SCOTTISH NETWORK OF MODERNIST STUDIES
Modernism at War, University of Glasgow, Saturday 18 October 2014
- Adam Piette (University of Sheffield), ‘War Modernism as Commemorative Trauma’
- Randall Stevenson (University of Edinburgh),”Hoarse Oaths that Kept Our Courage Straight”: Language and War, Modernism and Silence’
By Reverend Stuart D MacQuarrie, Chaplain to the University
Glasgow University’s Great War centenary project is important to the University not simply as a historical reflection but in my view as a reflection of who we are, and where we are going. In his seminal work The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William L Shirer quotes as an epigram the Spanish American philosopher Santayana who said, ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ This project will draw insights about life in the University, the City of Glasgow and Scotland which relate to political, social, and cultural influences from which we can learn and perhaps apply to the present and possibly future times.
Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
Shovel them under and let me work—
I am the grass; I cover all.
And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
What place is this?
Where are we now?
I am the grass.
Let me work.
As Carl Sandburg’s 1918 poem ‘Grass’ evocatively describes, after a battle the landscape is reclaimed by nature and the inexorable process of forgetting begins. As a researcher, I have long been fascinated with the First World War and the changes it wrought in 20th-century society, as well as how the events of 1914-18 still have resonance with us today. The centenary of First World War is the perfect opportunity not merely to commemorate and remember the events of the war, but also to interrogate its lasting impact and to reflect meaningfully on the legacy of the conflict from the temporal distance of one hundred years.
Memorialisation aside, our project’s focus on researching the university’s experience of the Great War will shed light not just on the experiences of those men and women who left to serve, most obviously in the military, the medical services or on the industrial home front (ammunition manufacture, etc.), but also on the running of the university during the war.
My work as a battlefield archaeologist has brought me as close to the realities of the Great War as it is possible to get, one hundred years after the fact. I have excavated trenches at various locations on the Western Front, as well as mass graves at Fromelles, in French Flanders. In 2008 I was also privileged to accompany Harry Patch, the last man alive to have fought on the Western Front, as he made his final visit to Flanders, to unveil a monument at the place where he went over the top at Passchendaele in 1917.
This project is primarily about sharing the stories of those who walked, or even marched, on the beautiful Gilmorehill campus before us. It is about remembering our own community in the “war to end all wars”. We want to tell of the individual staff and students, the soldiers, nurses, engineers and even the diplomats and spies who made Gilmorehill what it is today.
Our University has long embraced diversity. Those who have been displaced from the collective wartime memory – the women doctors, the conscientious objectors and our alumni who fought for Germany and her Allies – will be remembered as part of this Project.