Sonic artwork ‘Clarion Call’ was performed as part of the Spill Festival, Ipswich 2018. This hauntingly beautiful large-scale sound work was broadcast around Ipswich Waterfront at dusk during the 11 days of the Spill Festival.
Please excuse my wobbly video skills and the occasional breakthrough traffic sounds, but it was an experience worthy of capture and sharing. It lasted for 11 minutes, but despite trying on several different days I only managed two or three minute chunks before a lorry, ambulance or helicopter disturbed the atmospheric impression.
ClarionCall1 from Agnes Ashe on Vimeo.
From the banks of large speakers atop several buildings around the Waterfront the sounds were transmitted across the water and up into the town centre with parts of the recording heard as far away as the Old Cemetery.
‘Clarion Call’ has been part of Ipswich’s commemorations of the First World War centenary using voice and sounds of the emergency sirens. The work evolved from considering the experiences of the town’s womenfolk when many of the local men went off overseas to war and never returned.
ClarionCall2 from Agnes Ashe on Vimeo.
‘Clarion Call’ has been devised as part of the 14-18 NOW, the UK’s arts programme for the First World War centenary. It has been created by artists Byron J Scullin, Hannah Fox and Thomas Supple with performance contributions from Beth Gibbons (Portishead), Elizabeth Fraser (Cocteau Twins), girls from Copleston School, Wattisham Military Wives Choir, South Street Kids amongst other individuals and choirs.
(There is also a longer, two and half minute clip on my Vimeo page, but my iPhone video skills are, as I already mentioned, very poor and the swinging around of the visuals gives me a touch of seasickness! However, it is worth a listen you just need to keep your eyes shut. 😌)
From 2014 to 2018 there have been and will be a number of different moments when people remember and commemorate the tragedy that was the First World War. For military historians the 15th September 1916 saw the first use of tanks on a battlefield. Tanks were deployed and active in the fighting at the Battle of Flers–Courcelette. This battle was part of the long and infamous Battle of the Somme that had begun over two months before. It is hard for us to appreciate 100 years later the desperation of those times. Nobody could have imagined in 1914, at the beginning of the war, that two years later 19,240 British soldiers would lose their lives on the fist day of any battle, but that is what happened at the Somme on the 1st July 1916.
Remembering heroes, battles and wars is part of human culture. How we commemorate various aspects of World War One says as much about how we view war, violence and sacrifice today as it does about how we think about the horror and carnage of the past. Perhaps somewhere an artist is marking the arrival of the tank into warfare, but it is a tricky subject. Today we don’t want glorification. National memorials are seldom hard, enduring sculptures instead they are fleeting events or services, or, ephemeral installations attempting to capture the vast, incomprehensible loss of life. Such an art project was the ‘19240 Shrouds of the Somme’ by Rob Heard that was set out in the Northernhay Gardens in Exeter, Devon.
19240 Shrouds of the Somme – commemoration 1 July 2016
First day of the Battle of the Somme commemoration. Northernhay, Exeter, UK
The work showed 19,240 figurines each laid out in its own handmade shroud. The artist obtained the seven volumes of the War Graves Commission’s lists of those who died on the 1st July 1916 and recited each soldier’s name as he wrapped a figurine in its shroud and crossed that name off the list.
The overall work has a desperate, poignant appearance and the scale allows the observer to see each discrete form, each individual death, repeated over and over again. It isn’t remotely pretty – why should it be. It is marking a terrible event. The work looks wretched, pitiful and sorrowful without being sentimental. It works in all the ways that the over-hyped, simplistic and incredibly sentimental ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ did not. That was the poppy installation that filled the Tower of London moat with gaudy, ceramic poppies in a trite representation of the carnage of war.
There might be a few corners of the world where a certain birthday is going unnoticed, but that wouldn’t be Britain. Apparently, it’s a good news story and folk like a good news story. This morning I heard a radio clip of the Queen when she was very young speaking of the time when, incognito, she and Princess Margaret had joined the celebrating crowds on the Mall during VE Day, May 1945. She would have been 19 years old and it reminded me of a notice I’d recently read when visiting the Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park, London.
