[interlude] The uses of history

People sometimes think that history is forgotten and of no relevance to the present day. Yesterday however in the Irish parliament politicians argued about the democratic credentials of Lenin and Kerensky, almost a 100 years after the Russian Revolution‘s progress saw the rise of one and the fall of another.

image sources:

Alexander Kerensky (Wikipedia)

Vladimir Lenin, painted by Isaak Brodsky (Wikipedia)

Read the bizarre parliamentary debate here.

[interlude] Bovington Tank Museum


I recently visited the Tank Museum in Bovington, Dorset. As the name suggests, this is a museum of tanks from their origins in the First World War to the present day. The museum has the British prototype tank, Little Willie, and other First World War vehicles.

As well as British tanks, the museum also has a Renault FT from 1918, the first tank to look like a tank (with a rotating turret above the chassis).

There is an interesting First World War exhibit, including an atmospheric mock-up of a trench.

The German machine-gunners are quite striking when unexpectedly encountered.

The trench exhibit includes a modelled tank attack on a German position.

A tank museum is a bit niche but I think anyone with a passing interest in military history and armoured vehicles would find plenty to interest them at the Tank Museum.

More pictures (mostly of vehicles from the Second World War and Cold War).

[interlude] We’re Here Because We’re Here

The 1st of July was the 100th anniversary of the disastrous first day of the Battle of the Somme, when nearly 20,000 British troops were killed and another 38,500 injured. On the day across the UK at railway stations and other public places people encountered men dressed in First World War uniforms, standing or sitting silent. Sometimes they marched off somewhere else, perhaps taking a train along the way. If approached the soldiers did not speak but instead handed their questioner a card giving the name and age of a soldier killed on the first day of the Somme. Occasionally they would break into song, singing “We’re here because we’re here because we’re here because we’re here” to the tune of Auld Lang’s Lyne, a soldiers’ song from the Great War.

This was a commemorative artwork, we’re here because we’re here, created by Jeremy Deller in collaboration with Rufus Norris, under the auspices of 14-18 NOW, a programme of First World War related arts events. Living in Dublin I did not see any of the ghost soldiers myself (though they were to be seen in various locations in Northern Ireland, where the British Army has a complicated relationship to the local community). The work strikes me as deeply moving, the presence of the uniformed men reminding us of the war’s cost in ended or blighted lives.
What makes this a particularly successful piece of commemorative art is that it does not tell the observer what to think. I suspect that encountering the ghost soldiers would be equally poignant whether you thought the dead of the Somme were heroes who died for our freedom or men who died pointless deaths in a war that served only the elite.
People have posted their own photographs of the soldiers on Twitter with the hashtag #wearehere . Did any readers see them in the flesh themselves?

see also:

we’re here because we’re here

Artists behind ‘ghost soldiers’ project revealed (BBC)

#Wearehere: Somme tribute revealed as Jeremy Deller work (Guardian)

image sources:

Newcastle Upon Tyne (BBC)

Belfast (BBC)

London (we’re here because we’re here)

Interlude: Remembering the Somme in Dublin

For people in Britain and Ireland the Somme is the big battle of the First World War. As the anniversary of its first day approaches there are a number of commemorative events taking place here in Dublin that readers may be interested in.

The National Library of Ireland has a number of events taking place over coming weeks. A History Ireland Hedge School on the Battle of the Somme is being hosted by the editor of that magazine on the evening of the 19th July.

For me though the particular highlight of the National Library’s events is their screenings of the 1916 film The Battle of the Somme. This was a propaganda film released in 1916 while the battle was raging, mixing documentary and staged footage. It was enormously popular on its first release, being seen by some 20 million people in the first few weeks of its release (possibly making it the most seen British film ever made). The Library will be showing it from the 11th of July. The image at the top of the page is a still from the film, taken from Wikipedia.

I also recommend the National Library’s exhibition on Ireland in the Great War.

The National Museum of Ireland in Collins Barracks has its own series of events relating to the Somme and the First World War. They are also organising screenings of The Battle of the Somme, on the 2nd, 9th and 23rd of July, with introductions. Re-enactors will be displaying replicas of uniforms and equipment used at the Somme.
Meanwhile, in conjunction with the Goethe-Institut, a piece of sound art called Voices of Memory by Christina Kubisch will be in the War Memorial Gardens in Islandbridge from 29/6/2016 to 30/9/2016. From the description, this will consist of voices reading the names of the 49,000 Irish people killed in the Great War, together with other recordings of ambient sound. The War Memorial Gardens are a place of great beauty and it is always worth having an excuse to visit them.

Finally, the Abbey Theatre is staging Frank McGuinness’ play Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching to the Somme in August. This modern classic of Irish theatre tells the story of some Ulster soldiers who took part in the carnage of the Somme’s first day.
OBSERVE THE SONS OF ULSTER MARCHING TOWARDS THE SOMME

[interlude] The Easter Rising


Ireland’s Easter Rising is the one bit of the First World War that happened in my own country. I will of course be covering it, but not until the actual anniversary of the rebellion. In the meantime, I have created an album on Flickr showing rebellion sites as they are now, together with other images of commemorative events taking place in Dublin. You can see it here.

These pictures include:
The crossroads of death
The crossroads of death

Boland's Mill
Boland’s Mill

Memorial
Kilmainham Jail and a memorial to the executed rebels

Pipers
Bagpipes