Travelling around Europe, you’ll never be far from a war memorial of some sort. I’m big into history and come from a family with strong military connections, so I tend to find them.
When I started this post I wanted to write a profound opening. But I haven’t the words, and on reflection I don’t think they’re needed. I’ll simply say that these are some of the memorials I’ve found on my travels that have stayed with me.
Monument to the Battle of the Nations , Leipzig
Starting with this one because the sheer scale of it blew me away.
The Monument to the Battle of the Nations or the Völkerschlachtdenkmal was built to honour those fallen in the 1813 Battle of the Nations. The battle saw Napoleon defeated on German soil, but with immense loss of life. In a brutal twist, German soldiers were pitched against each other as Napoleons force included conscripted Germans from annexed lands.
Standing at 90m high, presiding over a lake designed to make a feature of it’s reflection and dressed with carved soldiers, horses and angels, it’s jaw dropping and thought provoking. It took 15 years to complete and was officially dedicated in 1913. All the more poignant when you consider how events unfolded in the following decades.
Korean War Memorial, Glasgow
Sometimes called ‘the forgotten war’. The one that, until recently, I knew little about. Nearly 60,000 British troops saw action, both Regular and National Service. And so soon after the storm of WW2. They shouldn’t be forgotten. This modest but striking memorial is a touching tribute. One that inspires me to learn more.
Wojtek the Soldier Bear , Edinburgh
If you like a good story, pull up a seat. Wojtek , pronounced voy-tek, was just a cub when he was acquired by Polish soldiers in the mountains of what was then known as Persia. The soldiers weaned him with condensed milk from a vodka bottle, then gave him a taste for beer and cigarettes and made him one of their own.
As the Polish army fought in Italy, a dilemma. Bears were not permitted on the frontline. A simple solution; Wojtek enlisted. Issued a pay book and a service number, he went into action. He marched with his men, carried ammunition crates and was promoted to Corporal. Such was his courage and commitment, the 22nd Artillery Supply Company adopted him as their emblem.
Today his statue stands in Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh, a beautiful sculpture for a fabulous story. Wojtek lived out his days at Edinburgh Zoo where he lived until the ripe old bear age of 21. What a life he packed into those years.
The War Horse, Romsey
Commemorating both the horse on the battlefield and the role of Romsey in the First World War, there is much to like about this bronze man-and-horse creation. A bit of background; during WW1, the Romsey Remount Depot stood to the SW of the town. Here, horses were trained for military action before being shipped to the battlefields of France and Belgium. Post war, the depot was demolished and the rubble used to raise the land and create the War Memorial Park. That’s where you’ll find The War Horse memorial.
Under each corner of the memorial sits a horse shoe recovered from the battlefields of France. A Remount Depot cap badge and terracotta horses created by local children were also set into the footings. In a final flourish of loveliness, the job of creating this tribute was awarded to local artist Amy Goodman.
Stolpersteine or ‘Stumbling Blocks’
The Stolpersteine. Commemorative brass plaques that can be found all over Europe and even beyond. None in the UK though. Why? Because each one remembers a victim- or sometimes a survivor of – the Holocaust. One stone, one name, one person.
The artist responsible for the project, Gunter Demnig, insists that each stone is made by hand and he personally installs as many as possible. The stone is generally installed at the last place the person lived of their own free will, but can also be laid at other locations such as a university or places of work.
Each stone may be small- just ten centimetres square- but in direct opposition to a regime that waged mass war and reduced people to numbers, they give each person represented a name and context. It’s an amazing project and I’d urge everyone to find out more here. My brief explanation doesn’t do the project justice, but I couldn’t not include it.
The Small Town German Memorial
During two postings in Germany, I had a great time exploring literally and historically. I’ll tactfully say; Remembrance in Germany can be a tricky topic. However, most small towns do have a memorial to the fallen. Some simple, some striking but always worth a look.
Many feature the figure of a soldier wearing a steel combat helmet along with lists of losses, often highlighting a series of bereavements within a single family. They drive home the point that the Nazi leadership might have been guilty of raging into war, but the German people suffered greatly.
Of the many town and village memorials I found along the way, this one sticks in my memory. Because I found it just after I’d watched Generation War and the statue looks just like the brothers at the centre of the story. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend. Tom Schilling is brilliant as Friedhelm , portraying a sensitive and bookish young man transformed into a battle hardened soldier.
The G.I Brides
I’m stretching the definition of a war memorial here, but stick with me. I think remembrance should extend to those whose lives were irrevocably changed by war and the G.I or ‘war brides’ would certainly be that. Becoming a G.I bride provided a route to a new life beyond war weary Britain but for many it was the beginning of challenges new rather than a Hollywood ending. Imagine- life in a new country, far from family and friends with a man they didn’t know out of uniform.
I’ve been tracing the path of these resilient women lately as the garrison I call home was a transit camp. The barracks allocated wives being processed before sailing to the USA via Southampton is still in use. I found, tucked away in a military building, a small tribute to these women. I’m hoping to shed to a bit of light on their stories while I’m here. Please excuse the hastily snapped mobile shots, I only had minutes to get a good look and a few shots. Many faced hardships, but ultimately found happy endings.
Happy endings… that’s a good place to sign off. Tell me about the memorials that have stayed with you?