Until the local paper ran a one page feature on it, I was totally unaware of yet another dire local “war remembrance” project. This one planted a sapling for every Manx recruit who died in World War One over a one acre site which – I suppose – will eventually become a small forest, dominated by a large, crude and inappropriate cross.
The cross carries the message “Lest we forget”, which is ironic. Most of the island didn’t even know the project was happening or what it entailed, and few will ever go there. Within a year or two, even the vets who might be interested will be dead, and then what?
It isn’t that we have forgotten about World War One – there are so many pointless, fact free, local heritage projects about it that we cannot. It is that anyone with the slightest real knowledge of the subject wants nothing to do with this maudlin drivel.
Inevitably, the project was opened with a prayer service, led by the island’s second most senior cleric to receive a public sector salary in return for providing no public service. He was accompanied by the Lieutenant Governor, the representative from local ex-services organisations who lobbied for the island to get a chance to play at weekend soldiers again and the politician who granted that wish – after lots of chances to drive a tank and other childish jollies laid on by the British Army.
Which is all a bit ironic. Because the reason so many Manxmen died needlessly in World War One is that they were sent there by the junta then ruling the island, whereby the Lieutenant Governor used the other Crown appointees of the time (the Bishop, the Vicar General and the Attorney General) to over-rule any opposition from elected politicians. Not that there was much of that, because even half of the politicians were too busy war profiteering.
For some odd reason, neither that, nor the 1917 poll tax strike by island landladies against rates set at levels based on full boarding houses (when there were neither guests nor male workers due to the war) have been mentioned in all these heritage stunts around WW1 themes. Which is even more ironic, as a book giving a contemporaneous account of such events, written by a man who was imprisoned for leading the strike, was republished by Manx Heritage just a few years ago and is freely available in the Manx Museum shop.
So what’s even more obscene than the tasteless cross (and the use of bogus history to excuse expensive 21st century soldier games) is that history we could all learn from was never mentioned, thanks to the very organisations we entrust to preserve our heritage and teach local history to new generations.