1914 centenary – a personal response

Wilf Deckner was born in 1952 in Northern Germany. He came to the UK over 40 years ago and was educated at the universities of Manchester and Oxford. For the past twenty-odd years he has worked in the Somerset Library Service and now works as an assistant at the Somerset Heritage Centre.

Having serious misgivings over the apparent direction and tone of the coming World War One commemorations, almost a year ago he started writing a sequence of poems, entitled ‘What Somerset Remembers, What Somerset Forgets’.

Each of these pieces deals with an individual aspect of the war, employing a mix of narrative, lament and polemic to raise questions concerning the gap between reality and remembrance, between critical reflection and unthinking partisanship, in order to clarify his own position with regard to these issues, and in the hope that others, too, might find them of use in this respect, even if only in opposition to what they say.

What Somerset Remembers, What Somerset Forgets
Dedicated to the memory of Isaac Rosenberg (Bristol, November 1890 – April 1918, Fampoux/Arras)

“And some there be, which have no memorial”
(Apocrypha: Ecclesiasticus 44:9)

Prologue: Beyond Time and Place

In August 2014, when Somerset puts on display
Its documents and memorabilia, does Somerset
Remember what they’re not: merely exciting objects,
A sad and sobering sight instead, reeking of death,
A country’s headlong rush into collective madness
One hundred years ago? Does Somerset remember
To challenge us through an unflinching scrutiny,
Not smother painful insights with easy consolation?

In August 2014, does Somerset remember neither
Our reverence nor patriotism are enough
To grasp the consequences of war still felt today?
Does Somerset remember, assembling information
Becomes a pointless exercise, without an over-arching
Context to integrate these facts into a whole,
Whereas centenary events that don’t discomfort
Reduce remembrance to a worthless game?

In August 2014, does Somerset remember nothing
Beyond its boundaries, mistaking Tolstoy’s maxim,
“For true universality, speak of your village”,
To mean its memories make sense in isolation?
Does Somerset remember, its tragic local
Losses are mirrored in the senseless waste
Of human life on all sides of the conflict?

Does Somerset remember the war as a grim time
For Somerset, but worse for Europe’s nations,
On whose terrain the war was fought, enduring
Far heavier losses even amongst aggressors?
Or are we fated to begin this century
Just as disastrously as we began the last,
The memory of Europe’s tragedy again
Dishonoured in the telling, in August 2014?

Disclaimer: The sequence of poems articulates purely personal views, which remain the sole responsibility of their author. They are not shared or endorsed by the Somerset Heritage Service. Wilf Deckner (Taunton, August 2013 – July 2014).

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