Disasters and Heroes: On War, Memory and Representation

Disasters and Heroes: On War, Memory and Representation

Disasters and Heroes: On War, Memory and Representation

Disasters and Heroes: On War, Memory and Representation


Images of war and its commemoration are an everyday presence in contemporary culture, from the embedded reporter in the field to the Last Post at the Menin Gate. "Disasters and Heroes: On War, Memory and Representation" revisits campaigns from the plains of Troy to recent events in the Balkans, examining how wars are represented and remembered. Angus Calder shows how the 'facts'of war are transformed into myths that condition later responses to war, and how the construction of memory begins with wartime events themselves.Beginning with a section devoted to war memorials and the public remembrance of war, such as D-Day commemorations, the essays collected in "Disasters and Heroes" then look at the lived experience of war for 'ordinary' people, while the final section deals with literary representation of war, from "The Iliad" to T.E. Lawrence and on to Christa Wolf's "Cassandra." "Disasters and Heroes "is a thought-provoking collection dealing with issues of major significance which recent events have made painfully topical."


On 22 February 1944, during the so-called ‘Little Blitz’ of London, a German bomb fell on a detached house in the southernmost suburban fringe of London. The crew of the Luftwaffe plane from which it fell had presumably decided to retreat from AA flak and nightfighters over the city. It would have been unwise to return to base with bombs undropped.

Under a Morrison ‘table’ shelter downstairs in the house in question were my mother, elder brother aged twelve, younger brother just seven weeks old, myself aged two years and two and a half weeks, and Betty who helped Mother look after us. My elder sister, sleeping upstairs, had not joined us, nor had Auntie Margie, widow of my father’s brother, recently dead in his prime due to overexertion as an executive in the aircraft industry. Fiona escaped unscathed but doctors would spend months picking 156 pieces of glass out of Margie’s back – after which, with pleasing irony, she would marry a German POW twelve years younger than herself.

All my life I have been constructing and reconstructing memories of an event which I could not have remembered. (Every two or three months I dream of broken glass underfoot or in my mouth.) For a very long time I believed that I could recall the white head of baby Allan carried by an adult into an Anderson shelter, which would have been underground and out of doors. My sister Fiona disabused me of this, just as she has now relieved me of a much more recent misunderstanding, that we were ‘buried alive’ for an hour under rubble in our Morrison shelter before rescue workers arrived. But my little life was certainly transformed. Furniture, books, domestic goods and treasures were destroyed. My parents had to start homemaking all over again, after a spell when we lived as evacuees in a big house in Bedfordshire, then shared with a family of German Jews a small house back in Surrey.

It is not surprising that throughout my writing life I have returned, though sometimes reluctantly, to stories and themes of war.

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