On November 11 we'll remember - but remember what exactly?
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On November 11 we'll remember - but remember what exactly?

What exactly it is that we remember on Remembrance Day is contentious.

Critics say there's too much jingoism in the big set-piece formal events.

Organisers of those big events, on the other hand, say the official ceremonies are simply a matter of remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country and of causes that were just.

A Chorus of Women
musical director, Johanna McBride,left, and composer, Glenda Cloughley.

A Chorus of Women musical director, Johanna McBride,left, and composer, Glenda Cloughley.Credit:Sitthixay Ditthavong

And now a group of Australian women are adding their voices to the debate.

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In Canberra on Sunday, the choir called "A Chorus of Women" is to perform a drama in song about a peace conference held in 1915 in the Hague in the Netherlands.

One of the chorus, Janet Salisbury, said, "It's a story that we've been trying to bring to public attention. It's a story of women peace-makers."

The composer of the work, Glenda Cloughley, said her composition offered an alternative view of remembrance in contrast to "extravagant" commemorations of war and battles.

The work she's written is about a conference that became known as the Women's Peace Conference and involved 1200 women from 12 countries, including from those at war with each other at the time.

No Australian participant could get there because of distance but the feminist Vida Goldstein followed it by awaiting cables and then publishing them in the suffragist weekly The Women's Voter here.

The concert organisers say the current #MeToo movement has its roots in the work of the feminists they are now celebrating.

Glenda Cloughley, the composer and librettist, said the 1915 conference was an inspiration for what she calls "the great people's movements" today like, as she believes, activism on climate change, caring for refugees and promoting human rights.

Sunday's concert will feature a choir of 35 adult voices plus 15 children and eight soloists in the work called The People's Passion, written by Dr Cloughley.

"It's a big work," she said.

She had been inspired by one of the leaders of the conference who said, "Peace is not just the absence of war. Peace is the nurturing of human life".

Dr Cloughley said she was a Jungian psychoanalyst and that informed her view of the trauma of war, a trauma that would be reflected in the performance on Sunday.

She said military historians omitted the story of the conference in 1915 "and we are putting it back on the record".

Steve Evans is a reporter for The Canberra Times.

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