WPC Numbers: War Memorials (World War I and II)

Today’s entry for the Weekly Photo Challenge: Numbers is just a few of the photos I collected around Europe showing the numbers of people who died in the two world wars.

Britain's highest war memorial, on Ben Nevis,
Britain’s highest war memorial, on Ben Nevis, taken with my phone because I wasn’t climbing Britain’s highest mountain with an extra 2kg of photographic equipment!! Taken August 2015.
Britain's highest war memorial, on Ben Nevis,
A zoomed in crop to show the words on Britain’s highest war memorial, on Ben Nevis. They aren’t being taken care of and are in danger of being lost as the lichen grows over them.

In Britain, every town, every village, every city has its war memorial.  It is a constructed object, such as a sculpture or a stone alcove, which serves to remind us of the people who never came home from World War I and World War II.

I once had the fortune to actually visit the war graveyard in Huddersfield.  It’s not for the faint hearted and I remember trying to read every single headstone, the name of every single person interred there.

The number of people who died on both sides in World War I and II is staggering.  When reading/experiencing that aspect of history, it tends to make me have a panic attack; the sheer inescapability of death was a daily reality for most of these people.  Having PTSD, I find this immensely triggering and tend to suppress the anxiety, leading to the delayed reactions I keep getting told are really unhealthy – the migraines, the vomiting, feeling angry (because I’m feeling so shaken) for hours, sometimes days afterwards.  I hate thinking about these wars, but I feel like I should, because they happened, and these people’s lives are over as a result, and the world would be very different if they had not happened.

The writing explains who the Wild Geese were.
The writing explains who the Wild Geese were. Dublin Museum’s exhibition on Irish Military History, Ireland, 2015.
Gottfried von Banfield's Order of Maria Theresa
Gottfried von Banfield’s Order of Maria Theresa, Dublin.
Wild Geese Gottfried von Banfield Order of Maria Theresa Ireland
Gottfried von Banfield, son of Patrick Banfield from Cork, Ireland, was the last person to be awarded the Order of Maria Theresa. He died in 1986 in Trieste, Italy. He was the last of the Wild Geese.

I wasn’t born then, so of course I never asked them to go to war for me, to ensure my future survival, but they did anyway.  Whichever side these soldiers were on, they were treated like millions of expendable ants at the beck and call of their country.  For that, for the fact that they were put in this shitty impossible situation with no real chance of surviving it, we should be fucking grateful to them.  We should have some empathy.  It makes me angry to think that some people pretend these wars never happened, people pretend that the Holocaust never happened, how can anyone really believe that?  I think in their hearts they know it to be true.

Memorials for Jewish deaths in Salzburg
Many of the victims of the Second World War were innocent people trying to go about their daily lives. These four people were all killed in concentration camps.

I’ve talked before about the memorials in the photos above in Impressions of Salzburg.  What I’ve never talked about was my experience in Salzburg Museum, because it set off my PTSD and made me sickened and pretty depressed. The Salzburg Museum’s exhibition of the First World War was a particular eye opener.  The Austrian point of view is that they were defending their assassinated archduke.  The exhibit explained an awful lot about World War I that we in England tend to not get told, and English speaking resources tend to follow suit.

World war 1 great war first world war Austria memorial cards German soldiers deaths
These are Austrian memorial cards, with names and photos, of dead soldiers. Relatives at home will have had these printed when they were told their loved ones had died in the trenches. Taken in Salzburg Museum.

I would strongly urge anyone with an interest in the history of the Great War to research original non-British primary sources as well as the English sources we’re used to seeing, to get a more balanced view of the First World War, who was actually fighting it, and how it caused the second.  I’m not taking sides here, but it’s damn scary to see how Britain actually contributed to the rise of Fascism and Nazism, and I think there’s a lot of lessons we aren’t learning while we pretend our government wasn’t part of the problem in that first war.  The individual soldiers, of course, had no idea of this.  The only people who should have been involved in that war were Austria and Serbia, and as a result of ridiculously convoluted diplomatic ties, millions upon millions of lives were lost for no reason on all sides.  Many were aged 16-18.

