Why has the First World War been remembered in different ways since 1918?

This enquiry is designed to provide some examples of how and why the First World War has been remembered in different ways and in different times and contexts since 1918.

Stage 1

How does remembrance make us feel today?

The focus here is on how remembrance makes us feel today. This initial lesson is designed to introduce students to familiar local and national memorials to help them consider the variety of possible responses to the memorials and the First World War, both when they were built and in the present

Stage 2

What did Francis Derwent Wood want people in 1919 to feel about the First World War?

This first interpretation of the First World War is a controversial Canadian sculpture designed to stoke hatred of Germany and is based on a well-known atrocity story spread by Allied propaganda. The activity helps to introduce some of the variety of possible attitudes towards the War at its close, attitudes which sometimes gained popularity in later decades.

The Crucified Soldier - an extract

An extract from the 2002 television documentary The Crucified Soldier showing Canada’s Golgotha (from 9 minutes 30 seconds to 10 minutes 44 seconds).

Canada's Golgotha by Francis Derwent Wood

Images of the sculptors work.

Francis Derwent Wood - background

Background information on the British sculptor.

US propaganda poster 1917

A U.S. propaganda poster of 1917 depicting German soldiers crucifying an Allied soldier on a tree.

US propaganda poster 1917 - notes

Background details on the poster depicting German soldiers nailing an Allied soldier to a tree as American soldiers come to his rescue.

Extract from The Times May 1915

An original extract titled 'Torture of a Canadian Officer.' from The Times newspaper, dated 9th May, Paris.

Background details on resources B, C and D

A short explanation of the links and the differences between the three different resources.

Character descriptions

Character cards which briefly describe possible visitors to the busy exhibition during 1919. Designed to prompt student discussion on how people might react to the exhibition.

Character statements

This resource consists of statements summarising the possible reaction of each of the characters on seeing the sculpture in the exhibition.

Canadian government enquiry in to the atrocity story

This resource casts doubt on the authenticity of the original atrocity story.

Stage 3

What did the builders of the ‘Trench of the Bayonets’ monument want people to feel about the First World War?

This second interpretation of the First World War is a French memorial designed to stir French patriotic admiration for the costly sacrifice of French soldiers who stayed at their post, heedless of danger (however, like the Canadian sculpture, the story it is based on is open to question).

Map of the Western Front

This map illustrates the position of Verdun on the Western Front in 1916.

The Battle of Verdun 1916

An account of the Battle of Verdun which briefly describes the campaign and its significance.

Contemporary photograph of First World War French infantry

A contemporary photograph of French infantry dressed in their distinctive blue uniforms during the First World War.

Trench of the Bayonets monument

Account of the official story of the Trench of the Bayonets monument along with further explanation.

Stage 4

How did Otto Dix make people feel angry about the First World War?

This third interpretation of the First World War deliberately contrasts with the first two and illustrates how anti- war sentiment was common in defeated Germany through the art of Otto Dix and growing through Europe in the inter-war period.

Image of a Flanders field poppy

Image of a blue cornflower

Image of an artificial Royal British Legion poppy

An image of an artificial commemorative French cornflower

German Empire 1914

German borders 1919

Treaty of Versailles

The main provisions of the Treaty of Versailles and detail of the right wing myth that the German Army was ‘stabbed in the back.

Group instructions for analysis of paintings

Otto Dix images resource

Stage 5

What did the creators of the film ‘Oh What a lovely War!’ want people to feel about the First World War?

This fourth interpretation focuses on a famous musical of the 1960s linking original satirical versions of British wartime songs to a radical left wing narrative of the First World War influenced by the political attitudes of the decade in which the film was created.

Image of a male lion

Image of a donkey

‘Oh What a Lovely War!’ video clip

Definition of an Historical interpretation

Background on ‘Oh What Lovely War!’

Church parade video clip

Playing leap frog - video clip

Closing sequence from ‘Oh What a Lovely War!’

Claims made in the opening credits

Stage 6

What did the creators of the ‘Shot at Dawn’ monument want people to feel about the First World War?

This recent interpretation commemorates 306 British soldiers shot for cowardice and desertion during the First World War and shows that is now acceptable, in Britain at least, to equate such victims of the war with those who died fighting in it. This activity could be used to contrast with the focus of monuments on the Western Front itself during a field trip.

A photograph of Private Herbert Burden

A contemporary photograph of Private Herbert Burden, an underage British soldier who was shot for desertion in July 1915 at the age of 17.

Story of Private Herbert Burden


Herbert Burden was the son of a gardener from Lewisham in London. He was born in 1898. It appears that he joined the Northumberland Fusiliers in May 1914 claiming to be 18 years and two months (two years older than he actually was).

“Shot at Dawn”, sculpture by Andrew De Comyn

Sculpture showing Herbert Burden, by Andrew de Comyn.

Comments about ‘ Shot at Dawn’ sculpture by Andrew De Comyn

Comments from the sculpture on his work, in his own words.

Detail about the ‘Shot at Dawn’ monument

Details about the design and layout of the ‘Shot at Dawn’ monument opened in 2001 at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire by Herbert Burden’s daughter.

Cowardice and desertion, video clip from the BBC

BBC history summary of treatment of soldiers convicted of cowardice and desertion.

Stage 7

How should the Imperial War Museum make people feel about the First World War today?

Lead a whole class discussion:

  • How does Professor Sir Huw Strachan and Chris Skidmore respond to Norman Walter`s views?
  • How do their views differ from those of Tristam Hunt?
  • Which past views from this enquiry about the First World War the historians may agree or disagree with and possible reasons for this?


The task is to write a letter to the designers recommending how a particular artefact should be displayed. 

Quotes from Norman Walter

Views of an official at the German embassy in London about the First World War Centenary from August 2013.

Quotes from British historians in response to Norman Walter

Views of British historians Professor Sir Huw Strachan, Chris Skidmore and Tristam Hunt in response to Norman Walter.

‘The First World War and Cultural Memory' task

Outline of student task.

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