Commemorating the actions of those who served in World War I took many forms in its attempt to ease the suffering and losses inflicted by the war. The creation of memorials served several purposes and with time, the meanings associated with them changed, as did the purposes with which they served. Support groups were formed to aid those in need whose lives became radically changed by the war, and in an effort to commemorate their service. Without aleving the pain completely, commemoration served to ease the tremendous burden of guilt, sorrow, and responsibility to those whose lives were now changed orever.
World War I memorials generally fell into three separate categories based upon the time of their creation. The first type of memorials were those which were created in the years preceding 1918. These memorials scattered the landscape and were created and developed at the community level. The erection of commemorative memorials to the war served as a unifying symbol of the community spirit and as a centerpiece with which to rally around. They also served as a physical statement against those who may offer dissenting opinions as to the communities involvement in the war effort.
The moral high round was thus established in the symbolism of a united effort. They also served to support the community’s brave young men who were off fighting gallantly for the security and preservation of it’s ideals and in essence the community itself. Local memorials also served to inspire and motivate those who labored in industry dedicated to the war effort. It created a sense of purpose and a realization that what they were working for had a larger meaning and purpose.
Local war memorials also served as rallying points for the enlistment of soldiers. The statuesque soldier brazenly dashing to war was accompanied with istings of locals who had enlisted. This inspired even greater enlistment while creating a public record of scorn to those who chose to ignore their «duty. » As the war continued past a glorious moment and quick victory, the memorials took on more of a role of a museum. The collection of combat memorabilia increased. Photographs, books, and art describing the war continued.
Descriptions of the weapons of war and the style of warfare that was taking place on the front lines was requested, however in order to preserve the dignity of the war, a good deal of censorship was practiced. Accounts of the brutality were circulating back to the homefront through letters and personal accounts of those who had returned. Government regulation of the memorials however, determined that in order to maintain support for the war and to quell opposition to the countries war efforts, the memorials would not portray an accurate description of what was happening to the local communities fallen sons in far away lands.
In the decade following Armistice, the second set of memorial arose with less of a heroic bias. These memorials tended to be oriented around churches and civic sites. The meaning behind these memorials was entirely different from those erected during the war. There was no longer a need to rally support for enlistment and production for the war machine. The grieving families now became the center of attention as a desperate need for explanation and justification of their losses required attending.
The communities, after enduring such losses, also needed to find justification. The evaluation as to their accomplishments in war with relation to their losses was difficult to weigh in favor of the war. The losses were paid for both in lives and esources. The living was then given the chance to honor the dead at the memorials, while provided an opportunity to pay their respects. An unspoken silence, a bowed head, or a fought back tear were all signs of the indebtedness with which the living had in honoring those who gave all in preservation of a way of live.
The two themes of war being both noble and tragic tended to be included in almost the entire second category of memorials. A physical memorial with which a family member could touch or read their loved one’s name provided a necessary step in their grieving process. The ability to let go of those lost was essential in their mourning process, so that they could come to grips with the fact that they were in fact no longer one of the living, and had passed on.
A sense of finality could be achieved with the visiting of these memorials. With a loved one being killed for ideals in such a far land, and in many cases never returning for a funeral at his home, the family needed some form of permanence to accept the reality of the fallen soldier. The final type of commemorative memorial were the war cemeteries that were erected for those who returned home as fallen soldiers. Regardless of differences in religion, soldiers died, and having fought together, many were buried together.
Many different styles of monuments were developed as centerpieces for the cemeteries, or in the case of the Cenotaph in London, the absence of the cemetery or bodies. The lack of adornment with religious ornamentation became extremely popular. There was a use of apparently basic structures that were characteristically void of the patriotic schemes of previous memorials. This somber reflection with which these were designed to portray is conveyed without any glory of accomplishment, obility in giving of one’s life, or testament to hardships suffered.
For those veterans who returned injured, reintegration into society was often difficult if not impossible. If the injury were severe enough, the lack of sufficient medical technology often prevented complete recovery. Those who were fortunate enough to recover completely were then faced with the challenge of retraining and reintegration into the workforce. If one’s previous skills were not obsolete, obstacles such as the government’s neglecting to cover the costs of rehabilitation served as barriers to reintegration.
The amount of soldiers returning with debilitating injuries was so vast that the Army could not support them all. Special interest groups fought to commemorate the sacrifices endured by rallying support for the disabled, however often the best source of assistance was one’s family. In millions of households, people took up adopted kin in the support of those who returned. Sacrificing money, time, and effort got many through where the government could not provide the adequate support that they needed. The families of those who did not return were equally impoverished.
Approximately three million of the men who died in the ar, left wives and children fatherless and with little means for survival (Winter 46). War pensions were extremely tight and provided wives with an amount that was less than the average wage level (Winter 47). With the broad acceptance of war pensions by widows, a welfare state was established and was then accepted as more of a right than a privilege. The amount that they did receive was barely enough to survive and then became significantly less with increases in inflation and the lack of adjustment to their pensions.
In conclusion, in commemoration of those who served in World War I, those left behind created monuments and support networks to aid those left behind. From the monuments during the war to rally support and elicit volunteers to join the armed forces, to the cemeteries and tombs created post-war to recognize their loss, the majority of the commemoration of the soldiers was oriented toward those who did not fight. The monuments to the dead served to aid those grieving and help with the acceptance of their loss. Very little post-war commemoration celebrated those who survived.
Armistice Day parades honored veterans, however the tremendous oss, which the country endured with the decimation of a huge segment of the male population, left little room for celebration. Families were destroyed and widows and their orphaned children suffered. Disabled veterans, who did return found little commemoration due to the government’s inability to rehabilitate, treat, reeducate, and retrain. The sheer numbers of the «Army of the Dead» who returned from World War I left scars that were not easily healed. With commemoration to those who gave their lives, communities struggled to recover from a devastating period of loss.