top of page
  • Admin

Remembering the Dead

Updated: Nov 7, 2023

In London the Cenotaph stands in Whitehall, unveiled in November 1920, as the national war memorial for the United Kingdom. In Edinburgh Castle, the Scottish National War Memorial was unveiled as the national war memorial for the people of Scotland. Across the United Kingdom there is estimated to be 100,000 war memorials commemorating the dead of the First World War.

Jay Winter, in his book ‘Sites of Memory Sites of Mourning’, places war memorials in context: ‘War memorials were places where people grieved, both individually and collectively. To find them one simply has to look around. The still visible signs of this moment of collective bereavement are the objects, both useful and decorative, both mundane and sacred, placed in market squares, crossroads, churchyards, and or near public buildings after 1914. They have a life history, and like other monuments have both shed meanings and taken on new significance in subsequent years. The local war memorials arose out of the post war search for a language in which to reaffirm the values of the community for which soldiers had laid down their lives. The communities devoted themselves to the task of commemoration after 1918. The resulting monumental art provided a focus for ceremonies of public mourning beginning in the decade following the Armistice, and continuing to this day.’

Every town and village in Falkirk District has a war memorial. The Town of Falkirk had 1,100 war dead, Blackness village, in the east, lost eight and in the west, little Longcroft had 87 war dead. In all, 2,400 men from Falkirk District died in the First World War from over 10,000 who enlisted, with 521 men from Falkirk District either buried or commemorated in the Ypres Salient.

The cost of Remembrance: £1 for Every Life Lost

In 1919 returning soldiers were honoured by the Town Council for their service while congregations and town officials laid plans for memorials to the fallen. Between 1920 and 1924, seventeen memorials were raised by public subscription - crosses, obelisks and plain blocks of stone, each one a reminder to the community of its sacrifice. Falkirk Town Council chose a plain cenotaph situated on the Camelon Road in Dollar Park, designed by local architect Leonard Blakey at a cost of £1,100, ironically just £1 for each life lost from the town of Falkirk. It was unveiled on 13 June 1926 by the Duke of Montrose in front of a crowd of 10,000. The guard of honour was provided by a party from the 7/Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders.

Falkirk Herald, June 16 1926, Unveiling of the War Memorial at Dollar Park

Their Loss Was a Noble Cause

Families also commemorated their dead father, brother, son or husband in their own homes. The family first received notice of a soldier’s death when they received Army Form B. 104-28 or, if they were an officer, via a telegram. If the soldier was classified as ‘missing’ it would be notified on form B.104-83, his missing status would be confirmed as dead after six months. The soldier’s chum or his commanding officer would usually write a letter setting out how he was killed, it was often instantaneously and he did not suffer. After the war, the family received a commemorative medal known as the ‘dead man’s penny’ a printed scroll and a message from the King. All of this was to give the family comfort and to emphasise that their loss was in a noble cause. From the beginning of the war the government had fostered the propaganda that the war was being fought in a just and noble cause in order to ensure public support for the war and to comfort the bereaved. From the 1930’s the growing literature about the war presented it as a terrible slaughter waged by incompetent generals and this reached it height in the 1960s. Since the 1960s this view has been debunked by countless military historians in books and publications yet the ‘lions led by donkeys’ still frames the attitudes of the present day.

The Unknown Warrior

Another symbol of remembrance was to bring the unidentified remains of a British soldier from the Western Front to rest among the kings and queens in Westminster Abbey. This soldier represents all the fallen, all those who gave their lives in the service of their country. As with the cenotaph, the Unknown Warrior was seen as replacing the dead relation that the bereaved could not mourn over. Women were given some priority at the ceremony with 1,600 seats made available by MP’s giving up their seats

in the Abbey to accommodate the mothers and widows. The ticket allocation was by ballot with various categories of loss deciding who did and did not get a ticket with the priority going to women who had lost their husband and sons, mothers who had lost all their sons, with the rest going to widows. The ballot being announced to close to the ceremony and this affected the number of applications for tickets with only 14,000 applications being received for the available 12,000 tickets with 7,506 going to mothers who had lost all of their sons, 4,042 to widows and 99 going to women who had lost their husbands and sons.

During the centenary from 2014 to 2018, there was a tremendous upsurge of interest in the First World War as people from across the United Kingdom sought to have their family members who served, lived or died, remembered in one form or another. Web sites such as 'A Street Near You' listed the names of the dead street by street in each town and village as people contacted them with details of their dead relatives. Schools throughout the UK took advantage of government funding to embark on trips to the western front to visit the old battlefields and to visit the many cemeteries. In the Ypres Salient many new memorials have been added by veterans associations and others. Some are respectful of the history and others, such as the ghastly UEFA monument at Ploegsteert to the Christmas Truce, pay no attention to historical fact.

Westrn Front Association. Falkirk. Ypres Salient. Flanders
Western Front Association Armistice Day remembrance at the Cenotaph London. Image WFA

Since the conclusion of the centenary commemorations interest in the First World War has once again been left to academics or to those of us with more than a passing interest. The cenotaph memorials in London, Glasgow and Falkirk symbolise an empty tomb for the missing dead and became, in the post war years, sites of remembrance for the families who were not able to bury their dead husbands, sons and brothers. Today, the the Western Front Association holds its annual, since 1998, Armistice Day act of remembrance at the Cenotaph in London. This was resurrected to keep Armistice Day alive, as it had been up to the Second World War, and for it not to be consumed within the 'official' Remembrance Sunday national day of remembrance.

87 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page