Sunday, 29 April 2012

Port Sunlight and Balaclavas

Last week we had a trip to the Wirral peninsula, between the Rivers Dee and Mersey, and Port Sunlight, on the Mersey. Port Sunlight is a garden village built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to house workers at the nearby Lever Brothers factory.  The factory made Sunlight soap, amongst other products, and is still operational - now part of Unilever.  The village is very open and spacious, and the houses are built in  a wide range of Arts and Crafts designs.  It's all very attractive.

The war memorial occupies a prominent position in the village. It was built to commemorate the hundreds of people from Port Sunlight and other Lever Brothers sites around the world who were killed in the First World War.   (As you can see from the photos, it was a very gray day, with frequent heavy showers. And it was cold.)

Around the plinth of the memorial there are four bronze panels with scenes of men in action. One shows a machine gun crew, with a spotter (with binoculars),  the man handling the Lewis gun (who also has a revolver rather than a rifle), and an ammunition carrier.

The panels are carefully modelled to show a lot of detail, and I noticed that the third man in the team is wearing a Balaclava under his helmet.  A Balaclava must have been recognised as something that a lot of soldiers wore in the trenches.  No wonder that so many knitters made Balaclavas again at the start of World War II.  (And then the Army decided that they didn't want them - see here.)  


In between the panels of men in action, representing those commemorated, are smaller panels showing children, representing those who lost their fathers, presumably.  One of them shows a boy wearing a (knitted) cricket sweater.  

It was interesting to see these examples, though it seems a bit frivolous to focus on the knitting shown in a war memorial.   The details of what the men and children are wearing are presumably included to suggest that these are depictions of real people in real situations.  The scenes of men in action don't really convey the realities of the war, of course - the impression is very calm, quiet and clean.  And in the scene of a wounded soldier being carried off the battlefield, he seems to be undamaged apart from a small tear in his trousers.  Even so, it's an impressive memorial to an enormous tragedy. 

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