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The power of remembrance

Central to Remembrance Day in the UK is Lutyens’ masterly and geometrically subtle Cenotaph in Whitehall, the name meaning – empty sepulchre’, a funerary monument representing all the dead. This centenary year of the outbreak of the First World War, there has also been great popular appreciation of the work in the moat of the Tower of London, ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ by artist Paul Cummins with setting by stage designer Tom Piper. This simple but powerful and vivid concept – to gradually fill the moat with 888,246 ceramic poppies, one for each British fatality during that war – has become famous worldwide. Achieving lasting success with a monument is not easy. They can take many forms from the figurative to the abstract: one of the most enduring techniques is the stark list of names, but sometimes something more instinctive, even accidental, has equal or greater impact. Here, in no particular order, Hugh Pearman presents his personal selection of 10 memorials, some better known than others, that he considers among the best.

1. Tower Hill Memorial, London, 1928, by Sir Edwin Lutyens, extended by Sir Edward Maufe in 1955: this masterfully articulated chaste temple in Portland Stone, its memorial plaques integrated with the architecture, commemorates men and women of the Merchant Navy and fishing fleets who died in both World Wars and who have no known grave. For me it recalls my grandfather, a merchant seaman who served on convoys in the Great War and was fortunate to survive. Photo CWGC.
2. Crich Stand, Derbyshire, 1923, by Lieutenant Colonel Brewill. This unusual memorial in the form of an inland stone lighthouse commemorates the Sherwood Foresters Regiment which drew its members from Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire and lost 11,409 men in the Great War. Perched high on a hilltop above a quarry cliff, its light is clearly visible for a long distance in both counties. It is open to the public: you can climb to the top and look out over the countryside that produced these men. Photo Hugh Pearman.
3. The National September 11 Memorial, New York, 2011, by architect Michael Arad and landscape architect Peter Walker: this is laid out on an epic scale. It takes the form of cascades occupying the footprints of the destroyed twin towers of the former World Trade Center, an acre apiece in a 6-acre landscaped plaza including a museum which takes you into the foundations of the towers. In both pools, the water falls to a lower level and then disappears via a square void into the earth. The names of the victims in bronze surround the pools at handrail level. Photo Hugh Pearman.
4. Colossus Computer Mark 2, National Museum of Computing, Bletchley Park. Original 1943/4 by GPO research engineer Tommy Flowers, reconstructed 2007. Not officially a memorial, but for me it commemorates not only all those who did NOT die because it shortened the course of the war, but also a brilliant electrical engineer who achieved the aims of computer pioneer Alan Turing and made this the world’s first electronic programmable digital computer. This machine – the sophisticated successor to the relatively crude Enigma codebreaking ‘bombes’ – cracked the much more complex codes of the German High Command. Its faithfully rebuilt replica is fully operational. Photo Hugh Pearman.
5. Monument of the Deported Martyrs, Paris, by Georges-Henri Pingusson, 1962: the most moving memorial I have ever experienced. It fills you with sadness. It sits at, and partly beneath, the eastern tip of the Ile de la Cité. It is dedicated to the 200,000 people deported from Vichy France to the Nazi concentration camps, and is thus also an expression of French national guilt. Shaped like a ship’s prow, accessed by staircases that take you first to a sunken square, then into an underground crypt, it leads you to a place of lost souls, each represented as one of 200,000 glowing crystals set into the walls of a narrow mausoleum-like space which leads to a single bright light at the end. There is a single chest tomb in the space, containing the body of an unknown deported victim. Ashes of other victims are contained in urns at each end. Ancillary spaces feel like prison cells. This is a place of almost unbearable emotional power. Photo Hugh Pearman.
6. Holocaust Memorial, Berlin, by Peter Eisenman, 2004: another expression of national guilt. Rather than the glowing crystals of Pingusson, this represents the dead by means of 2,711 tomblike solid concrete ‘stelae’ of varying heights, set in a grid on a nearly five-acre site in the former cleared zone by the Berlin Wall. A underground centre contains the names of all known Jewish Holocaust victims. The memorial has been controversial in various ways and has needed repairs, but succeeds as an abstract cemetery-like composition. Photo Hugh Pearman.
7. King’s Cross fire memorial, London, 2004-2012 by London Underground staff. First there was just a simple plaque, then it was augmented by an old stopped clock, then the clock was made to work and another, non-matching, plaque was added. It remembers the 31 people who died in the underground fire of November 1987. Set on a wall close to the fatal escalators, it is semi-official, undesigned, odd – why the antique clock? – but curiously effective. Photo Anonymous.
8. The Motherland Calls, Volgograd, Russia, by sculptor Yevgeny Vuchetich and structural engineer Nikolai Nikitin, 1967. Prime Soviet Realism but there is something about the largest female statue in the world, especially when she is made of 7,900 tonnes of reinforced concrete and stands 87m tall not counting the plinth. It is inspired by the 2nd century Winged Victory of Samothrace but was modelled on a local woman, Valentina Izotova. She commemorates the Battle of Stalingrad and represents the entire former Soviet Union. Photo Panoramio.
9. UTA Flight 772 memorial, Sahara Desert, by victims’ families, 2007. Destroyed by a terrorist bomb, flight 772 from Brazzaville to Paris crashed in the Sahara in 1989. 170 people from 18 nations were killed. The memorial adopts the reversed-out shape of the DC10 plane within a 60m wide compass, with one of the plane’s wingtips set upright as a compass point and bearing the names of the victims. Otherwise made of dark stones gathered from the desert, with 170 panels of smashed mirror set round the edge to represent the dead, it can be viewed on Google satellite maps at co-ordinates 16°51′53’N 11°57′13’E.
10. In Memory by Nathan Coley, Jupiter Artland, Edinburgh, 2010. Coley has made a tiny pseudo-graveyard within rough concrete walls in woodland overlooking meadows at this rural art centre. It’s an idyllic spot. The tombstones are from several religions and their inscriptions are real, but all the names have been chiselled out. The absence of names makes it sinister and more powerful: they could be anyone, maybe people you know, maybe waiting for you yourself. It’s a place to brood on mortality and on memory itself. A memorial to nothing and everything. Photo Keith Hunter