I’m always acutely aware of the history that surrounds my North London street, but never more so than a couple of weeks ago, when I walked into my lobby to find a bunch of old sepia-tone photographs of my building in the early 1900’s on display. A sucker for historical compare and contrast collages, I took a similar picture of my building today – amazing how the physical structure stays the same, but the people, fashion and modes of transportation are from two entirely different worlds.
History has also been on my mind this Remembrance Sunday, having spent all week reading about commemoration events on across the country, but also about how Britain plans to mark the centenary of World War I next year. I’ve fallen silent every Nov 11th since I can remember (yes – this happens in Canada too. I’ve never encountered the ‘do Canadians all live in igloos?!’ question, but I have been met with incredulity on several occasions when explaining that yes, we have Remembrance Day too. I digress…) But one thing that’s striking in London is how many physical reminders of the war remain – no town unscathed, no resident untouched. It sometimes seems you can hardly turn a corner without a bit of war history, and this is literally the case on my street.
The above pictures, taken across the street from me, show how the residents of the borough of Islington chose to commemorate the fallen. On the site of what used to be part of a hospital (and is now residential flats), they erected the Islington War Memorial, and inscribed the names of their 1,307 neighbors who made the supreme sacrifice. A new ward was built for the hospital, as an additional – and practical, as is the British way – tribute to the dead.
The new Casualty Department lasted until 1992, when it was closed along with the rest of the hospital (excellent history here). But a beautiful facade remains, in what otherwise might be an unremarkable neighborhood park:
And so we remember – that they fought so that we could play.