An omnibus had crashed into and half knocked down the Cenotaph. Wyndham carried his mind back through the years. It had been for this end that the heroes of the Great War had died.
This is from the Earl of Halsbury’s 1944 (published in 1926), a ‘Future War’ novel written as part of his campaign warning of the possibly apocalyptic effects of the gas bombing of civilians.
I’ve reviewed the book elsewhere, but thought I’d draw attention here to the episode quoted above. In 1944 a surprise Russian attack has caused chaos, and drivers suddenly afflicted by gas are creating chaos as their vehicles swerve out of control. That mention of the Cenotaph is heavily symbolic. The memorial to those who died in the war, which was often seen as a reminder that it should never happen again, is easily ‘half knocked down’ by a random bus. If Britain allows a new devastating war to break out, Halsbury is saying, the sacrifice will have been rendered worthless.
This is a good addition to my collection of literature about the Cenotaph, which includes mentions by Galsworthy, Priestley and others, as well as Susan Miles’s poem.
In Riceyman Steps, the Cenotaph is the place where Joe’s violent frustrations break out:
And then I thought of the two minutes’ silence, and hats off and stand at ‘tention, and the Cenotaph, and it made me laugh. I laughed at him through the glass. And he didn’t like it, he didn’t. I was as close to him as I am to you, ye see. And he lets down the glass and says something about insultin’ behaviour to these ladies, and I put my tongue out to him. That tore it, that did. That fair put the lid on. I felt something coming over me – ye know. Then there was a crowd, and I caught a policeman one on the shoulder.
But are there any other fictional descriptions in which the Cenotaph is actually damaged?
the nearest thing I can think of is Tom Stoppard’s play The Real Thing (1982) in which Brodie, a soldier, is imprisoned for setting fire to a wreath on the Cenotaph during a protest march. (He does it to impress a lefty actress.)
There was a real-life semi-equivalent of Brodie five years ago when a rather dim Cambridge student called Charlie Gilmour swung from the flags on the Cenotaph during a demo. His excuse was that he had been brought up in the country and didn’t know what the Cenotaph was. At Cambridge he was studying history.