Sunday photoblogging: war memorial

by Chris Bertram on August 3, 2014

This is a picture I took in 2007 of the Arlington West memorial at Santa Monica beach, California. The crosses represent American dead (with red crosses representing 10 dead). A placard near the crosses reads “”At 3000 crosses, the Arlington West Memorial is 141 feet wide and 310 feet long. A memorial for the Iraqi dead would be 141 feet wide and 12.8 miles long.”

From the material in my photo collection, it seems the right thing to post in this week leading up to the outbreak of war in 1914, but also because of the daily tolls in Syria, Gaza and elsewhere.



ZM 08.03.14 at 12:06 pm

You might be interested in this project?

“There are more than 12,000 war memorials across the length and breadth of Australia – and La Trobe University photojournalists are documenting stories about 100 of these, from cities to outback towns, in every state and territory.
The ambitious project is for a book to be published around Remembrance Day, as part of this year’s centenary of the Great War and the ANZAC landing at Gallipoli.
It’s a year in which the memory of everyone involved in that historic conflict – whether a name on a plaque or chiseled in stone – will be of added poignancy not only for their families, but collectively for the whole nation.
The book will tell the tale of one person from each memorial, illustrating for new generations the human side of the conflict and the impact the war had on local communities.
It features accounts of large city monuments to a solitary highland cairn built by school children from rough rocks in the Flinders Ranges. And all manner of structures in between.”

“Joan Matthews, the energetic 86 year daughter of soldier Robert Archer, was photographed embracing the trunk of giant tree planted by her father – much as she saw him do from time to time so he could gauge how much it had grown. Why did he do this?
The book tells us Private Archer enlisted two days after he turned eighteen. During fighting in Belgium, shrapnel tore into his temple, leg and arm. Critically, a piece stopped just short of his heart, after penetrating his wallet and a family photo.
‘He was left untended on the battlefield for two days before some of his mates went out to find him, but they were too late to save his sight. He was completely blind. Both eyes were removed.’
He was eventually taught how to be a chicken farmer and how to repair shoes and given a braille-watch. His chapter concludes:
‘Robert Archer acted as Secretary of the Victorian Branch of the Blinded Soldiers Association for almost 36 years. He was awarded the MBE in April 1955 for his service to blind ex-servicemen.’”

[vimeo 92779951 w=500 h=281] Their name liveth for evermore from ABC Open Central Victoria on Vimeo.


Joshua W. Burton 08.03.14 at 2:50 pm

The nickname “Arlington West” here caught my attention. I have paid my respects at several US military cemeteries, including Culpeper where my grandfather and his WW2 comrades lie near boys from Chancellorsville and the Wilderness, and right next to one from Somalia. I have taken the grim drive from the Belgian border to Amiens, where Colin Powell’s remark about asking only enough soil to bury the ones who didn’t come home begins to seem like an extravagant request. I get the evocative power of Christian crosses in neat rows.

I also get the moral seriousness of antiwar protest, and (from a distance) the Christian significance of empty graves. But adding all that together, I can’t come up with an emotional sum in which the conjuration of memorial imagery by proxy doesn’t itch. Does anyone who plants and tends these things actually show up to hear the bugles at the real graves on Memorial Day?


Donald A. Coffin 08.03.14 at 3:21 pm

In 2000,walking on a street in Paris, I saw (and photographed) a plaque commemorating a Yugoslavian exile, killed by the Germans, in Paris, in 1943. Two years later, in the Tuscan hill town of Pitigliano, I saw another plaque, in memory of a citizen of the town, who had been deported by the Germans. If you’re interested, they are here:


Sasha Clarkson 08.03.14 at 4:13 pm

Thanks ZM – very moving – and thought provoking.

As various of my ancestors fought on different sides in the same wars, I always find the thought of “dying for one’s country” rather disturbing – particularly when it’s in “a far off land.” I’m sure they mostly thought that they were doing the right thing – and that doesn’t help, because some at least weren’t. But there are times when, if you want to remain part of a community, you have to share its burdens.

