added impetus to the need for restoration, and today the memorial was re-dedicated, on the 90th anniversary of its unveiling in 1924. It was interesting to think for a few moments about those years just after the war, when public grief must have been channelled into planning, raising subscriptions and opening these very numerous local monuments. A particularly fine feature of this morning’s short ceremony was the vocal rendition by onlookers of Amazing Grace accompanied sensitively by two bagpipers, one Scottish and one Irish - a rare sight around here. By verse three everyone was beginning to get the hang of the celtic-sounding bagpipe ornaments while imparting a gospel-oriented swing to the tune. A rather more positive (musical) iteration of the expression ‘Great Britain’ !