Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books

Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag and Smile, Smile, Smile

Leave a comment

Happy seventh anniversary to Great War 100 Reads. And an odd year it has been, with the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to parallel the influenza pandemic at the end of WW1. A year to pack up your troubles. My world travels have shrunk to little more than 100 km from home. It has given me an excuse to explore the many war memorials close at hand.

It has also been a year where statues were a flashpoint of upheaval, as society questioned the legacy of the “great men” they memorialize – be they slave holders, slave traders, or architects of Indian residential schools – no matter their virtues. (Not that this is a new phenomenon. History has always been reassessed – and statues removed or altered – as times and opinions change.)

How have WW1 memorials fared over a century? They tend not to be toppled over for political reasons, perhaps because they tend not to honour individual “great men” whose deeds are re-examined. They are symbolic of the graves of all members of the community who died and are buried far from home. Many take the form of cenotaphs (empty graves), and statuary tends to be of generic persons.

Nonetheless, many WW1 monuments have undergone changes, either permanent or temporary.

  • WW1 monuments have been altered to include WW2 and later conflicts, instead of erecting a new monument.
  • We deem some people worthy of remembrance with new knowledge of the impacts of war. Soldiers who were court-marshalled and shot at dawn in WW1 were often omitted from official commemorations. We now understand their actions as likely due to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The Canadian government, for example, pardoned those executed for cowardice or desertion and added their names to the Book of Remembrance in 2001.
  • Our views evolve on who should be remembered, and how. Since 1994, a stone in London commemorates conscientious objectors. Names on some WW1 monuments in the southern US that were segregated by race are now integrated in a single list.
  • WW1 monuments are not immune to the acts of protesters. Tags may be against war in general, a specific conflict, imperialism, militarism or other government actions. Memorials in Ireland to those who fought with the British have been targeted with paint and hammer. The Lions of the Great War statue, honouring Sikh soldiers in WW1, was graffitied shortly after it was unveiled in Staffordshire in 2018. “Justice for Floyd #BLM” was spray-painted on the Regina, SK war memorial last July. The WWI Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, serving as a polling station in the November 2020 election, was spray-painted the night before with “don’t vote” and “fight for revolution.”
  • Political motivations change. Many scholars have analysed the shifting political use of war memorials, including those from WW1. A Canadian government grant program leading up to the centenary paid for repairs and restorations to war memorials. The money to spiffy them up seems to have been tied to adding the mission in Afghanistan to the monuments. A political decision to acknowledge it on local monuments, even if nobody from the local community served or died.
  • Hooligans. Thieves. Response: recompense through community service for veterans and those for whom they served.
  • Neglect. I have documented monuments long ignored or forgotten – eroded, dirty, covered in lichens and otherwise in a sad state of repair. The communities that erected them no longer exist or no longer remember. Commemoration of WW1 flows in and out of favour.

The WW1 monuments now approaching their own centenary are not immutable. I capture them at a moment in time.

Many thanks to you, the followers and readers of this endeavour. I appreciate your support and your comments, on and off line.

Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag
And smile, smile, smile
While you’ve a lucifer to light your fag
Smile, boys, that’s the style.
What’s the use of worrying?
It never was worthwhile
So pack up your troubles in your old kit bag
And smile, smile, smile.

Lyrics by George Asaf (pseudonym of George Henry Powell), music by Felix Powell

Author: greatwar100reads

Canadian crusader for equality and justice. Connoisseur and creator of the written word. Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books and monuments. Read more at

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.