The anniversary of the First World War has seen many new memorials, some intended to serve as a mechanism to celebrate forgotten dimensions of the conflict, others to restore to memory those whose memorials have been lost in the intervening decades. The sense of both rehabilitating memories and restoring memorials has been key to the anniversary celebrations in their many diverse forms.
In my travels, the most prominent new railway memorial I’ve witnessed is in Manchester. Replacing of a bronze plaque removed during 1960s refurbishment of Manchester Piccadilly, May 2016 saw a new war memorial prominently located on the concourse between platforms 10 and 11. It records the names of 87 men of the LNWR who died serving on the British armed forces between 1914 and 1919 (from a total of 580 staff from the station who served). It was opened with a wreath-laying ceremony attended by relatives of those listed as well as Michael Portillo. And as with so many of these memorials, it has been the result of an initiative involving sustained campaigning and research by railway workers themselves: in this case two Virgin Trains train managers.
The memorial is composed of grey marble and comprises a flat-topped pillar with a three-stepped base. The front of the memorial looks down the platform towards the main concourse. Either side of the LNWR insignia are the years 1914 and 1919. Below it reads:
LONDON & NORTH
IN THE SERVICE OF
AND AS A
TO ALL THOSE
This is followed by the following smaller text:
THOSE NAMED HERE WERE
ON THE LONG ROAD
Finally, on the first step it reads
“WE WILL REMEMBER THEM”
On the other three sides, the names of the fallen are listed alphabetically, each below an etched wreath with the years denoted on either side.
Railway memorials have been regularly transplanted and sometimes lost as stations evolve. The choice made to create a prominent monument within a concourse space helps to secure its prominence and perpetuation over the long term on the most prominent route between the terminus platforms and through-line platforms (13 and 14). In this regard, the memorial is far more than a rehabilitation, it exceeds the prominence of many wall-mounted war memorials at major UK city railway stations.
Yet the form is also rather jarring and speaks to early 21st-century limitations and managements of war memorials within transport and commercial public spaces. Despite its relatively large size, it is diminutive its context, dwarfed by the scale of the many other architectural features and spaces around it. It therefore hardly impedes on the movement of people and trolleys.
Another feature, is that it hasn’t been created with any context: no seats, and no facility to gather in a demarcated zone for ceremonies. The three ‘steps’ are actually shallow, sloping ridges, preventing anyone from readily climbing or engaging with the memorial: including as a part of this the traditional use of these space for laying wreaths.
It therefore is rendered a somewhat isolated and lonely memorial within the wider fenced or demarcated space associated with village war memorials. It alludes architecturally to the memorial tradition of the early 20th century, and yet is unquestionably a modern rendition, lacking any material ‘literacy’ by its creators for how war memorials are intended to operate as foci of larger memorial environments. Most jarring for me is the shiny buffer which prevent impacts from trolleys and other forms of station traffic yet serves to exacerbate a sense of the memorial’s isolation as a lonely memorial focus in an undifferentiated sea of concourse.