My father told me about many of his WWII experiences, in Palestine, North Africa and Italy. He was no pacifist, but nor did he glorify war. He was wounded and shell-shocked in Italy, and the experience probably shortened his life: yet he valued the comradeship of his fellow soldiers more than anything else he ever experienced.

He believed I should have a religious upbringing. but without hellfire and mental chains, so, rejecting the Congregationalism of his upbringing, he took me along to the local Quaker meeting and Sunday school. One of the reasons was that an elder of the meeting was a former teacher of his whom he greatly respected: a conscientious objector, who had nonetheless been at the Front in WWI as part of the Friends’ Ambulance unit.

One of the most moving experiences I ever had was in the 1970s, on a holiday in Austria. The landlord of an inn in which we were eating turned out to have been in Africa under Rommel and in Italy under Kesselring. It turned out that may father’s and his units had spent 3 or 4 years chasing each other. Helped by my mother’s interpreting, they drank and reminisced until the early hours, parting the best of friends. Of course, this would have been virtually impossible for veterans of the Eastern Front, where the warfare was much more cruel and brutal and bitter.


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© 08.03.14 at 7:36 pm

A memorial for the Iraqi dead would be 141 feet wide and 12.8 miles long.

Nonetheless, we have an entire press corpse that doesn’t give a hairy rat’s ass about them, or their own role in the slaughter. For example, see Michael Gerson and Marc Thiessen in the Washington Post: Former Bush-Cheney speechwriters, still engaged in the lucrative business of chanting for more wars.


JW Mason 08.04.14 at 3:04 am

I was there in 2007 also. I was looking for a marker for Ayman Taha, who I went to graduate school with.

Ayman started the UMass economics program a year or two ahead of me. I didn’t know him well, but we had several classes together, went to the same parties, had friends in common, etc.; I was over at his house a few times. He was one of the stars of our departmental soccer team, Red Star, and played in a ska band that for a while had a regular Friday night gig at a bar on Route 9. (The Hadley Inn?) I have some idea why he quit grad school and joined the military, but I won’t share that here. He was killed in December 2005 while “preparing a munitions cache for demolition.” Apparently it was a job he’d volunteered for.

As I recall, Arlington West included a booth or table with a book listing all the American dead, but the markers only had names if some visitor had put them there. No one had put Ayman’s name on one. Probably it wasn’t my place, since I was not a close friend, but for some reason I felt there ought to be one. As you can see in the picture, the markers are almost all crosses, with a few stars of David. For Ayman I had to find a crescent, which took a while.


ZM 08.04.14 at 4:50 am

Sasha Clarkson,

In a nearby town an organisation called Artists for Orphans was started by a nice woman for orphans of the Vietnam war , where the chemicals are still having awful effects (they have a Facebook page). In a very moving meeting similar to the one you mention with your father, the foundress’ husband Laurens, a Vietnam war veteran, returned recently for the first time since the war to Vietnam to give belongings of a fallen Vietnamese soldier to the soldier’s elderly mother.

“Roni’s husband, Laurens, a Vietnam veteran, inspired Roni’s vision for AFO and is proudly her biggest supporter.
“Laurens connection to the Vietnam War became my connection to Vietnam and I became informed about the consequences. The Vietnam War started in 1962 and it’s not over yet, fourth generation babies are still being born with horrific birth defects due to Agent Orange,” Roni said.
Roni travels to Vietnam regularly to evaluate the needs of the orphanages, oversee the work of AFO, and meet with the children and staff. ”

“AROUND the time the Australian soldier arrived in Vietnam, one of the enemy he had been sent to fight paused after marching through the night. He sat, took out a pen and student’s notebook and wrote a poem. He called it Letter in Spring and it was addressed to ”my love who is at home”.
His loved one never saw the poem and the delicate drawing that illustrated it. But the Australian did, and even though he couldn’t read it, he knew a powerful part of its meaning.
As well as love, the Vietnamese soldier wrote of his patriotic duty, of how he was on the front line, on the eve of a battle that he hoped would defeat the foreign soldiers who would be ”buried in black mud”. He wrote in a flowing, sloping script and decorated the page with a drawing of a landscape showing a tiny bird sitting on a fragile branch, surrounded by blossom.

