The Historic Significance of Underwater Heritage from WWI

The Slava, a pre-dreadnought battleship of the Imperial Russian Navy.

Underwater cultural heritage from World War I is a special witness of history. As of now, it has been little visible, little researched and little understood. The written naval history of the First World War tells about fights, strategies, technologies and power. It talks of courage, patriotism and bloody battles. But the wreck sites filled with the remains of those who fell in the battles tell us also a different tale. Many of the wrecks are grave sites. The reports of the sinking ships or of the recovery of the dead talk of an immense suffering and grief, they are a call for peace. Visits to these ancient wrecks today tell us even more. They remind us that war is created as a result of political decisions, but the results of war itself include personal tragedies involving  people who die, families who are separated, and young people perishing. They remind us of mothers losing their children, young people losing hope and whole generations being denied the opportunity to have a happy and healthy future.

Heritage calls for peace and reconciliation in telling us the human tragedy of war in each of its single tales.

The heritage of World War I can help bring to light an often overlooked side of the war – the story as it was felt by the average man or woman. Stalin once cynically said, “One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic”. Heritage helps prevent human beings from becoming statistics and allows us to remember each story, each life and each death. It allows us to sympathize and understand what happened during a particular time in history on an individual level. It brings the emotions of the victims of a battle or a conflict back to us in a touchable, and touching, way.

Touchable heritage sites and artefacts are an impressive tool to understand the actual events that happended in the past. Written accounts of an event have potential biases and influences. Heritage is a more unbiased witness. History books tend to forget voices of people not in a superior or ruling position, or voices that are not of use in a political discourse - the voices of women, workers and minorities. They also tend to forget the stories of daily life, suffering, loss, or anxiety. This is especially true when, at a closing of a war, the next and even bloodier one is prepared, as in the case of World War I.

Back to top