So here we are in 2014, a year that will see the start of over four years of events to commemorate the centenary of the First World War. One hundred years since a conflict that affected most households in the country, a conflict that had far-reaching repercussions on the world that we live in today, a conflict that holds an enduring fascination for many people.
I regularly tweet about First World War related news stories, and the amount of coverage that has already been given to the war over the last year or so has surprised me. There have been articles about different aspects of the conflict, soldiers’ stories, and centenary plans on an almost daily basis. Many stories have covered the proposals being developed by communities up and down the country, and indeed across the world, to commemorate the war.
This sense of anticipation has also been added to by several well-known authors, academics, and historians, as well as TV personalities, releasing books about the war during 2013. Titles by Max Hastings, Jeremy Paxman, Gary Sheffield, Kate Adie, Saul David, Margaret MacMillan, Christopher Clark, Peter Doyle, and David Reynolds have all the hit the shelves prior to the centenary; with numerous publications due to be released over the next four years it seems some publishers are getting in there early. I just hope that this pre-centenary rush does not contribute to war ‘fatigue’ before the centenary has even started.
Organisations such as the Western Front Association and Commonwealth War Graves Commission will play a key role over the next four years. I have been fortunate enough to have had a sneak preview of a couple of projects in the pipeline from The National Archives and the British Library, and needless to say digital content and online accessibility feature heavily. The BBC has also released details of its centenary programming. It remains to be seen whether television and the media use the centenary period to properly re-examine the conflict or to just rehash many of the myths and perceptions that still seem to be held.
However the most anticipated plans are surely those of the Imperial War Museum. With the help of government funding, the IWM are completely remodelling their First World War galleries as well as redeveloping much of the museum itself. I have been visiting the museum since I was a boy and was a big fan of the First World War dioramas, trench experience, and atrium with the Old Bill bus and Mark V Tank. The museum was established as a direct consequence of the war, so it seems fitting that the galleries are updated now to take into account revised perspectives of the war. Technology is also sure to feature heavily; as museums such as In Flanders Fields in Ypres have shown, it can be integrated into exhibits to help understand the course and conduct of the war and the experiences of those who fought in it.
The Imperial War Museum are also working on Lives of the First World War, an ambitious project to create a permanent national digital memorial to those that served in the war. As well as a fitting tribute to those who served, this has the potential to be a valuable resource for historians and genealogists. During my own research I have come into contact with many families of men on my local war memorial who have been only too happy to share their ancestors’ stories, letters, and pictures. Lives of the First World War gives people the platform to share these stories on a national level. If only such a database had existed five years ago when I started my research!
For me the most important aspect of the centenary is the remembrance of the soldiers at a local level, to ensure the stories of those whose names are inscribed on memorials up and down the country are told, and their contribution remembered. There are a plethora of projects in the pipeline to support this, supported in many cases by Heritage Lottery Fund grants, but in others being carried out by individuals and groups who just have an interest in the war and commemorating the men and women who served. I think projects such as Lives of the First World War will go a long way to ensure that this happens. The project is due to go live on 20th February 2014. You can also follow them on Twitter.
My own plans focus initially on the publication of my own book about the men commemorated on Carshalton war memorial, due to be published by The History Press later this year. This blog reached the milestone of 5,000 hits in December, and I hope to develop it further as the centenary progresses with more book and media reviews, and posts telling the stories of some of those who served. I am also looking to run some trips to the Ypres salient and Somme battlefields, focusing on the stories of the local men from Carshalton, Sutton, and Wallington who fought in the war. So watch this space for further details later this year, and thanks to everyone who has supported my blog and encouraged me during 2013.