Remembering the Soldiers of the Somme

I don’t think the Brits could have asked for a more appropriate and moving tribute to those soldiers who were lost on this 100th anniversary of the battle of the Somme. On July 1, thousands of “ghost soldiers” descended on public spaces throughout the country. Reenactors handed out small cards with information about the soldiers they represented. Apart from the occasional singing of “We Are Here” the men remained silent.

Over the past ten years I have written about a wide range of very thoughtful and moving commemorative events that honor the Civil War soldier, but other than a small handful, I can’t say that they rise to this level of emotional engagement. I can only imagine what it was like to witness it in person.

It also leaves me wondering what lessons might be learned moving forward about how Americans honor and remember Civil War soldiers.

About Kevin Levin

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7 comments add yours

  1. Well done, well said. No lightness.

    Whenever I see something like this, I say, “dang, why didn’t I think of that.”

    Good for them.

  2. When I saw this post early in the morning on July 1, I did all I could to get the word out. I even made our mail carrier come in & look at the video! (after all, he has delivered hundreds of books to me as I worked on my Masters).

    What a wonderful, wonderful tribute! As we in the ACW community ponder how to grow interest in our war, reenactors always come into the conversation. As a former one of those rare birds, I know I got tired of two groups lining up against each other and firing weapons. It was much more interesting to do the civilian work of attempting to recreate a tiny slice of the home front, North or South. This effort from the British makes me realize that, perhaps, there might be a better way, or at least a different way, to represent Civil War soldiers and citizens.

      • I think you may be onto something, and that the limit of popular interest in the Late Unpleasantness may have been reached during the Sesquicentennial. It already must be one of the top 3 or 4 topics in American history in terms of public knowledge and interest. Perhaps the best we can do as historians and educators is “hold the line” and emphasize to the public the importance of accurate interpretations based on research.

  3. The Brits are more glorifying their Colonial Empire than remembering the dead. Be wary of any remembrances of the British – they think they civilized the world. I’m a believer in American exceptionalism. We cleaned up most of the mess that the European colonial powers made of the world, not only in Europe but in the so called third world.

    • The Brits are more glorifying their Colonial Empire than remembering the dead.

      Certainly, this particular commemorative act can be interpreted differently, but I don’t see how anyone can conclude that the intent was to ‘glorify the empire.’

  4. I really liked what the designer of this project said about a mobile war memorial–a memorial that “comes to you.” Just lovely.

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