Short read: A River of Memory. To keep alive the memories of those who did not survive.
Long read: “Were the dead of the Empire to form up in Trafalgar Square and march, four abreast, down Whitehall to Parliament Square it would take that ghostly column three and a half days to pass the Cenotaph.” Thus the War Graves Commission in 1931, trying to give people an idea of the scale of what was almost beyond comprehension. The loss of a generation. The Lost Generation. Slaughter on an industrialised scale. The Great War. The war that changed everything. (The world we live in is still very much a world created by – shaped, tempered by – the Great War. This walk explores the London epicentre of all that (“all that”, it’s not Goodbye to All That, it’s remembering, picking out, making sense of “all that.” Everything from the memorials and statues – seeming to stretch out to the crack of doom – to the actual places then, the War Office; the window, where Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey, looking out at a gas lamp lighter in St. James’s Park, said, “the lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime;” where some of the principals lived, and where most of them worked, taking decisions the consequences of which are still very much with us today. But most of all, we hear, we sense – we remember – that ghostly column, the sound of those marching feet. Guided by Rex or Hilary, OBE.
Coda: More than eight million died. Countless others were wounded. “Is it possible to kill so many people without knowing why?” Private Jean Dumont.” “You know what the war was like, my friend, but who else will remember when we are dead?” Jacques Meyer. “Lice, rats, barbed wire, fleas, shells, bombs, dug-outs, bodies, blood, alcohol, mice, cats, artillery, filth, bullets, deaths, fire, metal. That’s war. It’s the Devil’s work” Otto Dix. “The brutal subjugation of individual life to a single will, without any chance of appealing against it, could be seen here in all its stark cruelty” Ernst Junger. “On our return, will they believe it? Will they listen to us alone? Will they keep, at the least, the memory of death, of the countless dead?” Ernst Johannsen. “We can have only a vague idea of the grandeur of the dead. They have given their all” Henri Barbousse. “In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place…’ John McCrae. “Time has done its work and, from one generation to the next, the memory has become fainter. What was once the history of individual families has become the impersonal history found on the pages of books… When everyone forgets in the end, the earth will remember. The ground will continue to bear the scars of the tragic history of these men” Anne Roze.
Reprise: Exactly what it says on the tin. A walk that takes us back a century to a London that’s still very much here. To a London that was physically and psychologically shaped by what happened in 1914-1918. Which is by way of saying, the anthem of those four years still keens across our land, our culture. Goodbye to all that are words that stick in the throat. They can’t be uttered. And rightly so. So this walk, guided by Hilary, OBE, looks at the many memorials and statues, lights them up from within with the stories that inform them. And the background woodwind, always, is the dreadful audit of The Great War.
THE RIVER OF MEMORY WALK – THE PRACTICALS
The River of Memory Walk takes place at 2.30 pm on Sunday, November 10. Meet Rex just outside the Villiers Street exit of EmbankmentTube.
LONDON WALKS PRIVATE WALKS
If you can’t make the regularly scheduled, just-turn-up, public River of Memory Walk do think about booking one as a private tour. If you go private you can have the River of Memory Walk – or any other London Walk – on a day and at a time that suits your convenience. We’ll tailor it to your requirements. Ring Fiona or Noel or Mary on 020 7624 3978 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll set it up and make it happen for you. A private London Walk – they’re good value for an individual or couple and sensational value for a group – makes an ideal group or educational or birthday party or office (team-building) or club outing.
GIVE THE GIFT OF LONDON WALKS
A private London Walk makes a fab present – be it a birthday or anniversary or get-to-know-your-new neighbourhood gift or Christmas present or whatever. Merchandise schmerchandise (gift wrapped or not) – but giving someone an experience, now that’s special. Memories make us rich.
LONDON WALKS REVIEWS
“by far the most impressive series of walks that I have ever encountered are those offered by London Walks” Travel and Enjoy
“Even jaded Londoners find these London Walks a source of astonishing gems of information about the city in which they live.” Daily Mail, Top London Treats