Letters: Art is as important as history in the remembrance of the past

17 November 2018

9:00 AM

17 November 2018

9:00 AM

Hearts as well as heads

Sir: Simon Jenkins suggests we should stop remembering and start forgetting about the first world war (‘Don’t mention the war’, 10 November). His beef is with artists in particular, claiming that art ‘drenches history in emotion’. He prefers to read history books.

No one would argue against history books, but surely it is not a question of either/or. Artists tell a story in a different way from historians, often to a different audience. They can move people to want to find out more: to look in the box of letters in the attic, to find out about their family connection to the war, to think again about the past and how it impacts on our present. Good history books open our minds to new ideas and perspectives. Good art opens our hearts and our minds.

The 14-18 NOW programme of first world war centenary arts commissions has invited some of the world’s leading artists to create new work in response to the centenary. With funding from government and the Lottery — though nothing like the sums Jenkins referred to — as well as vital corporate and philanthropic support, our artists have reached more than 35 million people in the UK so far, including many young people.

Jenkins says he will ponder the war with the help of historians, not artists. That’s fine. But let others experience the work of artists, who invite us to imagine and participate as well as think. The fact that we haven’t learnt the lessons of history is not a justification for forgetting the horrors of war.
Jenny Waldman
Director, 14-18 NOW London SE1

World view

Sir: David Woodhead (Letters, 10 November) described Tony Abbott’s WTO trade solution as ‘disingenuous’ on the basis of all existing WTO members having additional bilateral and regional trade agreements in place, and therefore a WTO solution for the UK would not be comparable.

It is Woodhead who is being disingenuous. The WTO solution represents a fundamental basis upon which additional trade agreements can be built. Those additional trade agreements are not even essential but they represent a possible enhancement, especially when the UK would have the authority to negotiate them in its best interests.

Staying in the Single Market condemns the UK never to negotiate bilateral agreements and to be subject to the rules of a bureaucracy that favours the most powerful EU lobbyists without any say in those rules. The Single Market is neither the best economic option nor what the population of the UK voted for.
David Harper
Bude, Cornwall

Admirable timing

Sir: The happiness felt by the dancing Admiral Sir Rosslyn Wemyss, supreme allied naval commander, on Armistice Day (The Spectator’s Notes, 10 November) was short-lived. He did not receive the grant of £100,000 which Parliament awarded all the other first world war commanders; while they received earldoms, he got a mere barony, for which he was made to wait a year. He told his family these misfortunes were the result of disobeying Lloyd George, who had instructed him ‘to arrange that the Armistice should commence at 2.30 p.m. in order that he might announce it in the House of Commons between 2.45 p.m. and 3 p.m’. According to his account, Wemyss telephoned George V and got him to tell the government that the 11th hour would be a far better time to bring the Armistice into effect. ‘When he reported to the prime minister and cabinet on 19 November, he was shocked to find them ungrateful and vindictive.’
Alistair Lexden
House of Lords, London SW1

My family at war

Sir: I found myself very moved by Liz Hunt’s description of her visit to Danny Mulholland’s final resting place (‘We will remember him’, 10 November).

Due to my age, my grandparents were able to tell me much of their own second world war experiences. Family folklore even claims — quite correctly as it turns out — an Agincourt archer as our kith and kin. Yet sadly we know nothing of our family’s involvement in the Great War. Like Liz, it is high time I righted that wrong.
Mike Prince
New Milton, Hampshire

Howzat for an error?

Sir: Peter Oborne’s recent review of Simon Wilde’s book England: The Biography mentioned the (statistically) worst-ever first-class cricketer, the Harrovian McMaster: out first ball, no wickets, no catches in his only match. He deserves immortality under his correct initials, which were J. E. P. (Joseph Emile Patrick) rather than C. E. B.
Harry Beresford
London SE1

Remembering the Iolaire

Sir: Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence gives a moving account of the loss of two American troopships off the island of Islay a few weeks before the Armistice (Diary, 10 November). There was another tragedy on 1 January 1919 at the approach to the harbour in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, when HMY Iolaire, coming home in a force ten gale and crowded with more than 200 servicemen, was dashed against rocks and sank. The men were within yards of the shore and had survived the horrors of the Great War only to be killed so near their own homes. The effect on the island communities was devastating: for years, this catastrophe was not talked about.

In the recently published The Darkest Dawn, the events of New Year’s Day 1919 have been thoroughly researched by Malcolm Macdonald and Donald John MacLeod. There are witness statements, personal descriptions, maps and analyses, but the cause of the loss is still debatable.
Catherine Montgomery Blight
St Austell, Cornwall

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