Following on from my visit to the archives last week I have been spending time in my studio looking through the Admissions and Discharge Book for Dane John VAD Hospital. The book records 101 wounded men from 1916 -1918 and a further 16 on a separate piece of paper found slipped into the back of the book.
Given that the hospital had 115 beds and operated from 1914 – 1919 it is safe to assume that this book is just one of many and perhaps the only one to survive. Interestingly it records only the names of soldiers serving with the Australian Forces, whilst a loose piece of paper at the back records the names of men from both British and Australian Forces. Again, only an assumption, but it seems that different nations forces were recorded in separate books.
This book relates to the photographs I wrote about here, in that they are both from the Dane John Hosp and it was with an element of excitement that I had the notion that the book might make it possible to identify some of the men in the photos. The sad reality is that this was not possible and so I now have faces without names and a list of 117 names without faces.
How do we remember someone we never knew? How do we remember a person who we know what they look like but don’t know their name? How do we remember a name without a face? Remembrance seems to focus primarily on those who lost their lives with this statement about Remembrance on the Royal British Legion website
The Legion is the national custodian of Remembrance, safeguarding the memory of those who fought and died in conflict.
And although the sale of the Poppy raises funds to support the living I wonder how many people on Remembrance day, particularly during these centenary years of WW1 do just that, remember the living.
Remembrance Day was not conceived until the end of WW1, it was conceived to remember those who lost their lives, as a communal act of mourning, taking place in subsequent years around war memorials listing those who had died.
I would really like to hear any thoughts those who read this may have about Remembrance.
These thoughts bring me back to my research in the archives.
The men in the photos and listed in the book may well be men who survived and it is my feeling that both their anonymity and their survival equates to a form of forgetting. There is no way of searching for their names in the archive, no way of a descendant ‘finding’ them. I seem to have taken on the task of trying to find out more about the men listed, with my research now taking me to the Australian Governments Army Records. It’s a long slow process.
This fracturing of identity has led to the first ideas for a body of work with a working title Remember Me.
Remember Me – both a question and an instruction. The initial work an attempt to express ideas around the act of Remembrance and my initial responses to the experience of my research.
There are a few more ‘finds’ from the archive that I want to write about before I share images of the work I am making. As with most of my work it is becoming multilayered with cross-overs to other projects and ongoing work from my own family archives but I hope that in writing and sharing the research before showing the work it may help to explain it all. Or maybe not.
All images by permission of Canterbury Cathedral Archives.
Cat no CC/W26/A/7