Anzac · Australia · Canada · community identity · Cultural Heritage · Cultural icon · festivals · First World War · Heritage · Historical consciousness · Historical Research · Historical thinking · history · Local History · Medical history · Modernism · Monuments · Moveable Heritage · myths · Place making · sense of place · war

Anzackery and Vimyism, national military myths

I recently came across a post by Canadian blogger Andrea Eidinger in her Unwritten Histories  that mentioned the battle of Vimy Ridge from the First World War. The author was reviewing a recently published book The Vimy Trap: or How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Great War by Canadian historians Ian McKay and Jamie Swift as part of CHA Reads 2017.

Book Vimy Trap Cover (Amazon)

Publicity from Amazon states that

The story of the bloody 1917 Battle of Vimy Ridge is, according to many of today’s tellings, a heroic founding moment for Canada. This noble, birth-of-a-nation narrative is regularly applied to the Great War in general.

This heroic story has launched a mythical tale labelled as “Vimyism”.

I was reminded of Anzackery discussed by David Stephens in The Honest History Book (pp.120-133) that is described as excessively promoting the Anzac legend – the heroic nation-founding story which emerged from the 1915 Gallipoli landing by the Anzacs.

2017 Anzac Day Commemorations in Camden NSW (I Willis)

I felt that it was worthwhile to re-published Andrea Eidinger’s blog post in full here.

CHA Reads: Mary-Ellen Kelm on The Vimy Trap, or, How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Great War

May 23, 2017 / Andrea Eidinger

What is CHA Reads? Find out here!

Mary-Ellen Kelm defending The Vimy Trap, or, How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Great War.

The Vimy memorial was on TV when Andrea Eidinger’s call for participants in #CHAreads went out on Twitter. Though the First World War is not my field, I have long been interested in how the past gets used to make or break community. So I signed up to participate in #CHAreads and to investigate the merits of The Vimy Trap: or How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Great War by Ian McKay and Jamie Swift – a nominee for the CHA’s Sir John A. Macdonald prize. The Vimy Trap is a book that all Canadian historians, whatever their interests, should read.

The reason is simple. Historians care about history. We care about people in the past and we want to represent their experience faithfully. We care about how history is written and used. What McKay and Swift are arguing is that Vimyism – “a network of ideas and symbols that centre on how Canada’s Great War experience somehow represents the country’s supreme triumph [and]… marked the country’s birth,” has flattened the complex, contradictory and terrifying reality of the First World War into a simplistic, militaristic ‘big bang theory’ of Canadian history.(p. 9)

Article on Vimy Ridge from The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954) Wed 11 Apr 1917 Page 1 Trove NLA nla.news-article15706380.3

What is lost in the process is astounding and much of the Vimy Trap explores the horror and ambiguity of modernized warfare and Canadians’ varied reactions to it. McKay and Swift eschew black-and-white portrayals. Canadian soldiers were neither heroes or villains: they used poison gas, killed prisoners and were torn apart by artillery fire while marching with fixed bayonet wearing kilts. They came to view the war and to write about it in ironic, scathing terms. At home, disunity turned to violence as conscription split the nation. The War was hardly a unifying, glorifying force.

McKay and Swift give voice to a spectrum of Canadian reactions to the War. Early enthusiasm waned quickly. From Arthur Meighan to William Lyon Mackenzie King to Walter Allward, the sculptor of the Vimy Memorial, and Charlotte Susan Wood, Canada’s first Silver Cross Mother, all called upon Canadians to remember the War not a righteous cause but as reminder of war’s futility. They grieved their dead and honoured them but not the war that caused their deaths. Canadians dreamed of peace and their leaders sought it too but failed to remake the social order into one that would recoil from war.

A culture of martial nationalism remains. Late twentieth century popular and scholarly histories recognize the contradictions and the complexities but have concluded that, in war, nations are strengthened, dreams realized, heroes made. Historians are responsible for Vimyism. It is a trap because it reflects none of the nuance and little of the stark horror of modern warfare that soldiers and civilians experienced and that contemporary writers expressed. And this is why Canadian historians must read The Vimy Trap. McKay and Swift remind us all that we have not always glorified war and ask us, as historians, to consider our part in honouring, or ignoring, that past.

