In a speech at the Imperial War Museum on 11 October 2012, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced the UK government’s plans for the Centenary commemorations. Given that the Olympics have somewhat delayed preparations and that such preparations take place in the context of on-going austerity and public sector cuts, it is interesting that the three main dates selected for commemoration are the what the Telegraph calls the outbreak of the fighting (4 August 2014 in the case of the British), the first day of the Somme (1 July 2016) and Armistice Day (11 November 2018).
Although battles such as Gallipoli, Jutland and Third Ypres will be commemorated the timing of the ‘big three’ commemorations is nicely spaced to minimise ‘commemoration fatigue’, a known after effect of ‘commemorativitis’. It also allows time for the commemoration of VE and VJ Day in 2015 as well as the Battle of Waterloo in the same year (although how this will be commemorated in France remains to be seen).
At the same time, the new think tank British Future is calling on the UK government to make 11 November 2014 a ‘special’ day where Britain’s two favourite pastimes – shopping and football – would be suspended for the day, citing public support for this initiative (even though the 11 November 2014 is not the one hundredth anniversary of any particular moment of import).
It is also interesting to contextualise these commemorations in light of the broader politics of nationalism within the United Kingdom. On Monday 15 October, British Prime Minister David Cameron signed an agreement to hold a referendum on Scottish independence by the end of 2104 with Alex Salmond, the leader of the Scottish National Party and currently Scotland’s First Minister.
It s most likely that this referendum will be held in the autumn of 2014. Twenty-fourteen is also the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn (remember ‘Braveheart’s happy ending). I expect that holding the referendum on or near the anniversary of Bannockburn will be too obvious, but I also think that the pro-Union campaign ‘Better Off Together’ (i.e. those in favour of a united Kingdom) would be happy if the August commemorations preceded the referendum. Although I expect that “politics” will be left explicitly out of the commemoration, the message will be clear that Britain was ‘better off together’ in 1914 and is so today.
The Telegraph (London) has a good report on Cameron’s speech that allows readers to see the wider political context (although the referendum agreement came after this announcement), particularly the vision of Conservatism outlined by Cameron the day before the Centenary speech.