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Teaching the First World War
Teaching the First World War

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4.1 War memorial – Example 1

Now you’ll apply the questions you just developed to the first memorial below: the ‘Tomb of the Unknown Warrior’.

Students’ skills development: the ‘Tomb of the Unknown Warrior’

Students could use the following questions to analyse the inscription on this memorial:

Analysis

What do you think was the intended purpose of this memorial?

Answer

Memorials were built to offer consolation to the bereaved but were also often used to justify the war, portraying death in battle as a patriotic sacrifice in service of a higher cause. Many memorials, including the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, reinforce loyalty to nation and empire.

What can memorials tell us about how the war was remembered during its immediate aftermath?

Answer

Memorials like this are useful for understanding official, state-sanctioned narratives of the war. The popularity of the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior (like the cenotaph) also suggests that these efforts at memorialisation resonated with the wider public. Many of the bereaved sought consolation and a focal point for mourning.

What can’t memorials like this tell us?

Answer

Official, public memorials like these do not necessarily reflect the ways in which people mourned in private, and nor we should we assume that all Britons agreed with the messages that these memorials conveyed.

How do the messages inscribed on war memorials contrast with the poetry of Wilfred Owen?

Answer

The patriotic inscription on the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior contrasts greatly with the disillusionment in poems like ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, which questioned the validity and meaning of the war.

Not all memorials to the First World War were official, state-sanctioned responses to the war. The next section looks at a more personal memorial.