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Ceredigion : Journal of the Cardiganshire Antiquarian Society


Vol. 14, no. 1 2001

The Great War in Wales : memory and monuments in Ceredigion /

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In September 1923 the war memorial in Aberystwyth was unveiled
in an elaborate and moving ceremony. The event was recorded on film and
remains a compelling testament to the memory of the Great War and how
communities grieved and commemorated their fallen. Ceremonies to unveil
war memorials were commonplace in Ceredigion, in Wales and throughout
Britain in the decade after the war as virtually every town and village set up
its own memorial with churches, schools, businesses and other institutions
following suit. War memorials remain as potent evidence both of the catas-
trophe of the Great War and of the challenges faced by those seeking to com-
memorate the fallen.2
By the time the guns finally fell silent in November 1918, an esti-
mated nine million men had lost their lives; over seven hundred thousand of
these were British servicemen.3 The Welsh National Book of Remembrance
held in Cardiff lists 35,000 names and it has been estimated that three mil-
lion Britons lost a close relative in the Great War.4 The loss of life on this
scale ensured that bereavement became a shared experience throughout
Britain as individuals and communities attempted to come to terms with
their grief.
Remembering men as soldiers but also as individuals after the war
was a priority; the question remained as to how to do so appropriately. Prior
to 1914, commemoration of men killed in battle was primarily defined by
personal wealth, influence and social position. Usually none of these was
applicable to the private soldier, whose enlistment was often regarded as a
'last resort' and whose subsequent death often remained unmarked. The
involvement and death of an estimated three and a half thousand British vol-
unteers in the Boer War led to changes in the act of commemoration as it
became necessary to remember those who had died not only as soldiers but
also as citizens.5 The loss of life in that war, however, could not prepare
society for the scale of death less than twenty years later.
Casualty lists published in British newspapers throughout the Great
War gave daily notice of the catastrophic impact on a society that in many
ways was simply not prepared for death.6 Improvements in medical care
combined with decreased infant mortality rates in the late nineteenth and
early twentieth centuries had created the expectation that children would
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