Mary-Ellen Kelm is a professor of history at Simon Fraser University specializing in settler colonial and medical histories of North America.

Re-published from Andrea Eidinger’s original blog post with permission

Camden Anzac Day 2017 cenotaph in Macarthur Park Camden NSW erected in 1922 by public subscription (I Willis)
Advertisements
Attachment to place · Colonialism · Edwardian · Entertainment · Heritage · Leisure · Memorials · Monuments · Parks · Place making · sense of place · Tourism · Uncategorized · Victorian

A space of memories and monuments

The CHN blogger was recently out and about and re-discovered a lovely urban space in central Goulburn on the New South Wales southern tablelands. Known as Belmore Park since the mid-19th century the park has a formal symmetrical layout. This is typical of many 19th century Victorian urban parks with paths crossing it on the diagonal for promenading and adding to the balance of the space. The park is abutted by lovingly conserved 19th century architecture and the Victorian designed railway station which all add to the ambience of the precinct in the town’s heritage centre.

Pleasant view across the picturesque Belmore Park Goulburn on a Sunday morning in March 2017 (IWillis)

The origin of urban parks has been traced to a number of sources. At its simplest is was an open space that became the  village green or they were grassed fields and stadia in Greek cities, or they were an open area with a grove of sacred trees. By the medieval period they were open grassed areas within or adjacent to a village where the lord allowed the common villagers to graze their animals. Some were royal hunting parks that date from ancient days  where the king walled off a section of forest to keep out poachers. From the 18th century French and British noblemen were aided by landscape designers like Capability Brown to design private parks and pleasure grounds. The Italians had their piazza, which was usually paved. In the UK the establishment of Birkenhead Park in 1843, Central Park in New York in the mid 1850s, Philadelphia’s urban park system in the 1860s and Sydney’s Governors’ Domain and Hyde Park all had an influence.

Market Square

Belmore Park was Goulburn’s Market Square from the 1830s, and renamed Belmore Square in 1869 in honor of the visit of Lord and Lady Belmore on the opening of the railway at Goulburn, and a picket fence was built around the square. In the early twentieth century it was the site of a small zoo, perhaps reflecting the zoo in the Sydney Botanic Gardens or the Botanic Gardens in Hobart, which was part of the notion of creating a ‘pleasure ground’. Belmore Square was re-dedicated as the Belmore Botanic Gardens in 1899. During the 20th century  the park became a landscape of monuments and memorials, similar to Hyde Park in Sydney, and other urban parks around Australia.

View of a rare Boer War Memorial to Goulburn veterans from the South African War. The monument was erected in 1904 and unveiled by the mayor WR Costley. It is one a handful of war memorials to the Boer War in Australia. 2017 (IWillis)

A landscape of monuments and memorials

Boer War Memorial in Belmore Park Goulburn. The memorial consists of three sections: a wide base of three Bundanoon sandstone steps; a square die with the dedication and inscriptions on marble plaques flanked by corner pilasters with ionic capitals; and a statue of a mounted trooper with rifle and bandolier built of Carrara marble and carved in Italy. 2017 (IWillis)
The band rotunda was built in 1897 to commemorate the reign of Queen Victoria. Band rotundas were a common park furniture in many urban parks throughout Australia. Banding was a popular pastime in the late 19th century and all self-respecting communities had a town band. Goulburn had a host of bands from the 1860s and the the Goulburn Model Brass Band performed in Belmore Park in 1891. The Goulburn City Band was formed in 1870 and was still performing in the First World War. This rotunda is High Victorian and designed by Goulburn architect EC Manfred. (Image 2017 IWillis)
This is the Knowlman Monument to commemorate Goulburn Mayor J Knowlman in 1910. He was mayor from 1899 to 1900. The column typifies uprightness, honour, eternity and rest. (Images 2017 IWillis)
This is a view of the Hollis Fountain erected in 1899 to Dr LT Hollis who was the MLA for Goulburn from 1891 to 1898. It is a highly decorative Victorian style concrete fountain that duplicates a similar fountain in St Leonards Park North Sydney that celebrates the Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee (60th year of reign). Designed by FW Grant of Sydney firm Grant and Cocks. (Image 2017 IWillis)