Remembrance Day this year took on a particularly poignant nature as it also marks the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, making it important to contemplate not just why, but how we remember. Here at DMU we’re having people gather to observe the two minutes silence in Hawthorne Square.
Student Arif Dhirani said that what adds to the importance of Remembrance Day is that “in its wave we are able to consider other wars of recent times too.”
The Archive and Special Collections department put together an exhibition at Trinity House about what was happening at the Leicester Municipal Technical and Art School (which would later become DMU) as well as profiling the lives of students and staff during the conflict.
The exhibition provided an insight into the pursuits, talents and trades of those whose lives would be forever altered by the declaration of war in 1914, such as art student Walter Frank Vernon Anson who died in combat at the age of 27, his work had previously been displayed nationally and he was praised by a critic in The Observer.
Speaking about the DMU activities which included lectures on compassion in the war and ethnic minority communities in the war, Chris Joyce, a history student who is also a parade marshal said that it was definitely a responsibility of the university as a central part of the Leicester community to have commemorated the war.
During November when Remembrance Day arrives, bringing with it time for reflection, people often talk of the responsibility we have to ensure lessons are learned. Above all is the lesson that the results of a failure in communication and struggles for power can have unforgiving and disastrous effects on our humanity.
Three students of the Art School died during the Battle of Loos, which resulted in 3,643 casualties occurring in the first ten minutes of action. According to the research this was described as “nothing but the useless slaughter of infantry” by an Official History of the War. Historians shall continue to debate the conflict, as they should and politicians will continue to use the public’s shared grief and pride in the extraordinary actions of individuals during the war to promote agendas and drive home a message of nationalism.
Therefore, it is important that politicians are not allowed to dominate the debates and questions surrounding our collective past to the point where people feel removed from what happened, or to the point where the discussion revolves around who held the moral high ground in their motivations a hundred years ago.
As the war travels further out of living memory, is it not time to shift the emphasis onto the indisputable overwhelming human tragedy of the war? Without dividing people into victors and losers and once upon a time enemies, we can move towards a more inclusive remembrance.
Perhaps, one hundred years on, it is time to move away from notions of blame that create the idea of what Simon Jenkins in January this year referred to in The Guardian as “the unknown, awful German.” This might lead to Germany feeling comfortable enough under the international gaze to finally mourn the loss of life and potential that their own nation incurred too.
Other research is also underway with Journalism lecturers John Dilley and David Penman who have focused on two regional papers during the war and how they were reporting stories. David Penman has said one of the most interesting things he had read so far was a letter published in the Ashbourne Telegraph at the beginning of the war from an anonymous reader with claims of men being bullied and harassed into enlisting.
There is still a tendency within the national commemorative events to focus on those who fought and sacrificed their lives in battle when we should also take the time to commemorate the experiences and decisions of those who refused to fight such as people like John H Brookes, a drawing and painting instructor at the Art School in Leicester during the early years of the war who was registered as a conscientious objector.
Thinking about the fear, opposition and reluctance that some people felt towards the war is crucial in developing an honest understanding of the horrific events that shadowed Europe at the time. In providing so many different perspectives, students were given the opportunity last week to pay their respects by learning more about the individuals and the unprecedented circumstances they found themselves in.
Take a look at DMU lecturers; John Dilley and David Penman’s blogs: