Updated: Sep 21, 2018
Yesterday I went to the Haworth Art Gallery in Accrington, which houses the largest collection of Tiffany glass in Europe. This is the top of a slender vase; its beauty defies description. Gazing into it, I felt the joy that comes to me when listening to one of Puccini's great arias or watching the breathtaking leap of a great ballet dancer.
For me, it was impossible not to think of Keats's Ode on a Grecian Urn:
When old age shall this generation waste, Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st, "Beauty is truth, truth beauty, — that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
As you leave the room in which this vase is displayed and turn to the left, you encounter photographs of those men who enlisted in the Accrington Pals in September 1914. Heightening morale by forming battalions from a single town was the positive side of such initiatives but the devastation of communities when a battalion sustained high casualties in a single action is agonising to contemplate.
On June 30th 1916, during the Battle of the Somme, 235 of the Accrington Pals were killed and 350 wounded within 20 minutes of starting their assault on the fortress at Serre. At the end of the day, 584 out of the battalion of 720 had been killed, wounded or gone missing. A brother of one of the Pals commented that when the news came through: "I don't think there was a street in Accrington and district that didn't have their blinds drawn, and the bell at Christ Church tolled all the day."
I shan't forget either experience.
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