We need to remember them, otherwise we could *be* them.

A quote from Karl Kraus, printed on a white board as part of the Great War Exhibition at Salzburg Museum, August 2014
A quote from Karl Kraus, printed on a white board as part of the Great War Exhibition at Salzburg Museum, August 2014

Photographs of Salzburg, Austria

After a two day car drive to Salzburg, Austria, I arrived with a big list of things to do in Salzburg.  I was expecting it to be cold, but instead I found Salzburg to be a mountain-surrounded retreat bathed in brilliant sunshine with clear air and perfect light for photography:

The rathaus and a golden ball in the square

This big gold ball was a mystery, but it features heavily on Salzburg’s postcards and appears to be a bit of a landmark in Salzburg.

Mozart perfume Salzburg

These bottles of Mozart perfume were everywhere in Salzburg.  Presumably it’s a desirable thing to smell like a dead composer.  The tagline on all the posters was “the magic of a nice feeling.”  Mozart’s connection to Salzburg is that he was born here, at 9 Getreidestrasse.  I didn’t feel inclined to seek out the house Mozart was born in, since I was far more interested in how the environment shaped his early music; all over Salzburg you could see Mozart’s music in the landscape; the colour of the buildings contrasted with Salzburg’s bed rock, in which it was nestled like a flute playing alongside a cello.  Salzburg was light, airy, nothing that happened here could be truly terrible.  This flautesque beauty was the enduring mask covering a darker past.

the rocky hill salzburg is built on

It felt like most of Salzburg was roughly hewn from the living rock itself, and the difference in heights could be profound in places.

plaque commemorating Christian Doppler effect Salzburg

This sign gets louder as you walk towards it.  Sorry, it’s a science joke.  Seriously, though, it’s pretty awesome that Christian Doppler (as in, the Doppler Effect) used to live here, I was surprised as I’d thoroughly researched Salzburg before I set off, and there was just so much more to Salzburg than the internet had suggested.  Doppler died aged 50 but, like many of the “great men” from his era, he accomplished so much in his lifetime.  Known as a mathematician and physicist, his work on the Doppler effect (the effect that explains why police sirens to get disproportionately louder as they approach, then they suddenly go quiet as they depart) is how we understand red-shift in astrophysics, and that’s the primary evidence we have which supports the Big Bang Theory.  It was pretty exciting to see a reference to Doppler, the man who identified the origin of the universe, here in Salzburg, a place predominantly known for music and renaissance landmarks.  I suppose it’s the old saying that maths and music go together – where a place is known for music, it tends to also be known for mathematics.  Doppler’s tomb is in San Michele, Venice, so this is about as close as one can get to Doppler in Salzburg.  I’d much rather see a perfume named after Doppler than Mozart – it could get stronger as one got closer to the person wearing it, and fade away unexpectedly as they passed.  The tagline for advertising could be “Smell like the stars of the heavens” (Geruch wie der Gestern des Himmels) as a reference to his eponymous paper on binary stars (Uber das farbige Licht der Doppelsterne und einiger anderer Gestern des Himmels).

The fountain in the square Salzburg

This was one of two fountains that I was quite taken with in Salzburg, in Rezidenzplatz, the plaza where many tourists seemed to gather.  It was beautiful, with an aura of reflected droplets of water, and it could splash a person with water from twenty feet away.  The fountain below has to win points for sheer class in a public park, though:

fountain Mirabell gardens salzburg

I explained what the deal was with this second fountain in my post about Mirabell Gardens back in December 2014.

