In a recent, rather rambling article for the Daily Mail, Max Hastings criticised the government’s apparent lack of interest (read: funding) in the centenary. However, I think that his assertion that “the British government is so eager to wash its hands of the coming 1914 centenary” is a little premature, particularly given that the Jubilee and Olympics have dominated the headlines and the public consciousness. But with 2014 fast approaching, what is being done in preparation for the centenary?
David Cameron has not been completely idle – last year he appointed Dr Andrew Murrison as the Special Representative to explore the commemoration of the centenary. At a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary War Heritage Group in December last year (attended by representatives of the main organisations you would expect to be involved in the centenary plans) Dr. Murrison addressed the group. Key points were the importance of grassroots, community-based commemoration across the whole country (not just London), an inclusive approach with other countries, and education as the main legacy of the centenary. The Chairman of the group, Lord Faulkner, can be seen discussing the centenary here, and Dr. Murrison here. The religious commemoration of the centenary has also recently been discussed in Parliament. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport have started a blog about the centenary preparations; there is currently one blog entry by Diane Lees, Director of the Imperial War Museums. A discussion of whether the centenary should be celebrated or commemorated, and some of the challenges and tensions the centenary brings, can be heard on this podcast from the University of Birmingham.
Other organisations are not waiting for government direction or funding. The Imperial War Museum will be pivotal in the centenary and indeed their campaign has already started with the launch of their centenary website. One of the most exciting aspects for me is the redesign of their First World War galleries. I have been visiting the IWM since I was a child and never tire of the galleries and exhibits. But is this the end for the Trench Experience?!
The IWM have released few details about the redesign; their latest press release does, however, reveal that their revamped First World War galleries will be 45% larger than the existing ones. Some information can also be gleaned from the ‘Transforming IWM’ blog, webpage and galleries page. An indication of the ‘look’ of the redesigned museum can be seen in the architects’ visualisations and on their Justgiving page. Planning permission has been granted and if you are good at interpreting architectural plans some idea of the proposals can be seen in the planning application. The National Army Museum have also announced an upgrade, but there is no indication if any of this will tie in with the centenary.
Another key organisation will be the Western Front Association. There is currently no information on the WFA website about their centenary plans, although members will have read in the Bulletin/Stand To of the ongoing discussions about planning for 2014-18. The last update was late last year, where it was reported that a national calendar of events will be developed – this should prove very useful in bringing together the numerous and diverse events that will be going on, both in the UK and abroad.
Given the digital era in which we live, online media will no doubt be a key channel during the centenary. Several websites are already testament to this, such as the University of Oxford World War One Centenary website and aforementioned IWM site. Even Wikipedia are getting in on the act, with a view to revising and updating all of their WW1 pages before the centenary. The Centenary News website looks like one to watch as well. It will also be interesting to see what angle TV documentaries and books take – I think it is a safe bet that there will be any number of reassessments of the war and its conduct and leadership.
With or without government support and funding, there will be a huge level of interest in the war during 2014 – 2018 and beyond. Plans for commemoration and remembrance seem to be well underway and hopefully more details will start to filter through once the Olympics are out the way.