While we were out yesterday, I told Simon about the Liverpool Cenotaph. It is the most unusual and affecting cenotaph I have ever seen because it not only memorialises the dead, it also depicts the other side of the story by representing the mourners left behind.
It stands on the St George's plateau just below the vast, neo-classical St George's Hall which is all Greek and Roman influence, repetition of tall columns, friezes and steps, a monument to reason, enlightenement, and justice. Instead of being tall and thin, this cenotaph is shaped like a huge bier, a solid but simple elongated rectangle which fits perfectly with the building behind.
But it's the bronze reliefs on either side which make it so moving. On one side are the soldiers and sailors in various hats and uniforms, marching of to war in perfect formation, all looking as straight and as rigid as the neo-classical columns behind them, all facing the same direction which is, inevitably, death. You can't help thinking that they look like automata, dehumanised by the terrible conflict.
So what is wonderful is that on the other side of the monument is an equally huge relief which shows those left behind: the mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, the old and the young, laying wreaths in a remembrance ceremony, with stiff rows of graves in the background. Unlike the soldiers their heads are bowed, their shoulders are stooped, the men are hatless, the women are weary but defiant, and the children look innocent.
It was unveiled in 1930 and it's utterly of that time; it crystallises a response to something everyone must have thought would never happen again. The late 1920s clothes, hats, shoes and hair styles are frozen in bronze, and make it quite clear that no-one thought for a moment that they woud be having to add the dates of the Second World War to one end of the monument.
I can't think of another cenotaph which shows both the dead and the mourners, and it seems to me that this facing up to reality and not glossing over the horror is typical of Liverpool and Liverpudlians. Until Simon asked me, I hadn't considered which relief was on which side. In fact, the soldiers face the Hall, the voice of authority, the call to arms, the expectation that duty will be done. The mourners, the civilians, face the throngs of ordinary people who exit the great Liverpool Street Station every day. It's an orientation which undermines the establishment, and elevates ordinary people. It chimes perfectly with the spirit of the city, and with the speech which Bill Kenwright made at the recent Hillsborough memorial service in which he said that the two greatest words in the English language were "my mum".
When we got home we had a telephone call to say that Simon's brother had died. He'd suffered a long and at times harrowing illness; he wasn't young but nor was he old. The mourners on the beautiful Liverpool cenotaph remind us clearly and simply that 'in the midst of life we are in death'.