On 11 November I attended a simple service to mark Armistice Day at the Sandham Memorial Chapel, Burghclere. It was a huge privilege to sit in this modest chapel, dominated by the murals Stanley Spencer painted following his experiences as a soldier and medical orderly at the Salonika Front in World War One. The soldiers in Spencer’s paintings, some in his powerful resurrection scene, others recuperating in hospital, could have come from villages such as Burghclere. The scenes depicted by Spencer convey tenderness and compassion, and a strong sense of the poet Wilfred Owen’s “pity of war”:
“Above all I am not concerned with Poetry.
My subject is War, and the pity of War.
The Poetry is in the pity.”
Since August, Sioban Coppinger’s profoundly moving sculpture Blown Away has graced the new garden, designed by Daniel Lobb, at the Sandham Memorial Chapel. Many visitors to the garden, together with those who saw it here at The Garden Gallery during the summer, have found the sculpture very affecting. Scroll down to read my earlier blog about Blown Away, and the fine poem it inspired by Ingrid Seifert. This representation of a young man, his short life soon to be extinguished, denied the opportunity to live and love to the full, is deeply and poignantly expressed in Sioban’s bronze sculpture.
Awareness of the “pity of war” appears to be growing, in this country at least, perhaps because of recent conflicts and the loss in Iraq and Afghanistan of young lives unfulfilled. The overwhelming response to the spectacle of the ceramic poppies at the Tower of London bears witness to the compassion felt for these tragic losses.
The poppies, an impressive art installation on a monumental scale, Sioban Coppinger’s Blown Away, and Stanley Spencer’s magnificent murals testify to the power of art to express the feelings we all share about the tragedy of war. Wilfred Owen’s facility with words conveys the anguish of war, but where words fail to articulate such feelings, the visual arts can succeed.