Creating new memories from the old?

On the 6th June 2021 in the small and assuming town of Ver-sur-Mer, and in front of a small but distinguished audience, the British Normandy Memorial was officially opened. It records the names of the 22,442 people who were killed on D-Day and at the Battle of Normandy. Seventy-seven years to the day and at a cost of £30 million, Paul Harris, grandson of Private George Hanks who fought that day, reflected that finally, his memory has been preserved.

The striking memorial sits atop a hillside overlooking Gold Beach, one of three where British soldiers landed that morning of 6th June 1944. The site consists of a temple-like structure containing 160 stone columns inscribed with the names of  the dead. As someone whose own grandfather fought in the Battle for Normandy, the memorial is a fitting reminder of a day that resonates with the British public. But it also gives us a chance to recall what Max Arthur dubbed ‘the forgotten voices of the Second World War,’ not necessarily those we would think of when seeing Ellis’ bold bronze statue of three charging infantrymen at the site. One name in particular is noteworthy – that of 27-year-old Sister Mollie Evershed. She was on a Hospital Carrier ship, the Amsterdam, treating casualties from Juno Beach when the ship hit a mine. As it sank, she and another nurse went below decks and carried 75 men to safety, helping them into a waiting lifeboat which sadly went down with the ship.

This year I asked one pupil, Ben in Year 6, to be at the forefront of remembrance work in school. Given images of the memorial itself, Ben composed a short piece of drumming to capture the emotion and gravity of it. It was a pleasure to award Ben the first ‘Remembrance colour’ to recognise his contribution. You can view his piece here.

So as the 11th November passes again, what can this memorial teach us? Well first and foremost, that memory continues to be important – it is a significant part of our cultural heritage and has the power to shape the modern day and beyond. Secondly, that remembrance continues to play a part in uncovering stories and discourse hidden or neglected – something so necessary to engage with today. But for me, most important is that the old can continue to inspire the new. Reflecting on the project, the Prime Minister said that "perhaps [it] should have been done 30 or 40 years ago". Ben’s work simply proves that it was important it was done. It was a real pleasure to see a young person from Yateley Manor consider a memory and give a project time, thought and effort.

 

Neil Davis
Head of History and RS