Review of “To our brothers”

To our brothers: memorials to a lost generation in British schools
written be Sarah Wearne, photography by James Kerr
published by Helion & Company in 2018
hardback ISBN 978 1 911628 25 5
215 pages including bibliography and acknowledgements. Illustrated, colour. No index.

A beautifully produced work featuring 130 colour photographs of war memorials at 48 locations, mainly of the major public schools and a number of the better known and larger grammar schools. From Eton, Rugby and Charterhouse to King Edward VI at Stratford-upon Avon, Nottingham High School and the City of Norwich School, for example. The collection perhaps demonstrates that while grief is universal, the treatment of it in the form of memorial is anything but that. We have here memorials in bronze, stone, wood and glass. From architectural pieces in entire chapels and cloisters, through sculptured figures and stained glass windows, down to plaques naming the dead. The language is of duty, faith, spirit and sacrifice.  The thought, skill and care that went into these memorials is most evident, but so is the lavish and expensive treatment given to many of them. I could not help but think of my teenage great uncle’s name, one of half a dozen rough hewn on a plain stone in the churchyard of the village were he worked as an agricultural labourer: one of the hundreds of thousands, you might say. The numbers say that this was never a lost generation, although goodness knows it must have felt like that in some of these schools for the years affected and in those villages too, but it was certainly never one accorded equality of commemoration. This fascinating book captures very well the high end of the spectrum. I also found myself asking whether the expense of producing such exquisite works might have been better directed towards the widows, the maimed and those who would struggle for work for many years to come. In other words, the book for me acted not just as a compendium of the art but made me think and wonder.

The book is in a large format (242mm by 275mm) which is awkward for a shelf, for it either sticks out rather too much or has to be laid down or positioned in some other way. Think “Coffee table book” and you’ll know what I mean.

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