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Skip to 0 minutes and 9 seconds BRUCE SCATES: We’ve heard a lot about the search for the missing and the dead. I want to talk a little bit now about how the fallen were commemorated. What meanings lie behind your local war memorial? We’re gazing down now at the very centre of London. It’s Whitehall, the intersection of Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, the embankment of the Thames. And here, in the very centre of London, what do we find? We find a war memorial– the Cenotaph, at once the most minimalist and the most eloquent form a war memorial can possibly take. We found the Cenotaph by searching for Whitehall in the UK War Memorial Database.

Skip to 0 minutes and 51 seconds This database was one of the first in the world to systematically locate and classify war memorials by location. Like most websites, it’s still evolving, amassing a wealth of information about when a memorial was built, who designed it, what meanings it hoped to impart, and who exactly is commemorated. In the case of London’s Cenotaph, this memorial honoured all the fallen, all the Empire’s armies, over a million dead. But the memorials you can visit on this site and many others just like it across the world remember communities large and small, and they take a myriad of different forms. Like every memorial, the Cenotaph embodies a story. And really, the name says it all.

Skip to 1 minute and 40 seconds Cenotaph is a Greek word, and it means “an empty tomb.” The decision by the British Empire not to repatriate the dead meant that families had no body to mourn. This empty tomb, a sarcophagus lifted into the sky, became a surrogate grave– as, in a sense, is every war memorial. Today, it’s impossible to imagine Whitehall without the Cenotaph. Now it’s part of the cityscape of London. But when it was first built, it wasn’t intended as a permanent structure, just as a symbolic centrepiece for the peace celebrations of 1919 you can see here. People adopted this memorial. It became a place of pilgrimage, a focus for their grief.

Skip to 2 minutes and 26 seconds And so this memorial came to be re-made, a fragile structure of plaster and timber carved forever into stone, remade and reinvented. As you can see by memorial websites the world over, replicas of the Cenotaph were raised in all the outposts of the empire– in Hong Kong and Bermuda, in Auckland and Johannesburg, in Singapore and Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. This website, featuring Hamilton’s Cenotaph, was hosted by the University of Newfoundland, itself a memorial. And it contains information about hundreds of memorials right throughout the Canadian provinces.

Skip to 3 minutes and 10 seconds And here in Australia, that are similar initiatives, like this site hosted by the New South Wales Government– a register of war memorials featuring not just these stunning images but also a wealth of information about inscriptions, the day of dedication, and enabling you to search by a name. Lutyens hoped to breathe new life into classicism, mounting that symbolic coffin on a perfectly proportioned pylon. Its bulk diminishes as it rises, subtle curves in the structure creating a sense of weightlessness, lifting your eyes up towards the heavens. So for some, the Cenotaph here became a symbol of hope, a memorial that helped to heal.

How to find the location of war memorials

Watch Bruce Scates guide you through the process of finding the location of war memorials on the Imperial War Museums website.

Note: Websites referred to in this presentation were accessed in early 2015 and there may have been minor modifications to some of the sites since then.

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World War 1: A History in 100 Stories

Monash University

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