More than 125,000 men flew in Bomber Command and all were volunteers. Of this number, nearly half lost their lives (55,573). Most who flew were very young, the great majority still in their late teens.
It has taken 70 years for this memorial to be erected and it was unveiled by the Queen on 28th June 2012. The memorial was designed by the architect Liam O’Connor and is made of Portland stone and echoes the nearby 19th-century Ionic Screen gate by Decimus Burton at the entrance to Hyde Park.
Within the central part of the design, raised on a plinth, stands a bronze sculpture of seven statues. These statues represent the aircrew of a World War Two bomber and were created by the sculptor Philip Jackson.
There is a dedication inscription on an internal wall:
This Memorial is dedicated to the 55,573 airmen from the United Kingdom, British Commonwealth and Allied nations who served in RAF Bomber Command and lost their lives over the course of the Second World War.
But also inscribed on one of the other walls is a message of reconciliation:
This Memorial also commemorates those of all nations who lost their lives in the bombing of the 1939-1945.
My Great Uncle Rich was a Pilot Officer who flew Lancasters in 57 Squadron. It was incredible that he survived the war.
I remember him as a quiet, gentle man who perhaps never recovered from his 80+ active flights. He did receive the Distinguish Flying Cross, but I never heard that he talked about his war experience. And, there are no stories if he joined the celebrating crowds in the Mall on 8th May 1945.
I know I’m not the first and I certainly won’t be the last to comment on the nature of public commemoration during this year, 2014, that marks 100 years since the beginning of the First World War. A public, ritualised remembrance for the dead has long been available to the powerful elite, but the terrible carnage of World War One brought widespread change to how the death’s of ordinary folk dying for their country was remembered. The sheer numbers of the fallen from virtually every town and village of the United Kingdom instilled a need in the general populace to act together within their communities and communally mark their losses. This was done through the village memorial, a stone cross bearing the names of the fallen.
Although the stone cross memorial is the most frequent site of commemoration stained glass windows were also commissioned and installed in churches and public buildings. Similar lists of names of the fallen can be seen written on stained glass panels. Commemorative stained glass filling the windows of churches across Great Britain has been traditional for hundreds of years. Most were sponsored by prominent families or religious bodies and depicted Christian imagery. Often a discrete biblical quotation accompanied by the patrons name reminded the congregation to offer up prayers’ for the departed soul.
At the end of World War 1 with the large loss of life many institutions also chose to collectively mark the loss of their colleagues and friends. Not only were the dead from specific regiments commemorated, but companies, wealthy organisations and even schools commissioned large stained glass windows listing all their fallen.
The Baltic Exchange in the City of London commissioned a set of memorial windows for its semi-circular apse when it was based at 30 St Mary Axe. These windows by the stained glass artist John Dudley Forsyth were severely damaged by an IRA bomb which exploded on the 10 April 1992. Since then they have been restored and are now installed at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London. As this set of windows is now at standing height if you look carefully you can spot depictions of various WW1 war machines.
In Southwark Cathedral, London, two three light windows by Hardman & Co were installed in memory of those who had died during the conflict. One window commemorates the 386 employees of the South Metropolitan Gas Company and the other window the staff from the Oxo company who also lost their lives.
Of course regiments commissioned memorial windows and the King’s Own Regiment has a large, three-light window in the north nave aisle of Norwich Cathedral. It shows a central image of St George, but it has paintings of soldiers in the trenches in the panels either side. One is shown cleaning a rifle and the other shows a stretcher-bearer waiting for casualties.
It hasn’t been just fighters and machinery that have been depicted in these First World War memorial windows. In the small village of Swaffham Prior in Cambridgeshire, their local church, St Mary the Virgin, has a light that shows women working in an armaments factory.
But despite all these long lists and large community windows every now and then a simple, small single light dedicated to two brothers can be found in a tiny village church – reminding us that each name on a long list had been an individual life extinguished by war.