PEACE MEMORIAL - what's it all about

From the Acropolis to the Arc de Triomphe, war memorials have been central to the history of European architecture and public sculpture. They have also been important symbols of national pride and identity and confirmation of national leaders prowess or a general’s valour. War was seen as the bringer of peace and so it was the events and their instigators that were celebrated.

In Britain after the end of World War One many of the memorials that were erected were called 'peace memorials'. In appearance there were no significant differences in the style of the memorial, the distinction was in people’s minds. Perhaps these ‘peace’ memorials were an expression of a fervent hope that a new and better world can now exists rather than relief that the four grim and murderous years have finally come to an end. Over time they all became universally known as 'war memorials' as it became clear that that war did not bring anything that resembled the ‘peace’ people had in mind.

Today there is a new breed of peace (as well as war) memorials. Many of today’s peace memorials rarely commemorate the end of a war or the conclusion of a peace treaty such as the peace memorial in Brighton but are an expression of hopes and intensions and sometimes a deliberate challenge to war memorials.

War memorials generally commemorate a war; the Oxford dictionary describes them as ‘a sign of remembrance; preserving or intended to preserve the memory of a person or thing’. Peace memorials are much harder to pin down and clearly they do not commemorate peace. Some remember the efforts of a person or group for peace and against war; some are aspirational and aim to promote ‘peaceful’ values.

This ‘peace’ section takes a broad view of what a peace memorial might be because the primary aim here is to draw attention to the ideas and efforts of people and groups who in various ways have worked against war and for peace. So a tomb erected by public subscription will introduce the 19th century Peace Society while the CO stone will be a reminder that even today young men in many countries are forced to join the armed forces and imprisoned if they refuse.