Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 November 2010
War memorials have long been regarded as the most visible form of Great War commemoration practices. Whether through public memorial or private grave, the First World War has been fixed in collective memory for its numerous dead. The word ‘remembrance’ is inextricably associated, at least in the collective imagination of many European and Commonwealth countries and the US, with the poppy and 11 November. Commemorating the First World War is often equated with remembering the dead. As public sites of mourning, Sir Edward Lutyens's Monument to the Missing of the Somme at Thiepval and his Cenotaph in Whitehall contrast with the private space of the soldier's regular slab, on which very little room is left for a personalized inscription. The private space of commemoration is reduced to a line or two – while the public rite of enforcing the same gravestone for all soldiers enacts a communal practice of remembrance. War memorials, as Jay Winter has argued, can be read as sites of both memory and mourning, places where collective grief and individualized remembrance are materially located. Whether public, as the Somme memorial at Thiepval, or private, as soldiers’ graves, war memorials and war cemeteries together give form to a material culture of Great War commemoration which is literally linked to a fixed, permanent, singular location.
It has not been sufficiently stressed that the materiality of Great War commemoration and its remembrance rites stretches beyond sculpture, architecture, gardens of remembrance and the iconological programmes of communal or private funereal art and that war memorials for the dead of the Great War began to appear in the form of printed matter long before the end of the war itself. Unlike architecture, sculpture or gardens, books are movable objects, not anchored to a fixed, permanent ‘site’ or unique locus.