Remembering the First World War: blood, poppies and poetry

David Reynolds explores how commemoration of the First World War has changed over the past 100 years...

British former field marshal Douglas Haig, inspects poppies before Armistice Day, October 1922. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

At first sight, British remembrance of war has changed little over the last century. The Cenotaph and the Two-Minute Silence date from 1919, the Poppy Appeal from 1921. Yet the continuity of ritual masks profound changes in British attitudes to remembrance. To explore these changes takes us into broader issues of national identity and even foreign policy.

The Great War was the deadliest in Britain’s history, with nearly three quarters of a million killed. It was impossible to bring such a large number of bodies home. Indeed many soldiers had been literally blown to bits by shellfire and their remains were never found. So the dead were interred and commemorated along the battlefronts in nearly a thousand cemeteries and monuments constructed by the Imperial War Graves Commission in one of the biggest public works projects of the 1920s.

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