‘The Culture of Remembrance’ was the last in the current series of talks arranged as part of the Museum’s First World War Commemoration Project. Dr. Douglas Davies from the Centre for Death-Studies and Life-Studies at Durham University introduced us to stages of remembrance, from floral wreaths to stone memorials. But, as Dr. Davies pointed out, both burials and cremated remains were (and still are) commemorated with a stone marker.
He looked at how attitudes have changed in the last hundred years of so, with cremation now far outweighing burial – it was only in the late nineteenth-century that cremation was judged ‘not illegal’. Surveys showed that women were generally twice as likely as men to prefer cremation for a variety of reasons, including a generation of women after the First World War who did not have a husband’s grave in which to be buried.
Dr. Davies highlighted the significant role played by individuals in pressing for cremation and more recently for woodland burials and in the creation of the National Memorial Arboretum near Alrewas in Staffordshire, which includes the poignant memorial to men shot at dawn during the First World War who have now been pardonned. The discussion after the talk touched on how remembrance stones are regulated and the question of taste, as well as the creation of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission fitted into the picture.
Dr. Davies’ fascinating and stimulating talk encouraged us to consider the dead of the First World War, bringing the cycle of talks that began with considering War Memorials to its conclusion.