Seafronts and seasides are well-recognised foci for memorial benches, places of beauty, tranquility, and engagement with the outdoors and both landscapes and seascapes. They afford links between favourite spots for the dead person(s) and living visitors who take benefit from the bench. The dead are giving a view and a rest to the living as I have discussed before here.
I experienced a striking instance last year on Holy Island walking from Lindisfarne town to the castle, a place popular for its wildlife, archaeology and spirituality. This popular route for visitors to the island and the National Trust property is punctuated by regular benches lining the dry stone wall to the west of the road. Offering a sheltered place to rest, they are both functional and memorial. Those commemorated vary: islanders, locals and those from farther afield, but what they share is ‘love of the island’ as well as affinities between the living and the dead.
What is also striking is the different patinas of the benches and their inscriptions as much as the contents of the inscriptions; the wear tells of the passing time and exposure to the elements as they perform their memorial form, affording seated vistas over the sea towards Bamburgh Castle.
One of the most striking memorial inscriptions is situated upon a particularly well-kept bench established in 2010, commemorating the five Norwegians who made the brave journey in a small boat across the North Sea during the height of the Second World War in November 1941 to escape the German occupation of Norway. Three subsequent died having joined the Canadian forces fighting to liberate Europe from the Nazi regime:
“In great gratitude for the good welcome for our five freedom-fighters: Tor Mod Abrahamsen, Nib Havve, Sven Moe, Jan Stumph and Kay Thorsen, received here on Holy Island, 5 November 1941, after crossing the sea in a small boat.”
This was a journey worthy of, and indeed excelling the feats of many a Viking adventurer! It hasn’t been lost how these daring contrast with the infamous AD 793 Viking raid on Lindisfarne for which Norway has now said sorry as discussed here.
As part of a project visit for the Past in its Place project, this encounter served as a salient reminder of the close connection between place, movement and memory in the contemporary memorial landscape, in which relationships to views and to routes between prominent and well-visited locations defines the mnemonic power of the bench.
Here are some of the memorial plaques on the benches, displaying the aforementioned affinity between the living and the dead to place as well as the striking effects of wind and weather.