Today’s blog post was written by one of our volunteers, Richard.
‘I am the enemy you killed, my friend…’
Wilfred Owen ‘Strange Meeting’
The reference in an earlier blog post to memorials to nationals of enemy countries may seem strange, although in recent times new memorials have been erected with inscriptions intended not to cause offence by referring to all victims of war or conflict.
While such inscriptions may seem colourless, if well-intended, they do recognize that the advance of technology during the twentieth century rendered civilian populations in wartime vulnerable to an unprecedented extent. So for example small children killed in Dresden or Hiroshima were as blameless as their counterparts in a Poplar school killed in a German air raid on London’s docklands in 1917. (Click to see memorial record)
Distinct from this, there is the recognition that it’s advisable for all concerned for there to be some constraints on the conduct of war, and part of this is the respect, including war memorials, paid to the enemy’s dead: some examples were quoted previously.
Another example is the memorial to French prisoners of war at Norman Cross on the A1 in Cambridgeshire. Significantly this was not unveiled until nearly a century after Waterloo, not long after the Entente Cordiale and shortly before the outbreak of the First World War. Some Napoleonic memorials, however, are rather earlier such as the one at HM Prison, Dartmoor, and one now at Chatham. On this one part of the inscription refers to ‘...many brave soldiers and sailors who…have been laid in an honourable grave by a nation which knows how to respect valour and to sympathise with misfortune.’
From the First World War a German teacher is commemorated on a memorial at Manchester Grammar School. At Oxford at the insistence of the Warden of New College, Dr Spooner (he of the spoonerism), a tablet to three German students was unveiled in the 1920s, amid some controversy.
Recent research has established that Gerhard Brumund, included on the Great Central Railway’s memorial at Sheffield was born in Germany. He was killed when that company’s steamship SS Leicester hit a mine in the English Channel and sank in 1916.
Some enemies died in the skies over Britain. In the First World War, SL11 a German Army airship, was shot down over Cuffley in Hertfordshire in 1916 by Lt William Leefe Robinson. He was awarded the VC for ‘most conspicuous bravery’ in attacking the first German airship destroyed on British soil. The crew of SL11 were buried with full military honours at Potters Bar, the vicar of Cuffley having refused them burial. The photo opposite shows the last moments of SL 11, in flames above Hertfordshire. In 1967 the graves of Germans who died in Britain during the two world wars, including the crew of SL11, were concentrated at the Cannock Chase German War Cemetery in Staffordshire.
At King’s Somborne in Hampshire is a small memorial to the crew of a Luftwaffe plane downed in 1940. A more substantial Second World War memorial at St Peter’s Italian church in central London commemorates enemy aliens, both Italian and German, lost when the Arandora Star carrying them to internment in Canada was torpedoed in 1940 by the German submarine U47. As a reminder that political alliances are not necessarily unchanging, the same church has a memorial to its members in the war of 1915-1918 (sic) killed at a time when Italy was one of Britain’s allies.