- Age 11 to 14 (KS3)
This resource is free for you to download and use in your classroom. Use these sources to find out about Remembrance during the First World War.
For ideas to help you use these sources, take a look at our Suggested Activities.
Curriculum links and learning objectives
- KS3/4 - Challenges for Britain, Europe and the wider world, 1901-present.
- GCSE - Warfare and British society, c1250-Present.
- To explore the ways people remember the First World War and how sources can help us understand the past.
Before the First World War the focus of remembrance was commanders, was victories, and it was events that happened usually overseas. And it was very rarely about the individuals that took part and their families, and that was whole heartily detached from the experience of soldiers, sailors, and airmen, and the people that they knew and socialized with. I mean there's no doubt that before the First World War the people would still be extraordinarily affected by the loss of somebody they knew, what changed was that as larger communities and as a nation we took on both responsibilities out but also respect all those losses.
Soldiers have always had a very strong bond with the people that they live with in timeless of conflicts, the people they sit next to, sleep near, eat with and share both their experiences but also their possessions within times of great hardship. And so those people would have gone out of their way to commemorate and to remember the people that they've lost, but in many cases that wasn't always possible either because the war continues and their duties required them to focus on fighting, but also because in many cases the actual person all their possessions was no longer there. And so, we would they would commemorate either the site of great battles we're with crosses and other ways of marking the place in that, you may see photos for example of rifles stuck in the ground with helmets on top or with plaques or carved pieces of wood even just saying some memory or some or some name of somebody that that has fallen in that place.
Again, that individual nature of remembrance would also have been brought together under chaplains and under commanders who at certain points in the war would have addressed larger groups of soldiers and talked about the sacrifice collectively that these people were doing on behalf of their country. And as World War One progresses you start to see these types of collective memory coming together into a much larger national event, and that leads after the end of World War one to things like the Peace Parade and the March past the Cenotaph, you know the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and then to the tomb in silence and to the wearing of poppies.
These things became permanent for a number of reasons, and I think one of the most important is that is the sheer scale of that war, and of the impact it had on so many people's lives. The entire nation was mobilized industries, factories, communities, farmers, miners, soldiers, sailors and airmen. And all of their families would have had an incredibly personal connection to what happened there. Then it would have been one or more people in every single family on every Street in the land, when you offer the nation a chance for collective grief that then helps it transform into remembrance, into kind remembrance. Remembrance of sacrifice and remembrance of others. People need that and that was certainly a war that really brought that home on a national scale in a way that had not happened previously.
In many ways the act of remembrance has remained the same since the First World War, so for example it still takes place on the 11th day of the 11th month and 11th hour the point at which the armistice was signed. This still involves many of the same symbols, the poppy, the Cenotaph, and it takes place at war memorials around the country. The act of remembrance has also changed in a number of ways particularly as the generation involved in World War Two pass away. And a good example of that is that the people taking part in the remembrance parade have got younger, and in many cases, you'll see younger people marching or walking alongside their relatives. And also, you'll see people marching in place of relatives who served who are no longer with us. So, you will see these things continue but you'll see the character and the and the individuals involved evolving as time goes on.
There's another element here and that is that the practices of remembrance that sprung up in the First World War have been adopted by us in remembering many other types of tragedy and event that is important to us. And that can be seen in Facebook groups remembering people who've suffered a tragedy or were died from illness or killed in a car crash, but also the act of creating personal shrines where something significant has occurred.
Find out more about Remembrance from Mark Beautement, a historian working with the Ministry of Defence. This video includes archive film footage of Remembrance during the First World War.
A Makeshift Grave
Over 16 million people died during the First World War. This photograph shows a makeshift grave from the Battle of the Somme. In the aftermath of the fighting, the grave has simply been marked with a small wooden cross and an inverted rifle, driven into the ground.
Body Density Maps
By March 1915, Graves Registration Units were officially recording where British soldiers were buried. Body Density Maps like this one, which shows the area around Delville Wood, were created later to record the number of known burials. These were used to help find, remove and rebury soldiers in the larger cemeteries.
The Cemetery, Etaples, 1919 by John Lavery
By 1919 there were many cemeteries in existence across the Western Front and the largest was the Military Cemetery at Etaples, in France. In this painting the female staff of the Imperial War Graves Commission are tending the graves of the dead.
Traditional crosses like this one were often used to mark the graves of soldiers who had been killed in battle.This cross marked the grave of Gunner Reginald William Miller, who was killed in action on the 2 April 1918. He was buried at the Bienvillers Military Cemetery. The cross was replaced after the war by an inscribed headstone provided by the Imperial War Graves Commission, which was established by Royal Charter in May 1917, and the cross was returned to his family.
German Cemetery on the Macedonian front
Other countries also established cemeteries for the dead. In this photograph, which was taken in 1918, General Kuno von Steuben, of the 11th German Army, lays a wreath during the consecration ceremony of the German Military Cemetery at Prilep, on the Macedonian front.
This stonemason is engraving a headstone for a Canadian casualty. The soldier who received this headstone has been identified as Private John Christopher Weatherhead, of the Canadian Army Medical Corps, who is buried in Doullens Communal Cemetery Extension No.1.
As the majority of casualties were buried overseas, street shrines across Britain became increasingly common for people to remember and grieve for those who had died. This photograph shows a service outside St Agnes' church in Acton Lane, London, on 18 November 1916.
Munitions workers in Swansea
There were also casualties at home. In this photograph female munitions workers walk beside the horse-drawn hearse of one of their colleagues who had been killed in their factory. They are wearing their working uniforms as a sign of respect, during the funeral procession through Swansea.
This is a photograph of William Edgington. He was killed in action whilst serving as a second lieutenant with 62 Battery, Royal Field Artillery, on 8 May 1915.
These British memorial plaques were given to the families of those who died on active service. Each plaque included the name of the deceased and they were given to the next of kin. This one was issued to the family of William Edgington. Six hundred plaques were issued to commemorate women who were killed overseas.
This monument was originally built after the war as a temporary structure made out of plaster and wood. It was erected for a parade in London which was held in July 1919 to celebrate the signing of the official peace treaty. It was called the Cenotaph, which means ‘empty tomb’, and was designed by Edwin Lutyens. The monument was so popular that this permanent version was built in 1920.
The Unknown Warrior
For the unveiling of the permanent memorial in November 1920, the body of an unknown soldier was returned to London and reburied at Westminster Abbey. The body had been selected anonymously from the main British battle areas on the Western Front.
The Unknown Warrior at Westminster Abbey
The body of the unknown soldier was taken from the Cenotaph to Westminster Abbey in a procession led by King George V. Here the body was buried, and the grave was filled in using soil from the French battlefields. It has provided a focus of mourning for people located in the UK ever since.
The American legion first used the poppy as a sign of remembrance in 1919, but the first poppy appeal in Britain was held in 1921. As well as remembering the dead, the poppy appeal raised money to help those who had survived and were still living with the effects of the war. The poppy has become closely connected with the First World War and the great losses associated with it. Today, many people still buy poppies to commemorate the fallen.