In the UK today, remembrance honours the dead of the two world wars and of numerous other conflicts, but many of its central elements stem from the aftermath of the First World War and reflect the ways in which that first total war was originally demoralised and commemorated.
As the country grappled with the unprecedented scale of loss, the need for a focal point of national mourning became apparent.
The Cenotaph designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and erected in Whitehall was initially a temporary structure built for the great Peace Parade in London on 19th July 1919. It was visited by millions of people, who laid thousands of wreaths.
Later, on the first anniversary of the Armistice, a two minute silence was held there. The Cenotaph proved so popular that it was replaced by a permanent version.
The date and the rituals have remained a feature of the national consciousness ever since. War memorials sprang up across Britain in the years following the conflict, becoming a focus of more specific grief and commemoration in local communities.
The memorials and cemeteries on the former battlefields became sites of pilgrimage for grieving families. All continue to be places of commemoration today.
Did you know…?
- In September 1916, it became compulsory for all soldiers to wear two identity tags: one red, which was removed if a soldier died, and one green, which stayed with the body.
- An explosion on the battlefield in France was heard in England.
- Plastic surgery was invented because of WW1. A surgeon, Harold Gillies, helped shrapnel victims with horrible facial injuries. Dr Gillies pioneered the early techniques for facial construction.
- The youngest British soldier was just 12 years old; his name was Sidney Lewis and he had lied about his age to join.