SO much of our attention is now focused on monuments of the past. Monuments which divide us, monuments which are political. It’s more than right that we confront this past. We have to recognise what these monuments – statues of slaver owners and profiteers of slavery – stand for today.

Yet, while we interrogate the past, we cannot forget the present. And the present offers us a chance to create a monument that will unite us all, not divide us. A monument that stands above politics. A monument that’s about the best of the human spirit, not the worst. A monument that will show future generations that the people of Scotland in 2020 cared about our fellow citizens and the suffering that was happening among us in this most troubled year.

Put simply, we must build a memorial to the victims of the coronavirus pandemic. To fail to do so would be to fail to live up to every claim we make about being a decent society – a society that cares, remembers and wishes to do the right thing. If we can remove monuments that remind us of the sins of the past, we can build monuments that stand for a better tomorrow.

The Herald newspaper has been working away for more than two weeks now on a campaign for a memorial garden commemorating those who lost their lives to coronavirus in Scotland. The campaign is the very essence of what journalism should be about – connecting readers and society with a cause greater than us all.

At the time of writing, more than 4,000 people have died from the virus in Scotland. In a small country like ours, that means many of us know someone who has lost their life or lost a loved one. The suffering touches all of us in one way or another.

Just over a fortnight ago, on May 26, The Herald launched its campaign for a Garden of Remembrance – a quiet place of reflection, with a memorial cairn commemorating all those who died.

The campaign quickly gathered momentum. Religious figures backed the idea, like Rev Neil Galbraith of Cathcart Old Parish Church in Glasgow, who has led funerals during lockdown and seen the reality of grief and death amid coronavirus. “A cairn,” he said, “is the perfect thing to create – it is part of Scottish culture. A stone is something which will never go away, it will never disappear and people can take strength from that.”

With Glasgow the favoured location for the memorial, local politicians from the city started getting involved. Council leader Susan Aitken said: “Even when things start to approach normality we can never forget those we have lost. We need to make space for people to reflect and remember.”

Glasgow City Council was soon fully onboard. Within just a couple of days, the city made an incredible and generous offer – it would find a site in Pollok Country Park for the memorial garden.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she was “instinctively very supportive” of the memorial. Remembrance, she added, is something that’s “really very important emotionally for all of us”. The leaders of Scotland’s other political parties were of the same mind.

No-one wants to be over-confident about such an important venture, but the signs look good. The will is there, the site is there, the political support is there. What’s needed now is for the public to get involved, offer help and for the necessary money – £50,000 – to be raised. You’ll see how to do that at the end of this article.


While researching this article, I walked around some of Glasgow’s local cemeteries – which are, by their very nature, gardens of remembrance themselves – trying to get a sense of how we as a culture remember our dead.

What surprised me was the number of memorials within our cemeteries. Memorials within memorials. We think of graveyards as places where families go to remember an individual father, or mother, son, or daughter. But sprinkled around our cemeteries and graveyards there are monuments to groups of disparate people who died in similar ways, and needed to be remembered by the people of the time.

Just inside the gates of Glasgow’s Necropolis, high on a hill over the city’s Royal Infirmary, there’s a small memorial stone to children who died at East Park Cottage Home. I met a couple there who voluntarily tend the grave. They spotted it one day while walking and couldn’t forget it.

I was counting the names on the stone when they approached me. “Twenty-one,” they said. They were right. Twenty-one children who died in the 1870s and 1880s. They were all profoundly disabled and lived at a care home in what’s now Maryhill Road.

This little stone inside the gates of this great Victorian graveyard can speak to us over a century later of how people cared for these boys and girls and wished the world to remember them, long after they were all gone. And, indeed, as the couple in the Necropolis proved, people still care today.

There are two cemeteries near where I live in the southside of Glasgow – Eastwood New Cemetery and Eastwood Old Cemetery. At the back of the old cemetery, there’s a little clearing, and in it you’ll find a sight that’s beautiful yet heartbreaking. It’s a weeping willow tree and a stone which reads: “For all our babies briefly known but never forgotten.” The memorial is for more than 250 stillborn children who were buried in the city in unmarked graves. There are still messages there from grieving parents. It would take a hard heart to read their words and not cry.

Across the road in the new cemetery, there’s a small ring of neat graves surrounding a stone crucifix. It’s a garden of remembrance, created using the headstones of those killed in the two world wars, and who were buried in graveyards now closed. Rather than let their memories fade away, far from sight, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission built this memorial in Eastwood, so that people like you and me can stop and think just for a moment about the lives they led and the deaths they suffered.

As you leave Eastwood Old Cemetery, there’s a small memorial stone that will catch your eye. It’s not a grave, it’s a water fountain. It’s dedicated to Alexander Crum who died in 1894. The stone thanks him for his “service to this cemetery”. Who was he? Was he the groundskeeper? Why did the local people want to remember him especially? It’s 126 years since his death, but that small stone dedicated to him keeps Alexander Crum alive in our minds to this day.

