90 Years of Remembrance

Beginning a push that has something of the last drive to victory about it, the BBC are gearing up for a multi-platform burst of remembrance this year. The website, run out of the ‘Religion’ section, interestingly enough, is promising a whole ‘campaign’:

With the aim of personalising the act of remembrance and bringing World War One vividly alive in the present, it will encourage individuals and families to look into the stories of their relatives that lived in the First World War through a variety of activities [shouldn’t there be a comma back there somewhere? I mean, I’m not surprised they lived through a variety of activities, I’m just not sure that’s what they mean]. From Oct 22nd:

  • Find out more about the events of the Great War on the website through the WW1 timeline and footage
  • Discover your WW1 family and local history through links to an array of family history sites
  • Post WW1 artefacts, photographs and memories about those who served to the online wall of remembrance
  • Browse the many WW1 stories already online including those of some familiar faces
  • View listings of all related programming on BBC television and radio throughout November with sneak previews available
  • Attend free remembrance events across the country on the weekend of the 8th and 9th of November
  • Sign up to BBC Remembrance’s texting service to receive the story of a local soldier who served in WW1

Although it’s only really supposed to get going on 22 October, some people have already added their thoughts.

Perhaps the most interesting feature at the moment is the archive of recordings from remembrance ceremonies at different points over the last sixty years.

Or you could watch Michael Palin tell you that a million Britons died in the First World War. The Australians, New Zealanders and Canadians are going to love being called British, I tell you.

More on the remembrance of the 90th anniversary of the war as it develops.

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11 Responses to 90 Years of Remembrance

  1. Errol says:

    The Australians, New Zealanders and Canadians are going to love being called British, I tell you.

    Datapoint: at the second-largest ANZAC day dawn service in Auckland, the anthem played is ‘God Save the Queen’, not ‘God defend New Zealand’. Many of NZ’s WWII participants considered themselves British.

  2. Alan Allport says:

    Many of NZ’s WWII participants considered themselves British.

    You’re right, and that’s even truer of WWI veterans; but I don’t think that was Dan’s point. It’s not the sensibilities of the 1918 generation that are relevant here but the sensibilities of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, whose understanding of the war is refracted by ninety years of shifting national consciousness. It would be nice if people had a broad enough historical imagination to ‘get’ that their ancestors didn’t necessarily see the world in the same terms as them, but generally they don’t. Historians grumble over this but there’s a limit to what we can do.

  3. trenchfever says:

    Errol – I am aware that many of those who came from overseas to fight for the mother country saw themselves as British. But I am less sure that their descendants would be happy with this description, bearing in mind what a key part participation in the First World War plays in the national foundational myths. As ever with the blog, I was being at least in part provocative in order to provoke comment whilst writing concisely. I don’t actually think it’s inappropriate to discuss the million dead in the context of purely British remembrance, since the links of family, temporary migration and communication were strong enough that the emotional impact of ‘New Zealand’ deaths (for example) was felt in British homes. But I do have a problem with the casual use of the easily remembered ‘million’, because it seems to me that its vagueness detracts from understanding. How many of us, genuinely, can picture a million of anything? I recognise that it would be a bit much, given the shortage of a words available in an hour of telly, to ‘unpack’ the concept of a million British and Empire dead, but I might have preferred to give the statistics in terms of households or families. These are equally misleading, in the sense that they hide fierce regional and class differences, but if the point you’re trying to get across on screen is how widespread the impact of war was, these get you to the same place and maybe tell the audience something new.

  4. Errol says:

    Good points from you both. Unfortunately the clip has been pulled, so I can’t see the slightly larger context of the comment. I see how there are better stats than ‘a million dead’ to get the ideas across.

    I try to educate my friends and acquaintances on this point as the subject comes up. I was also fishing for comments about possible differences between the ‘white Dominions’ on the matter – Britain cut NZ’s apron strings post-WWII, and differences in attitude in the WWII generations would be unsurprising.

    Some of the sigs I use on usenet are quotes from WWII figures referring to inter-commonwealth attitudes.

    PS Is there a way for us to provide an icon for our log-ins? The pattern provided is better than nothing, but I’d like to use something with more flavour if poss.

  5. trenchfever says:

    I can still see it!
    You’re absolutely right Errol that there is a big difference between WWI and WWII – the statistics that are usually quoted for British deaths in the Second World War don’t include ‘Empire’ dead.
    If you want your picture to appear, I think you need to have a wordpress account (free), which should allow you to upload an avatar. When you’re logged in, it should appear when you leave a comment.

  6. I still find it quite strange that remembrance in Britain now seems to be focused on the opposite extremes of the million dead and Harry Patch, with not much attention given to anyone in between.

  7. errolc says:

    Turns out that wordpress is gravatar enabled, I i just had to set up there (http://en.gravatar.com/)

    Anyway, there is a lecture here in Auckland this week, “Gallipoli and Beyond: Returning to the Battlefields of the Great War.”

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10536861

  8. trenchfever says:

    Gavin, you’re absolutely right, but these are ‘the million dead’ and ‘Harry Patch’ – symbols, not real people, which have their place in remembrance because of how they can be used rather than because they are judged suitable for interrogation. The problem for anyone wanting to get beyond that is whether you can make anyone listen – Hew Strachan’s Channel 4 series, much of which is now viewable on youtube, is an excellent example of a good tv history of the war which had very little impact largely because it didn’t tell people what they already knew. And you can make a set of very accurate guesses now, I would think, about the images and stories that will be used in the media during the week 10-16 November this year.

  9. Richard J says:

    Does anyone have any idea, BTW, when the second volume of Hew Strachan’s “proper” history is due?

    My bookshelves need another five-kilo monster to get them properly near straining point…

  10. Errol says:

    BTW, Professor Bruce Scates, author of ‘Return to Gallipoli: Walking the Battlefields of The Great War.’ gives a good lecture on the topic if you get the chance to attend one.

  11. Errol says:

    I came across coverage of the Anzac Day Dawn Service 2008 at Waikumete Cemetary at http://www.nzonscreen.com/title/anzac-day-dawn-service-2008/overview.

    People may also be interested in the documentary:
    http://www.nzonscreen.com/title/maori-battalion—march-to-victory-1990

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