World War One ended at 11am on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, in 1918. Germany signed an armistice (an agreement for peace) that had been prepared by Britain and France. 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the armistice agreement, and towns and cities all over will come together to remember.
The First World War, also known as The Great War (1914–18), was a devastating international conflict involving major European nations, Russia, the USA, and others. During the war, the allies (Great Britain, Russia, France, Italy Japan, and from 1917, the USA) overcame the advancing Central Powers: Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey.
WWI was unparalleled at the time, for the number of lives lost. At the end of 4 years of war, an estimated 15-19 million people lost their lives as a result of their wounds or disease, as well as a further 23 million wounded. WWI was a major transitional period for weaponry and its use in combat. While 20th century technologies were tested and employed, many of the tactics used were rooted in the 19th century. It is thought that this separation between tool, and use, may have accounted for the extraordinary number of lives lost.
why the poppy?
Much of the combat in WWI took place in Western Europe, in what was beautiful countryside. During the war, the landscape was transformed into a war zone - it was bombed again and again, leaving the land muddy, bleak and barren. Nothing could grow in the fields damaged by war, until small and resilient bright red Flanders poppies flourished in their thousands, despite being surrounded by destruction.
In 1915, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae (a Canadian doctor) was inspired by the sight of poppies growing in battle-scarred fields to write 'In Flanders Fields' - now a world renowned poem. After the First World War, the poppy was adopted as a symbol of Remembrance. The poem inspired Moina Michael (an academic from America) to make and sell the original poppies, that were brought to the UK by a French woman, Anna Guérin. Forming in 1921, The Royal British Legion ordered 9 million of the silk poppies, and sold them on 11/11/21. Selling out near immediately, the first "Poppy Appeal" raised over £106,000 for veterans - a massive amount of money at the time! The following year, Major George Howson set up the Poppy Factory to employ disabled ex-Servicemen. Today, the factory and the Legion's warehouse in Aylesford produces millions of poppies every year.
"Wearing a poppy is a way of showing public appreciation for the service and sacrifice of the Armed Forces, veterans, and their families, in safeguarding our freedoms and values.It represents all those who lost their lives on active service in all conflicts; from the beginning of the First World War right up to the present day. It also honours the contribution of civilian services and the uniformed services which contribute to national peace and security." - The Royal British Legion
Llantwit Major's Remembrance
This year, was the first year, in many years that I have been able to get to the Remembrance events in Llantwit Major, because of being away in Falmouth studying. It was special to me because of that, and because I was joined by Phill for the first time! You can check out his website, and find his social links HERE. We made our way down to the cenotaph early, as I knew it would be especially busy this year. Already, there were at least 100 people gathered on the narrow pavements, and surrounding the band area, while more and more gathered as it got closer to 11am.
100 years since the war ended, Cenotaphs all over the country were gathered at to remember those who have given their lives in b attle, with a special focus this year on the centenary of the WWI armistice. Being so close to MoD St. Athan, Llantwit has always had a big turn out for remembrance Sunday, where members of the public march alongside those in the forces.
Nearing 11am, the drums of the parade could be heard making their way through the town towards the cenotaph. Led by the RAF band, hundreds of local people made their way to where we were. Local people; clubs such as the rugby club, the Scouts and the Guides; the Mayor of Llantwit Major and the Major of the Vale of Glamorgan; members of St. Illtud's Church; as well as the armed forces: The Royal Navy, The RAF, and The Intelligence Corps attended the service. Wreaths were laid by the town, as well as the Lord Lieutenant, the Royal British Legion chairman, Lieutenant Commander of the Royal Navy, and Wing Commander of the RAF - it is not until these different forces come together do you realise how much of a military influence there is on Llantwit Major, and as a result, how many serving men and women come from Llantwit Major.
After the service, silence, laying of the wreaths and poppies, and Roll of Honour, the crowds dispersed, with many stopping to look at the wreaths just laid down. Llantwit always had a lovely display of poppies, and this year was no different.
From the cenotaph, Phill and I headed down to St. Illtud's Church - there was a small exhibition of WWI photographs, medals, and personal belongings that we really wanted to check out, as well as an installation of silhouetted transparent figures, as part of a nationwide campaign to remember those we have lost through conflicts.
st. illtyd's church
The church in Llantwit Major has always been of great significance to the town - it is from the church that Llantwit gets it's name! The Welsh for Llantwit Major is "Llanilltud Fawr", meaning "the great community of Illtud", where Llan is translated as church. Having been referred to as the "Westminster Abbey of Wales", as well as "the most beautiful church in Wales", St. Illtud's is one of the oldest, ands best known parish churches in the country.
