Alan Livingstone MacLeod has photographed countless WW1 monuments across Canada. Now his favourites are featured in Remembered in Bronze and Stone – Canada’s Great War Memorial Statuary. Alan has kindly agreed to share some thoughts about his work. I am pleased to welcome him to Great War 100 Reads today.
What first interested you in war memorials?
Alan Livingstone MacLeod: From my earliest years – spurred by soldier portraits on old relatives’ living-room walls, from memories of young men loved and lost, from relics of the trenches – I was aware of a shadow cast over my extended Nova Scotia family by the Great War. I had seven Cape Breton relatives killed between 1916 and 1918 in Flanders and France. One of the most influential people of my life was a great-uncle who survived the war but could never free himself from its emotional consequences. The accounts of the war experiences he shared with me were mesmerizing and unforgettable. I was exposed to war memorials from early childhood and have had a life-long interest in them. That interest took a leap forward in 2010 when I chanced upon the community war memorial at Westville, Nova Scotia, featuring the bronze figure of a soldier. I considered it far and away the finest, most evocative war memorial I had ever seen. This figure provoked a desire to see more of the artist’s work and a decision to travel the country to find that work and to see as many as possible of the whole: Canada’s two hundred soldier-figure monuments.
What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned in searching out war memorials?
ALM: Two things come to mind, one bad, one good. In my travels I have been surprised by intentional, human-inflicted damage perpetrated upon the stone soldiers of our war memorials. Given my own family history, Canada’s monuments to young men and women who fell in the Great War are pretty close to sacred. It surprised and troubled me to discover the prevalence of vandalism in our war memorials. On the bright side, I have also been surprised and very pleased to see the efforts made by some communities – more than a few – to preserve and restore their war memorials. These efforts give me a basis for hoping that at least in some segments of our population people will continue to care about the enormous sacrifices young Canadians made a century ago.
You have documented hundreds of monuments in your travels. How did you decide which monuments to include in the book and which to leave out?
ALM: I have seen, studied and photographed hundreds of Canadian war memorials, enough to have decided that the core duty of a war memorial is to represent the fallen with sufficient authenticity and conviction that the observer is moved to honour and remember those who died. My own experience leads me to the view that the monument that has the best prospect of delivering on that duty is one that features the life-sized figure of a soldier in stone or bronze. Among Canada’s more than seven thousand war memorials only two hundred or so feature such a figure. These two hundred are the monuments that most move me and so they are the focus of my book. In the chapter devoted to Canadian artists I selected those who, judged by the originality, technical mastery, emotional impact and breadth of their war memorial work, I consider to be the most important of our memorial artists.
What question do you wish people would ask about your work, that they don’t ask?
ALM: I suppose it is surprising that more people don’t ask me how they might learn more about their own relatives who fought in the Great War. As reported in my book, Library and Archives Canada makes a wonderful array of Great War-related resources available via the Internet. Many of the individual stories I relate in the book were sourced from LAC databases that I was able to consult online. There is no end to the fascinating human stories that are out there: one just has to start searching them out. The invaluable LAC resources are listed, complete with web addresses, in the Sources section of my book.
What do you hope people will take away from Remembered in Bronze and Stone?
ALM: Some people have told me that most Canadians don’t care about war memorials, don’t care about remembering those who fought and died in The War to End All Wars. Since my book was published I have heard the opinion voiced that a book about Canada’s war memorials is no more of a draw than one about hairstyles or cats! I hope such views apply only to a minority of my countrymen. On the bright side, readers have told me about being moved to tears by my accounts of young men and women lost in the war. Others have said that because of my book they will look at war memorials in a new way, with eyes refreshed. Some have said they intend to travel to see these monuments for themselves. These are exactly the responses I want readers to take away from Remembered in Bronze and Stone.
Where will your next book take us?
ALM: Remembered in Bronze and Stone addresses some 130 war memorials from one end of Canada to the other. My next book will deal with just one; it will tell the stories of 22 young men from one community who left home to go to war and never returned, men remembered “for evermore” by that community’s war memorial.
That sounds like a good addition to the library of remembrance. Thank you so much, Alan, for inspiring us to honour and keep the stories alive.