Everyone is familiar with the traditional symbols, places and times associated with Remembrance Day. This year’s Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal, launched just under two weeks ago, hopes to sell 45 million poppies, the nationally recognised symbol of remembrance in the UK. Yet, the 2012 Poppy Appeal also incorporates a new and innovative method to encourage society to mark the 2 minutes silence at 11am on Sunday 11th November. By using the social media tool “Thunderclap” it is intended that the same message will be posted simultaneously on thousands of Twitter and Facebook profiles as a symbol of remembrance. In doing this the Royal British Legion’s appeal for remembering the fallen moves into a new space of remembrance, alongside the more traditional commemorations that take place at the Cenotaph in Whitehall and at local war memorials across the country.
Changes in the spaces and acts of remembrance have this year also been the subject of geographical consideration. The work of Jenkings et al. (2012) “Wootton Bassett and the political spaces of remembrance and mourning” uses print media analysis to consider how the Wiltshire market town became a nationally recognised space of remembrance as a result of British military action in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the course of their work they explore how this space spontaneously became a site of memory and remembrance, yet a site that ultimately became temporary in nature following the decision to relocate the destination of repatriation flights away from RAF Lyneham. It is therefore clear from both the innovative use of spaces and symbols by the Royal British Legion and the temporary use of urban areas as spaces of memory and remembrance that geography still has much to offer and yet much to learn about the contemporary uses of space.
In 1985 a tapestry of the Picasso masterpiece ‘Guernica’ was donated to the United Nations by Nelson Rockefeller in recognition of the international mandate held by the organisation. The artwork depicts the catastrophic consequences of a distant geo-politik that pitted a superior military air power against an unsuspecting rural, artisinal village. Hitler had agreed to help Franco with his nationalistic ambitions, the plan sent German and Italian bombs reigning down on the small Basque village of Guernica in northern Spain. On market day, at 4.40pm on April 26th 1937, three hours of non-stop carpet bombing and high-calibre gun-fire began amidst the sounds of the only defence the villagers could muster – the church bells. The town was reduced to rubble with most of the casualties predictably, women, children and animals (arguably the result of choosing market day to perpetrate this act of violence). The strategy sought to demoralise the Basque people who stood in the way of absolute power for Franco.
The painting ‘Guernica’ depicting the scene painted by Picasso, who was living in Paris at the time, only returned to Spain in 1981 due to Picasso’s request that only when democracy ruled should the painting be repatriated. The painting has come to represent many things to many people all over the world in the various countries in which it was exhibited, most often an anti-war symbol or a rebuttal to nationalism but sometimes such historical artefacts continue to have resonance in the present day.
On the 5th February 2003, General Colin Powell addressed the United Nations Security Council attempting to convince them of the need to invade Iraq. Later upon leaving, he walked through the hallway of the 2nd floor where politicians would traditionally stand for the cameras and past a tapestry of the iconic anti-war symbol ‘Guernica’ which unusually, on this occasion had been covered with an enormous drape. However, though Picasso’s warning was hidden and silenced, in hindsight the message is deafening, and perhaps timely, this remembrance Sunday.