I can hear the nation / I can hear the nation cry
Memorials and places of remembrance often take many forms, depending on what, or who, they are aiming to remember. There are the familiar cenotaphs of various towns across Britain, the tomb of the Unknown Warrior which lies in Westminster Abbey and the other memorials to similarly unknown soldiers which are scattered all over the world.
There are certain memorials to the civilian dead which are also to be seen across the country; I came across one in Whitby. It was not one which I had seen before, despite having walked the same route into the town for as long as I can recall. It was put in place in 2014, a few years ago now.
The backdrop to the memorial is the sea, which perhaps accounts for, what I found, to be the slightly jarring nature of the piece. The memorial itself is fashioned after a bombarded house, the walls low and half blasted away. The shell of the rooms are painted a bright, sunshine yellow and in the centre of what represents a living room (a fireplace, a small clock on the mantle) is an unexploded shell. A small cat sits on the edge of the window.
It is jarring in that one does not expect it – it does not fit seamlessly into the landscape like so many memorials do. The yellow is almost acidic, especially against the grey sky and grey sea as I found it last weekend. The jarring nature is twofold with the large shell in the centre of the room, perhaps a signifier for the ultimately jarring nature of warfare, and especially this point in the war when it was suddenly very, very near and not at all miles away as the wars before had been.
Not fitting is by no means a bad thing. It means that I stopped to look at it and I wondered what precisely it was for. Despite the fact that there is a small sign reading “1914-2014” on the side of the wall, it is not immediately obvious on first glance. The presence of a domestic space, buffeted by the wind and torn open by metal, left bare to the wind, rain and spray.
A board beside the memorial reveals what the intent of this little piece of bombed out homestead. This piece commemorates the two deaths in Whitby which were a result of the bombardment on the east coast on 16th December 1914. The raid also affected Scarborough and Hartlepool.
In this memorial, we are told of the courage of the people in the town who picked themselves up, dusted themselves off and continued on – a familiar-ish narrative, but one that is still worth hearing, noting and giving thought to.