Will 1914 matter in 2014? Nobody who experienced the war is still alive. Most of us struggle to recall more than the most basic facts about what happened and why. Yet, the first great global conflict remains a pivotal cultural reference point for understanding the last century and how it shaped the country we have become today.
Do mention the war reports British Future’s original research into what the public know and don’t know about the first world war, and why they think next year’s centenary will matter, and what they want it to be about. For example, more people think Britain declared war in August 1914 because Germany invaded Poland (as was the case in 1939) than Belgium: only 13% knew the right answer. However, 81% do know that Germany was an enemy of Britain in 1914, but 8% of the under-24s believe that Britain and Germany were allies in the first world war trenches.
Drawing on public workshops in England, Scotland and Wales, and new national polling, the report reveals why most people think we should seize this chance to learn, and explores which meanings of the centenary people agree on and which ones we will need to argue out.
Samantha Heywood highlights Imperial War Museums’ forthcoming projects around the first world war, including the Centenary Partnership of which British Future is a member, while Baroness Warsi looks at the contribution made by soldiers from the Commonwealth and writes of her determination that it not be forgotten as we commemorate the 2014 centenary.
As Scotland votes for its future in 2014, Alex Massie asks how that impacts on its ability to reflect on its past, and Jo Tanner explores how the war changed the lives of those who stayed behind
Sunder Katwala discovers that men and women think about the centenary differently, and asks whether 2014 will challenge the dominant view of the war offered by the War Poets and Blackadder.
Meanwhile, the University of London’s Dr Daniel Todman suggests that it is healthy for us to challenge the widely-held perceptions of the war and even to disagree about the routes into our understanding of this period.
With a year to go until the commemorations begin, Do Mention The War explores how ready we are.