Today, November 11, 2018, I went to Ayr Beach to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War through the Pages of the Sea, a project developed by Danny Boyle to mark the centenary.
On selected beaches around the UK, over the course of several hours, a portrait of an individual from the First World War will emerge from the sand. And then, as the tide rises, be washed away as we take a moment to say a collective goodbye.
The soldier selected for the sand portait in Ayr was Walter Tull, Britain’s second black professional footballer and the first black officer in the British Army -despite the fact that black officers were not allowed in the British army then! He undertook part of his officer training in Ayrshire and was killed in in action in 1918. I don’t think I can actually comprehend the number of other battles Walter must have had to fight during his lifetime before going to France.
As well as the large portraits, people on the beach are able to make a silhouette of a service person to mark their own act of remembrance. Walking on Ayr beach today, I found these silhouettes to have an incredible emotional impact, highlighting the pointlessness of that (and indeed any) war. Far more impact than watching lines of politicians laying wreaths in city centre memorials.
Like many of my generation, I ‘know’ that war through art, primarily poetry. The words of Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and the other war poets that I was introduced to at school and have stayed with me.
I always mark remembrance day, not to glorify war, but to remember all those who died. I never knew my great grand father who died during it, or my grand father who was a boy messenger and was wounded during the battle for the Somme. He died the year I was born. I do wonder just quite what they would have made of me, my life, my politics.
It is still important to remember, to understand the politics of that time, the changes in national, international, gender and racial politics that wrapped around that war and unfurled onto the rest of the 20th century. Despite the advances we may have made, war still seems to be our ultimate threat and answer. We don’t seem to be able to end wars any more, just displace them, or rename them as Troubles, insurgencies . . . the economics of the war machine it seems can never be stopped.
The current Poet Laurette, Carol Ann Duffy has written a poem, The Wound in Time, as part of the project. Once again poetry giving us all the words. If you only do one thing this remembrance day, read The Wound in Time.