The website allows members of the Centenary Partnership to download film clips, photos and documents. (c) IWM

Acts of remembrance

Geraldine Kendall, Issue 113/02, p17, 01.02.2013
Plans to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first world war are taking shape
With landmark anniversaries for the Titanic, the labour movement and suffragettes, this has been described as a “decade of centenaries” – and the most significant one of all is only just around the corner.

Last year, prime minster David Cameron unveiled a £50m funding programme to help the heritage, culture and education sectors mark the 100th anniversary of the first world war with a joined-up, UK-wide programme of events, exhibitions and activities between 2014 and 2018.

There will be three national commemorative days: the day Britain entered the war (2014), the first day of the Battle of the Somme (2016) and Armistice Day (2018), and other important anniversaries will be marked.

Every town has a first world war story to tell, and the programme wants to encourage a strong local flavour. It hopes to emulate the collaborative approach of schemes such as Stories of the World, bringing community groups, cultural organisations and youth panels together to co-produce projects.

The Imperial War Museum (IWM) is playing a leading role, coordinating the Centenary Partnership. The cross-sector network has launched an online extranet,, which is free to join and provides non-commercial organisations with a digital platform to connect with each other and share their plans, expertise and resources.

More than 850 cultural, heritage and educational organisations from around the globe have already joined up. The extranet offers downloadable resources such as historic photographs and documents, 3D scans of objects and film and sound archives, which are free for members to reproduce.

The site also provides timelines of key first world war events and guides to marketing, research and first world war art and heritage collections in the UK.

The IWM has received three years’ funding from Arts Council England for a liaison officer, who will coordinate centenary activities for regional museums. Funding for first world war projects is available to regional museums in England through the £15m-a-year Renaissance strategic support fund in 2013-14 and 2014-15.

The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has given £15m for first world war activities across the UK. Of that figure, £9m has already been distributed, but this summer the organisation will launch a £6m programme of grants of between £3,000 and £10,000. Applicants with proposals costing more than £100,000 can apply for funding through the HLF’s existing Heritage Grants scheme.

UK-wide plans

In Edinburgh, the government last month established a £1m fund to restore war memorials, while Museums Galleries Scotland held an event last December to bring organisations both north and south of the border together to develop their commemoration plans.

In Wales, a project led by the National Library of Wales has received £500,000 in funding for the mass digitisation of primary war sources held in collections across the nation.

With the reconciliation agenda ongoing, the Northern Irish Assembly will need to strike a sensitive balance in its commemorations. As well as observing other first world war anniversaries, Stormont will join the Irish Republic in a day of remembrance to mark the 2016 centenary of the Easter Rising.

Several significant capital projects are also in the pipeline. The Snowdonia National Park Authority has received an HLF grant of £150,000 to transform the Grade II-listed home of the Welsh first world war poet Hedd Wyn into a museum and interpretation centre.

The National Heritage Memorial Fund has provided £1m to help preserve HMS Caroline, the last surviving warship from the first world war fleet, which will open to visitors in Belfast.

The IWM is currently shut for a major refurbishment and will unveil its £35m First World War Galleries in the summer of 2014.

But not everyone is onboard. In the museum sector, there is concern that exhibitions may whitewash the horrors of war in favour of a more family-friendly approach, or resort to clichés about muddy trenches rather than examining the complex origins of the conflict.

The government has appointed an unpaid advisory panel, headed by English culture secretary Maria Miller, to offer an independent oversight of preparations across the UK.

The centenary needs to tread a fine line between celebration and commemoration, and the panel will be striving to keep it on the side of the latter.

Museums and other non-profit organisations can sign up to the Centenary Partnership at


This article was updated to show that the Centenary Partnership now has over 850 members. It was also amended to clarify that £9m of the HLF's £15m funding for first world war projects has already been distributed.

First world war centenary: key dates and plans


Centenary Partnership launches four-year programme of cultural events and activities

  • Summer

IWM’s refurbished first world war galleries are unveiled

  • 4 August

National commemoration day to mark the centenary of Britain entering the war


Partnership to focus on international opportunities

  • 7 May
Centenary of the sinking of the Lusitania


Partnership plans film screenings and public programmes

  • 1 July
National commemoration day to mark the start of the Battle of the Somme


Further development of international opportunities

  • 31 July
Centenary of the first day of the Battle of Passchendaele


Focus of partnership moves to impact and legacy

  • 11 November

National commemoration day for the Armistice centenary