war memorial plaques salzburg

I think most tourists visiting Salzburg don’t know what these plaques are for, embedded into the pavement, four or five inches square, and starting to tarnish.  Tourists seem to walk around without even noticing them, which is tragic when you know what these are for.  Salzburg’s more recent history is painful to touch, a dark shroud suffocating parts of the city and extinguishing the joy and wonder of Mozart’s and Doppler’s birthplace.  Like when you see someone who has been in a horrific accident, and they keep assuring you that they’re fine… but it still just goes right through you, when you look at the wound.  Much of Salzburg was a profoundly beautiful place with a lot of happy tourist attractions, and you could probably get through an entire visit here without seeing traces of the Second World War if you wanted to.  But there were signs, and it was not very nice.  These plaques are for people who were rounded up and transported, telling the world where they were sent and what ultimately happened to them.  Deportiert means deported.  Ermordet means murdered.  Suddenly the tragedy of Salzburg is vividly real and tragic.  The plaques are to show where these people lived before they were labeled as undesirable.  On the plaques above, you will see this family was separated after they were taken; Irma and Arthur Bondy were both killed at Minsk, the capital of Belarus, by the Third Reich, which leads to a completely different picture of wartime Belarus than we are used to thinking about.  Otto Bondy was taken to Theresienstadt, the ghetto camp in the Czech republic, before being moved to Treblinka, the other extermination camp in Poland.  Rachel Rosenmann was taken to Lodz, the work camp also in Poland.  It is impossible to know when they died, only when they were taken, so whether their suffering was quick or slow, we will never be able to tell.  Just looking at that photo makes me profoundly sad.  Just as Mozart and Doppler are famed citizens of Salzburg who should be remembered for their work, the world should also know the names of all of these people who lived in Salzburg all their lives, then were rounded up and killed.  The people in these plaques were all aged in their mid-fifties.  There were so many of these plaques and I feel very guilty that I didn’t photograph them all, didn’t record every name and every fate.  Then I realized that the plaques do that.  They remember the people who were lost.  Salzburg found them and brought them home again, even if only in name.  When people say the situation with the refugees in North Africa is different to this, they don’t know what they’re talking about.  It’s hard for some people to remember that our side wasn’t actually aware that the Nazis were doing this to millions of people until some allied soldiers walked into Auschwitz when we liberated Poland.  The same thing could quite easily be happening elsewhere.


This was a big castle.  I think it’s what most people go to Salzburg for.  We clomped up the hill, got to the top, enjoyed the view, balked at the entry fee and came back down again.  The view was nice though and the exercise was probably good for us after the two-day drive to get from the North of England to Salzburg.  There was also some sort of mechanical railway lift type thing (similar to the one at Snowdon).

Salzburg padlock bridge

On a millenial-aged bridge, this vast collection of padlocks evokes a different emotion – love.  In spite of all the horror of Austria’s 20th Century past, people in Salzburg have filled this bridge with padlocks, to show their love for another human being.  People in Salzburg understand suffering and loss, but the city itself endures, the people endure, and in the face of crimes against humanity of such magnitude, the city still loves, is still loved, and the pain begins to fade.  Perhaps if you’re less emotional than I, you could get through a visit to Salzburg without feeling the same way.

When we had run out of time in Salzburg, we reluctantly hit the road again (there were so many things we didn’t get to see) and headed onwards, towards Rome.  We never did find out what the big gold ball was.

Mirabell Gardens and Palace: Breaking all the rules.

Mirabell Gardens and Palace: Breaking all the rules.

Mirabell Fountain
The curious origin of the streams of water…

It’s bad form to start at the beginning when you write a travel piece. This is the special exception: The fountain, facing away from us as we entered Mirabell Gardens, was a half naked woman who appeared to have two streams of water pointing in opposite directions around her chest area. It looked like her tits were leaking. I got two or three photos because I thought it was so bizarre. I walked around the fountain and when I reached the front, I saw there were actually her hands, directly in front of her chest, and she was holding two bluebirds, who were facing away from each other. The water was actually coming from their mouths. It does raise some questions about why anyone would just loll around half naked in a pond with birds in their hands at chest height, but we’re taught not to really question it if it’s Art, and this had at some point been Art. I could imagine the Georgian upper classes viewing this fountain with the same disdain with which recent audiences have treated work by Damien Hirst. Having said that, there’s a lot of stuff like this dotted around Western Europe.
The mystery thus solved, we moved on, into the gardens. Needless to say there were flowers everywhere; flowerbeds formed geometric patterns. Sitting on a bench to eat lunch, we were treated to being harassed for money by a beggar.

