Sunday, 2 November 2014

1914-2014: Liverpool remembers

The English city of Liverpool and the French city of Nantes commemorated the World War I anniversary together this summer. My younger son and I spent a truly memorable weekend in Liverpool along with one million other visitors. Liverpool staged the event in style... with a little help from their French friends.

Royal de Luxe's puppeteers with the Little Girl in Liverpool
Nantes' Royal de Luxe puppeteers with the Girl in Liverpool

Three generations together
Liverpool is a special city because of its people. Liverpudlians have a unique blend of wit, warmth and resilience. When my son and I arrived at Liverpool's Lime Street station, the city was already abuzz with excitement. We felt very welcome. Complete strangers just started up conversations with us. Whole families were out on the streets together - children, parents and grandparents. The children waited patiently and politely despite their obvious excitement.

Nantes theatre company

Many spectators recalled the previous Giants' visit to Liverpool for the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic. Such was the enthusiasm for their return that many attended nearly every single day of the commemorations. They admitted to shedding tears over the tale of the Liverpool Pals' Battalion.

Liverpool has taken the Nantes theatre company, Royal de Luxe and director, Jean-Luc Courcoult to its heart. Three giant puppets told the tale: Grandmother, Girl and Xolo the dog. I was amazed at the energy of the French puppeteers.

Liverpool's Memories of 1914
Families watch the Grandmother in the procession

It is often said that only London and the world's other capital cities can stage major cultural and sporting events. I beg to differ. My son certainly does. How could a Liverpool supporter visit and not do a stadium tour at Anfield? (Sorry Everton fans). Football runs in the lifeblood of this city. My London-born son was delighted to take a picture of Steven Gerrard's shirt.
A Liverpool fan takes a picture of his hero's shirt

The home dressing room was surprisingly subdued. It just goes to show that glamour does not always win.

This city does not sweep things under the carpet. It confronts its past in the International Slavery Museum. Even within Anfield's museum with its bulging trophy cabinets, there were respectful commemorations to the lives lost in the Hillsborough and Heysel disasters.

The ceramic poppies at the Tower of London are spectacularly creative and impressive. Liverpool handled its 1914 commemoration differently, in a way that captured the attention of its people. The Giant Spectacular was free and whole families were able to watch the events unfold together. They heard a story about their city that many had forgotten or never knew. I have no doubt that 2014, and therefore 1914, will live on in the memories of the children there. The city's excellent museums will be able record the events for them to revisit and retell the tales to their children. 

Lives sacrificed in Flanders
The French theatre company brought the reality of the Liverpool's Pals Battalion to life in a way that no memorial could ever do. Now the importance of ancestors' sacrifices and hardships will have greater meaning.

Flanders' trenches where so many died

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