The Australian soldier was Laurens Wildeboer. He was 20 when he arrived in what was then South Vietnam in January 1968 to fight the communist guerillas known as the Viet Cong. Phan Van Ban, the soldier poet, was one of those guerillas. In January 1968, he was 20, too.
At the time he wrote Letter in Spring, the Viet Cong were poised to launch a massive assault across the country, the Tet Offensive. It left the guerilla force decimated, but the extent and ferocity of the offensive shocked American (and Australian) public opinion and became a political turning point in the war.
Wildeboer never met Phan, and until recently didn’t know his name or where he came from, and if he had a family, although he often wondered.
But for four decades he has kept the Vietnamese soldier’s handwritten poetry, another notebook with details of his life, and a scarf, which he took from the detritus of a battlefield where Phan was killed in March, 1969.

He’ll take the notebooks and scarf with him, because now he knows who Phan was. He knows that Phan has a family, and that his mother is still alive. Her name is Nguyen Thi Hieu, and she is 85. He will return her son’s belongings to her. He hopes this will bring her some comfort, and give him some peace.

There are other poems in the notebook, one composed at New Year, 1966, when Phan wrote:
Flowers are blooming when New Year comes
And we are in the heyday of youth
Greeting the New Year full of hope
PEACE will come, and I will be with you.”


JakeB 08.04.14 at 5:04 am

In Lafayette, California, near where I live, a man put up one cross for every American soldier killed in Afghanistan and in the second war with Iraq, as well as a billboard with the total killed on it visible from the train station. (The crosses may have a star of David, a cresecent, a wheel, or possibly some other element on them, depending on whom they are meant to represent). I have observed that many of these crosses have had decorations — leis, photos, inscriptions, and other things — added to them: they have become memorials for people who are perhaps unable to travel to visit the gravesite. I have seen at least a couple, for instance, for soldiers from the Mariana islands.


Sasha Clarkson 08.04.14 at 8:23 am

Again ZM, thank you.


Dr. Hilarius 08.04.14 at 8:09 pm

Angel in the Russian War Veteran Cemetery (WWI) Seattle.


Shelley 08.04.14 at 9:17 pm

And because the people who brought you the Iraq War are, even as we speak , busily “rehabilitating” themselves by giving cute interviews.

Bush by painting, Condi by playing the race card.


Meredith 08.05.14 at 5:51 am

Sasha, thank you for the remembrance. I find the solidarity of those who once were enemies very moving, and also so disturbingly sad. God gave us intelligence, imagination. When will we ever learn?


maidhc 08.05.14 at 9:11 am

CBC Radio has a podcast of a series that was done 50 years ago looking at Canada’s experience of WWI (and Newfoundland, which was a different country then).


James Wimberley 08.05.14 at 11:53 am

The use of crosses is problematic. One of Lutyens’ great contributions as chief architect to the Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission,was his multicultural design of an individual memorial stele. The symbol of each soldier’s religion was carved in relief, so it is respectful of each but the common silhouette maintains the unity of their service and their fate.

The Commission maintains cemeteries of all sizes, and a complete searchable database in which you can look up your relatives. I came across a one-man war cemetery at Mourèze in the Hérault: Captain Peter Fowler, an SAS officer dropped in August 1944 to aid the maquisards take Montpellier, which they did shortly after. The historic Anglican cemetery in Malaga hosts another four, one of them FO John Patterson, an RAAF pilot who came down in 1941 off Torremolinos. I hope he appreciates the naturalized parrakeets.


Svensker 08.05.14 at 2:27 pm

My husband, teenage son and I were waiting for someone in a tiny village in the north of France a few years ago. There wasn’t much to do while we waited, so we wandered around the small cemetery there. Tucked in one corner were 3 Canadians and a New Zealander, all killed in WWI, none of them older than 22. The loneliness of those 4 graves, so far from home, and the complete senselessness of their deaths brought all three of us to tears. What a long way to go to die for some old men’s egos.

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