“Haben sie zwei Euro?” A man asked with a Turkish accent. He didn’t look particularly poor, but clothing obviously isn’t the best indicator. He waved a paper at us.
“No thank you.” I replied. The beggar glared at me, then did the one thing that guaranteed he wasn’t getting a sale from either of us. In a Western country, with (almost) equal rights, he ignored me and looked to my husband, waiting for an answer, still proffering the paper. We both stared at him in disbelief.

“NO THANK-YOU!” My OH said loudly and slowly.
“You want to buy a paper? Two Euro?” He asked, in English this time.
“NO…THANK…YOU.” He repeated, even more loudly and slowly. My other half has no compunction about talking at people in English until they’re imbued with the gift of speaking his language. It’s usually incredibly humiliating for me, as I’ll try to speak someone else’s language and fall silent before submitting to requesting if they speak English. This time, however, I just let him get on with it. After all, the paper that the guy was flogging was still in German, no matter what language he tried his sales pitch.
“You got a Euro for the bus?” He asked, still not taking the hint.
“No. Go away.” My OH replied loudly. He’s usually very polite but I think the man’s sexism had rankled him.
“Fifty cents? Fifty cents for bus?” He shook his coffee cup in my OH’s face, at which point my beloved just turned towards his sandwich and resumed eating.

The man started shouting a tirade of abuse at us, then walked off and started the exact same routine at the very next bench. I wondered, with his amazing command of colloquial English expletives, why he was wasting his effort trying to sell German-language papers to English tourists instead of making a mint teaching at an English Language School. I felt a little dirty inside, having broken my personal rule of letting my OH act like a tourist.

After lunch we decided to check out the famous Mirabell Palace, mentioned in guide books and internet must-see lists as “Mirabell Palace and Gardens.” Disappointingly, it turned out to be a council offices, which wasn’t open to the public. Not even a toilet to be had.

There was a thoroughfare which was quite pretty, and which led us across a car park and ultimately caused us to end up at the Austrian Hair Supermarket, which was as it sounds – a shop the size of a supermarket that only sold hair products. A self-inflicted platinum blonde, I just love hair products. I love finding new ones that do good things to my hair. I had bravely left home without so much as a hairdryer, let alone straighteners or a curling wand, so anything that would improve my hair’s appearance was very welcome. Thank-you, inaccurate travel guides everywhere; the hair supermarket was one of the shopping highlights of the entire trip. Across the road, there was a toilet.

I’m breaking another travel writing rule here, but I have to tell you about this toilet. As I was approaching the toilet, an older woman barged right past and into the toilet. The door swung closed and I wasn’t sure whether it was a single toilet inside or many. I decided to wait for her to finish, even though I didn’t see any lock on the outside of the outside door.

A good ten minutes later, I was still waiting. I decided to check inside. There were two cubicles, as I suspected. The older woman was sitting on one of the toilets, trousers down, cubicle door wide open, bags, rucksack and hiking poles spread about in front of the sink. I decided to step over the bags and I went into the other cubicle, as she kept speaking an unidentifiable, possibly Eastern European, language at me, getting louder. I locked the door and started cleaning the toilet seat, as she kept banging on the cubicle wall and shouting at me from the next toilet. I came back out again to see what she wanted. She just kept shouting in a foreign language.

Eventually, she declared, “Pissing!” at the top of her voice and I just gave up and left. I waited for her to be finished as she clearly wanted the entire toilet block to herself for some bizarre reason that I couldn’t fathom. Some people just can’t share toilets apparently. When she was finally done, I burst into the cubicle I’d prepared earlier and locked the door firmly. I breathed a sigh of relief. I’m sure you know the kind I mean.

Later, when I was washing my hands, I thoroughly checked the cubicle containing the toilet she’d used. The lock worked perfectly, there was plenty of toilet roll. The outside door also happened to have a bolt on the inside that she could have used for privacy, presumably in case women wanted to use the baby change station on the opposite wall to the sink. I couldn’t help but wonder what she would have done at a pay-per-cubicle toilet, where people would have been more reluctant to leave, as it would have meant forfeiting the toll paid for use of the toilet. I still can’t work out what her problem was. Tourists.