If a simple inscription on stone can preserve the memory of one man in a small graveyard on the southside of Glasgow, think what a garden of remembrance, dedicated to the thousands who lost their lives to coronavirus would mean, at the heart of one of the nation’s most beloved and beautiful parks?


Humans have been memorialising our dead for as long as we’ve been sentient. The pyramids are simply one grand memorial to royal Egyptian dead. The Taj Mahal a memorial of love by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to his dead wife Mumtaz Mahal.

In a strange way, though, these grand memorials say little to us about loss. No-one looks at the pyramids and grieves for lost pharaohs. The love of Shah for Mumtaz is moving, but it’s the beauty of the Taj Mahal which captures our minds, not sorrow and grief.

The memorials which move us most are memorials to ordinary people – people just like us, who lost their lives in ways that scare or humble us, in ways that remind us of our own frailty. Some stand as a testament to good triumphing over evil, others simply ask us to feel pity in our hearts.

The most powerful memorials are those which reminds us what it means to be human. The greatest memorials tell us that we really are all in this together – "this" being the thing we call life and death. The most important memorials bring us together physically, emotionally and spiritually. Like great art, a great memorial sublimates you. It takes you out of yourself and reminds you that you’re part of a huge collective called the human race, and that the one truth all of us have is that we live, we die, and we hope to be remembered.

There are many memorials to the victims of the Holocaust across Europe. In Berlin, the vast and chilling Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe rivals any work of architecture in its monumentalism. It’s a 19,000 square metre site covered with 2,711 concrete stele, or stone slabs. It’s like an abstract interpretation of a huge graveyard, a city of the dead. The stele remind you of coffins – walking among them, you feel consumed by death and memory. It’s a hard but necessary place.

Of the many memorials across Europe remembering the victims of the Nazis, the one which moves me personally the most, is in Budapest. If you walk along the banks of the Danube near the Parliament building you’ll see a line of 60 pairs of shoes – all in the style that men and women wore in the 1940s – made out of iron and lying by the water’s edge.

It’s there to remember the estimated 20,000 Jews who, between late 1944 and early 1945, were lined up along the Danube and shot by fascist Arrow Cross gunmen, their bodies dumped into the river. Before they were murdered, victims were forced to remove their shoes – a valuable commodity during the war.

Shoes On The Danube Bank is not just a memorial, it’s a work of art. It speaks of inhumanity – of screams, gunfire. It speaks of sorrow and suffering – of absence and the deaths of people just like us. And it speaks of our shared humanity, and the simple power and dignity of remembrance. Once you’ve seen it, beautiful Budapest is forever a different place.

Words, like symbols, matter with memorials. In Oklahoma, there’s a memorial to the 168 people who lost their lives when a domestic terrorist set off a bomb outside a federal government building in 1995. The memorial has turned a place marred by hate and violence into something sublime and meditative.

The most affecting part of the memorial is the Field Of Empty Chairs. On the site where the building once stood there are 168 glass, stone and bronze chairs, each with a name carved into the base. Reading those words – all those names – becomes overwhelming.

The chairs are in nine rows – for each of the building’s floors. Each person’s chair is on the row, or floor, where they worked. On one side, five chairs represent those who died outside the building when the bomb went off – and 19 of the chairs are smaller than the others, because 19 children died, many in the building’s kindergarten. Three unborn children died, and their names are carved into their mothers’ chairs.

Memorials may seem to speak to the past, but they are really of the present, and for the future. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial, commemorating those who died in the world’s first atomic strike, asks us directly to think of a future without war.

So many memorials urge us to never allow the same suffering to occur again – the Cenotaph, the site of the 9/11 attacks in New York, Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

We may see a memorial as primarily something for the world at large – a lesson, a message, a promise – but memorials very much matter to ordinary individuals and families, those left behind. In Scotland, we’ve two such powerful memorials. The Lockerbie Garden of Remembrance, commemorating the 270 people murdered when Pan-Am 103 blew up over the border town in 1988, and the Dunblane memorials to the 16 primary school children and their teacher murdered by a gunman in 1996.

Both speak directly to all of Scotland, Britain and the wider world beyond. Both memorials say "never again", they urge us to remember and to not accept a world where such atrocities can happen. In Dunblane, the memorials show that change – even hope – can come out of the worst horror, as it did in Britain with the resulting handgun ban in the wake of the attack.

But it should never be forgotten that those memorials in Lockerbie and Dunblane are there for the people who live on, far more than they are for us. For us, the public, the pain and suffering of such events retreats as the years go by, but such loss is never, can never be, forgotten by those who lived through it: the friends, the neighbours, the families.

A memorial to those lost to coronavirus will serve our souls well in so many ways. We’ll be able to look ourselves in the eye and say we didn’t forget those who died in this dreadful year. It will give us hope that all the promises we made to ourselves about building a better world after the pandemic cannot be put aside and forgotten.

And it will give comfort to friends, neighbours and strangers who experienced grief. It’s a simple act of love and respect – and in these troubled times that is much needed.

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