With ‘Memories of August 1914’ Liverpool saw the return of the giant marionettes created by French company Royal de Luxe. They visited the city back in April 2012 (see my posting of the event on 22/4/12) to commemorate the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic which was part of the Liverpool based White Star Line fleet. This year the giants’ spectacular was being held to commemorate 100 years since the outbreak of the First World War.
The event started on 23 July when Grandma Giant was discovered sleeping inside St George’s Hall. Around 42,000 people flocked to see her there during her two day of slumbers which included snoring and her breaking wind!
On Friday she woke up, and was joined by the Little Girl Giant and her pet dog Xolo and the three took to the city’s streets with the intention of telling the story about Liverpool and World War I.
The giants covered some 30 miles in total on Liverpool’s streets over the weekend covering much of the city centre.
During Friday’s route the Grandmother Giant was delayed by about an hour after her head came lose when she broke wind. Once her head was secured she was moved in her wheelchair to meet the little girl and Xolo in Newsham Park for the night’s stopover.
The very colourful director of Royal de Luxe Jean-Luc Courcoult had set out the story for the three day event. As he outlined it: the Grandmother comes to Liverpool with one of her children to tell us the story of the happy people who went away in August 1914 with the King’s Regiment to save Britain and Europe. In August 1914 it was well before the horrors of the war began to unfold. Europe at this point in time was gripped by the war frenzy and the excitement of what lay ahead.
Whilst on Friday and Saturday the three giants ‘walked’ across the city with their Lilliputian helpers; on Sunday walking along the Strand on the Liverpool waterfront for the grand finale they were joined by some of the ‘Liverpool Pals’. I only saw them from a distance as I was the other side of Canning Dock.
The ‘Pals’ are a key part of the story. The Earl of Derby was Liverpool’s Lord Mayor in 1911, was a Conservative MP for the city, president of the city’s chamber of commerce and chancellor of the university. When Lord Kitchener made an appeal for “the first 100,000” volunteers to fight in the war in August 1914, Lord Derby wanted to ensure that the city was at the forefront of the World War One recruitment drive.
On 24 August, he met with Kitchener to ask if he could raise a battalion from the city’s commercial class. Three days later, he called for men to serve in “a battalion of comrades” in the Liverpool newspapers. He felt that there were many men, such as clerks and others engaged in commercial business, who would be willing to enlist in a battalion of Lord Kitchener’s new army if they felt assured they would be able to serve with their friends and not be put in a battalion with men that they did not know.
By the end of September 1914 there were more than fifty towns across the country where men enlisted together in local recruiting drives. The Earl of Derby was the first to call such local battalions ‘Pals’ battalions. Some of the larger towns and cities like Liverpool were able to form several battalions each. As he put it, those signing up should form “a battalion of pals, a battalion in which friends from the same office fight shoulder to shoulder for the honour of Britain and the credit of Liverpool”. The huge casualties from the war meant whole communities and workplaces were to change forever. By the end of the war, some 2,800 Liverpool Pals had been killed. Despite the huge death toll, Lord Derby’s popularity remained and he went on to become Secretary of State for War and later the Ambassador to France.
I joined the crowds on Saturday evening to photograph the giants on the city centre streets before they stayed overnight at Clarence Dock. On Sunday morning 27th July I joined the throngs of people around Canning Dock next to the Albert Dock complex to watch the Grandmother and Little Girl Giant depart Liverpool on a barge into the River Mersey.
The Giants did a circuit around the Three Graces on the Pierhead. It gave the opportunity for passengers on the Ruby Princess cruise ship who were berthed at the cruise liner terminal a chance to see some of the action.
The procession along The Strand next to the Liverpool waterfront was accompanied by music and percussion blasting out from musicians in vehicles accompanying the procession. The percussion section were stood on cars stacked on top of each other, quite a sight.
Last time the Giants were in the city, they were estimated to have pulled in £32m for the economy with around 800,000 spectators and visitors staying in hotels, eating out at restaurants and spending money in shops. Every part of town there were spectators eager to see the parade.
The Grandmother and Little Girl Giant were lifted onto two beds on a river going barge and they departed Canning Dock amid clouds of dry ice which the Lilliputians were furiously emptying over the sides of the barge being hauled by a small tugboat.
It is estimated that one million people have attended the event this time and the Giants certainly made a big impression with the people of Merseyside and beyond. The transport system particularly the Merseyrail service has never been under so much pressure with the number of travellers getting into and back out of the city centre with Lime Street station forced to close on Friday evening due to the sheer weight of travellers. Authorities from Perth in Australia and Chicago in the USA were in the city to see how the giants’ spectacular was hosted as they hope to put on similar events in the next year. But many many people are hoping the giants will return sometime soon back to Liverpool.