Globes in Memorial Art
Somehow, the use of the globe – a sphere – in art is such a grandiose and pompous statement. It is also a hackneyed one, so ubiquitous as to be meaningless. Perhaps one might associate its use most readily with claims to authority, knowledge, global domination, worldwide communications or futuristic aspirations of whatever form. We find them, for example, in the many logos of corporations and movie studios.
It might seem obvious, but when we look at spheres and globes in modern art before the 1950s, we have to imagine the use of the form by people who had never seen images of the Earth from space but since the Renaissance were accustomed to having globes in their homes, libraries and other public art and representations.
Trying to get back to this pre-spaceflight era and the connotations of globes, is for me a challenge, and I am sure I’m not alone. To see the globe in the context of a war memorial, invoking imaginations of ‘world war’, of global mourning and aspirations for international peace and order, it seems both futile and powerfully idealistic. Yet in our age of conflicts that stretch around the world, where natural, climatic, military and terrorist dimensions threaten to, and do, kill, maim and dislocate thousands upon thousands each year, we cannot shun the power of the globe.
Bangor is y Coed
Opened in 1925, the war memorial at Bangor is y Coed (historically part of Flintshire, then Clwyd and now Wrexham) is striking in a number of regards. It is located in a dedicated garden space between the churchyard of St Dunawd’s parish church and the medieval bridge over the River Dee. As such, the memorial space neatly draws upon secular and sacred pasts. Made of Woolton sandstone, its focal point is a column, perhaps alluding to the Roman past of triumphal columns akin to the nearby Pillar of Eliseg. At its top is a mourning figure of victory holding a wreath in each of her hands. Upon the column are the names of the 23 men of the parish who died in the First World War.
Behind the column is a semi-circular bench with a dedicatory text upon it:
AD MAJOREM DEI GLORIAM/ IN GRATEFUL REMEMBRANCE OF THE MEN OF THIS PARISH WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES IN THE GREAT WAR/ ALL THESE WERE HONOURED IN THEIR GENERATIONS AND WERE THE GLORY OF THEIR TIMES./ ECCLESIASTICUS XLIV-VII. (IWM memorial inventory)
Yet the globes of this memorial are perhaps its most striking element and yet seem to have escaped comment. The stone semi-circular bench is framed by two stone posts, each with spheres with bands around their circumference bearing the years ‘1914’ and ‘1918’. The globes enshrine a biography to the memorial. The depressing reiteration of ‘1939’ and ‘1945’ under each year respectively, rededicates the memorial to the dead of the Second World War as well, whose names are not appended.
Trees and Drains
The memorial’s biography is enhanced in at least two other ways. First, there is also a memorial tree commemorating 50 years of ‘peace in Europe’, planted in 1995. Second, there is the adjacent creation of a street light from the elements of the village’s Victorian drainage system. The light incorporates the vent pipe and hand-operated flush valve that were part of the holding chamber used in the drain flushing system. Water was thus hand-pumped from the Dee and flushed the village’s main drain each day.
This is a very distinctive memorial, and yet the globes take the subject from the locality to the world. The globes frame time and space, linking the losses of this one village to a global field of conflict as well as perhaps aspirations for global peace. Amidst the many symbolic dimensions of war memorials, nothing better for me makes the connection to the idea of the global village, in all its idealism and pomposity and the power these qualities bring.