Llanilltud Fawr is the home of the earliest centre of learning in Britain! The college at Llantwit Major was known as "Cor Tewdws". Saint Illtud reestablished the great church to be an early Celtic-Christian community, in approximately the year 508 AD, after it was founded in the year 395 AD in honour of the Roman Emperor Theodosius I. Cor Tewdws became a very successful place of learning, and a number of the Celtic Saints were educated on site. Saint David, Saint Patrick, Saint Samson, Gildas the Historian, Saint Baglan and King Maelgwn Gwynedd are all thought to have studied in Llanilltud Fawr.
As Britain's original centre of learning, it seemed fitting that an exhibition of personal items, and photographs should be installed in the church. While there were many older folks from the town, it was lovely to see people for further afield, as well as younger generations coming to learn about the effects of the war on Llantwit, as well as the country as a whole. For me, the most poignant items were the collections of medals, the letters home, newspaper clippings, as well as a pair of glasses. Rather than the photos of huge groups of soldiers or the physical change Llantwit went through during wartime, the personal items show a more human side to the conflict, and loss on a familiar scale.
Accompanying the exhibition, was an installation of "There But Not There" figured in the church's East Chapel. Permanent features of interest in the East chapel are the medieval wall paintings, including the Royal Standard of King James (c. 1604), St. Christopher (c.1400) and those of Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary on the walls of the Chancel. I would love to do some research into these paintings, take some photographs and do a blog post specifically dedicated to them - please keep an eye out for that!
The perspex silhouetted figures were sat in the pews of the church. With no introduction and explanation for their presence, the figures simply sit.
3 figures in total were installed at Llanilltud's Church, spread among the pews. While this doesn't seem like much, you must remember that the church is small, and the idea behind the installation is to make the viewer take a second look. Had there been many more than 3, I feel that the impact would have been lost slightly. With so few figures on the pews, there was still room for others to sit alongside them, as they would should the person be really there.
For those in Llantwit Major who have lost family and friends in war, seeing them in the figures must have been incredibly touching. While we remember people annually, through local Remembrance services, and wearing poppies, this tribute is a more stark reminder of the human side of war. It is far easier to disassociate from the past, and remember the collective loss as the years pass, but when confronted with a human shaped hole in a community, the loss is far more real. This, coupled with the personal items from the exhibition really force a generation that may have only read about WWI in history books, to see it as real, and an event not too long ago.
As well as seeing the figures as representing lives lost in wars in history, I feel that it is also important to see them as representing men and women currently serving in the armed forces, both in the UK, as well as in active duty overseas.
While the installation was perhaps not something to be enjoyed per say, but rather to make the viewer consider loss in a more real light; it did offer great comfort in bringing people back into the community - both metaphorically through the use of transparent figures, but also through bringing people into the town that may not usually visit. I really loved the idea behind the project, and would love to see more places adopt this style of working in the future - the use of art and installation with a modern approach, in more historical settings to raise awareness and educate on important topics and historical events.
Below, I have added some information, and important links about how the "There But Not There" installation came to be, as well as the aims of the nationwide project in November 2018. Please check it out below, and support the cause if you can!
'There But Not There'
The brainchild of Penshurst sculptural artist and photographer, Martin Barraud, for Remembrance 2016, 51 transparent silhouettes of military figures were seated in the Penshurst Church in an installation that touched all who viewed it. From the success of the 2016 installation in one small church, a £2million grant had been given to replicate the installation in public spaces across the UK.
The project, fittingly titled "There But Not There" aims to install a representative transparent figure back within the community, for Remembrance 2018 - the centenary commemoration of the end of the First World War. Each figure is to represent one name on a local war memorial, and they will be installed in their schools, churches, workplaces, or anywhere that someone's presence was, and is missed. With the hope of being used wherever there is a Roll of Honour, the projects aims commemorate those who gave their lives; heal today's veterans who suffer from mental and physical wounds from their service; and to educate younger generations, to allow them to understand what led to the huge loss of lives.
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