The politics of meaning in the commemoration of the First World War in Britain, 1914-1939
This thesis explores the meanings which commemoration of the First World War had for contemporaries. It examines the activity of war memorial committees, the conduct of ceremonies, and the interpretations of commemoration offered in newspapers, speeches and reminiscences, to discover how the public response to war was shaped into a formal commemorative practice. It focuses particularly on the erection of memorials, which might be either monuments or socially useful facilities. It is shown that commemoration was conducted through the institutions of local politics, including local government bodies and voluntary associations. Discussions about the choice and design of memorials reflected the political and religious preoccupations of those who contributed to them. Where factions formed around competing proposals for a memorial, they reflected existing divisions within the community. The argument is that commemoration was concerned with far more than mourning the war dead. It had a didactic purpose, and encouraged the discussion of contemporary political issues in terms which related these to the example of good citizenship set by the dead. What commemoration should mean to the general public became a matter for political debate. There was a consensus that the memory of the dead should be kept sacred, but how their example ought to be understood was open to differing interpretations. These differences were expressed through the partisan attribution of meanings to the symbolism of memorials and ceremonies. The sacred task of honouring the dead thus provided an opportunity for adherents of political, social or religious causes to promote their interests, in so far as they could articulate them as reflections on the war and its effects.