Of all the First World War commemorations happening at the moment, this is the loveliest: a sea of 888,246 ceramic poppies, one for every British soldier killed in the conflict, pouring of of the Tower of London.
There’s also a giant column of light going on in London, but I don’t really approve of that. Sure, it’s all modern and groovy and interactive, but it’s too reminiscent of Albert Speer’s ‘Cathedral of Light’ at Hitler’s Nuremberg rallies, and also makes me think uncomfortably of alien invasions or batman. I don’t think it’s a very appropriate way to commemorate war. Mind you, the official speeches have given us plenty of wittering about those who died for our freedom, which is a total joke – the whole tragedy of the First World War was that it was completely pointless, and pretending it was all about ‘freedom’ is just trying to minimise the horror.
For people who want some education with their commemoration, The Imperial War Museum has also just re-opened it’s shiny new First World War galleries.
If all this war and killing isn’t making you gloomy enough at the moment, there have been some awful things going on in the archives. The recent operation Yewtree, prosecuting celebrity child abusers from the 1970s including Jimmy Saville and Rolf Harris, has opened a whole can of worms about historic child abuse cases. The BBC delves into case files in the National Archives, showing how little concern those in charge had about abuse in care homes in the past.
More recently, during the 1980s, MP Geoffrey Dickens handed a file about a possible child abuse ring at Westminster to the Home Secretary Leon Brittan. Apparently it has since been ‘lost’ or destroyed. I think this shows how seriously the Home Office took their duty to protect the most vulnerable members of society from horrific crimes, versus how seriously they took covering their asses. In fact, 114 files relating to historic child abuse have been ‘lost’ or destroyed by the Home Office. Meanwhile,in Jersey, an investigation into historic child abuse has been hampered because records were destroyed ‘to make space’.
It’s impossible to know whether this is a cover-up, spectacular mismanagement of the records, or just lack of transparency. The Guardian article says most of the missing files “appear to have contained correspondence from MPs either asking about government policy or on behalf of constituents [...] these would normally have been destroyed after two years under the file destruction policy of the time.” In other words, they were ephemeral correspondence files that were quite correctly destroyed in accordance with a sensible records retention schedule. But the fact that the’re not really sure, and that some historical allegations appear not to have been followed up, casts doubts. This shows how important it is to be scrupulously careful about record-keeping, especially on sensitive subjects. Blogger Lawrence Serewicz expresses this eloquently in a post about parallels between the Shaw report into historic child abuse in Scottish care homes and the Jimmy Saville case, saying: “Without archives, our collective memory will become captive to the powerful at the expense of the vulnerable.” Amen to that.