The First World War: One-hundredth anniversary commemorated in London

The exhibit Land of Peace
Photo Credit: Cristiana Ferrauti
A century ago, on July 28th, the First World War broke out. It was the first conflict that involved many countries, a fight-for-all, and for this reason no one should forget it. The death toll was catastrophic. However, that lesson wasn’t sufficient: another global war was ahead, it broke out just twenty-one years later.

These are the facts. Nevertheless, their memory is often confined to history textbooks.
The city of London currently offers two interesting opportunities to reflect upon them, from two totally different points of view.

The first one looks, as the title says, at “The Other Side of the Medal: How Germany Saw the First World War”.
The Department of Coins and Medals at the British Museum has set up an exhibition looking at the works of different medallists who have engraved the emotions and reactions of people towards the main events which affected them during the war.

Room 69a, where the exhibition runs until November 23rd, is a tiny room, but I was one of many visitors fascinated by the medals. Seven sections, including 'The Influence of Expressionism' which looks at the style used in handicrafts, and 'The Dance of Death', which highlights the use of the typical theme of war representations, help visitors to understand how the German people felt.

The second opportunity I should like to recommend is the street gallery “Land of Peace”.
The photographer Michael St Maur Sheil has traced the places (in particular, Belgium and France) where thousands of soldiers fought and lost their lives.

The special feature of this exhibit is the way the photographer highlights the contrast between then and now: the war took place a century ago, but now areas which saw the self-destruction of humankind seem harmonious. A helmet, some pegs in the trunk of a tree, a piece of barbed wire, objects scattered here and there in the snow, in the middle of a green plain or on the beach.

“It seems like have been centuries since such a tragedy has hit Europe” said a French tourist. “I mean, my father fought for his country, he knows very well these landscapes. On the other hand, my son wouldn’t believe these places were battlefield: he would be amazed by the sunset, for example. Generations change”.

The author’s quote in the first panel of the exhibit explains: “these photographs are a reflection upon that vision of a future when time and nature would heal the scars and wounds of both landscapes and warring nations”.

The natural world displayed in a natural setting. The panels have been installed in St James’s Park, where the birds’ and squirrels’ quiet lives seem to underline that everything is all right, now: those atrocities do not scare anymore.

Information available online of both exhibitions.