Academic journal article The Space Between

The Space Afterwards: 2014 and a Century of British Remembrance

Academic journal article The Space Between

The Space Afterwards: 2014 and a Century of British Remembrance

Article excerpt

Dan Todman

Queen Mary, University of London

August 2014 saw two important centenary anniversaries for the United Kingdom. One was of its entry into the First World War. The other was of the remembrance of that conflict: for even as it was being fought, the war was being depicted, commemorated, and consumed. Although hostilities ceased in 1918, the processes of representation and remembrance they generated persisted. Over the last twenty years, academic researchers have become increasingly interested in these cultural constructions of the war. The centenaries will be the first occasion on which they will have observed a really major anniversary from the inside. This is therefore an opportune moment to reflect on remembrance in the past and in the present, and to ask how commemorations over 2014-18 will relate to what has gone before.

This article does that first by looking at preparations for the centenaries and some of the controversies that have arisen around them, then by placing them in historical context. I argue that although they can be located within a longer tradition of remembrance, appropriation, and contestation, the activities planned to mark the centenary demonstrate both fundamental shifts in perceptions of the past in public life and a profound rupture in individual connections to the conflict. For all that they are positioned in terms of "remembering" an event indelibly inscribed in national and familial history, in practice these preparations are defined by the extent to which the war has passed beyond the boundary of lived memory.

Plans

In mid-2013, the UK government announced plans for "a 4-year programme of national acts of remembrance, UK-wide cultural initiatives and educational opportunities" to mark the centenary of the First World War. These commenced on 4 August 2014 with a service of commemoration for Commonwealth leaders at Glasgow cathedral (the anniversary of the start of the war neatly following one day after the closing ceremony for the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games); a ceremony at St Symphorien Military Ceremony in Mons, Belgium, which contains the graves of British and German soldiers, including those of the first and last Commonwealth servicemen killed during the conflict; and an evening candlelit vigil at Westminster Abbey, with the last candle being extinguished at 11pm to coincide with the point when war was declared. This was the first of at least three national acts of remembrance that will also mark the first day of the Battle of the Somme in July 2016 and the armistice on the Western Front in November 2018 ("Plans to Mark 100 Years").

The national government's commemorative programme also includes the opening of the Imperial War Museum's London site after a £35 million refit; £5.3 million funding for English schools to send two children and a teacher each to visit the battlefields of the Western Front; £15 million of grants from the Heritage Lottery fund that will enable the restoration of HMS Caroline, the last surviving warship from Jutland and its permanent exhibition in Belfast, as well as supporting local commemorative projects across the UK; and a £10 million programme of cultural events directed by Jenny Waldman, the creative producer of the 2012 Olympics. After a national competition to select a design, special paving stones commissioned by the Department of Communities and Local Government are to be presented to local councils to mark the birthplace of men who won a Victoria Cross during the war ("Plans to Mark 100 Years," "One Year to Go" ).1

The governments of Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland also put in place plans to mark the centenaries of the war in their nations. In Scotland, the programme of commemorative events will include the anniversaries of particularly Scottish significance, such as the train crash at Quintinshill, near Gretna, which killed 214 Scottish Territorial soldiers on 22 May 1915; the Battles of Loos and Arras, notable for their concentration of Scottish units; and the loss of HMY Iolaire, which sank offStornaway on 1 January 1919, drowning 204 servicemen, most of them on their way home to the Isle of Lewis. …

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