What has the First World War Centenary meant for communities?
On Sunday, we are commemorating the 100th anniversary of the First World War Armistice and at HLF, we’ve been reflecting on the role National Lottery money has played in marking the Centenary.
The statistics are certainly eye-catching: millions of people have taken part across the length and breadth of the UK; almost £100million has been invested in over 2,200 projects; 700 groups have received HLF funding for the first time; and 26,000 people have been inspired to volunteer for Centenary projects.
But it’s not until you dig under the numbers that the real impact of National Lottery funding on the Centenary can be properly understood.
Thousands of stories shared
“I’m immensely proud of the role National Lottery investment has played in helping people to better understand our shared heritage.”
Thousands of stories have been discovered and shared: stories of Pals battalions, soldiers from Commonwealth nations, and conscientious objectors: stories of the impact of the war on women, children, and society, of food shortages and of places changed forever. The stories have been varied and it’s striking that most illustrate the First World War beyond the frontlines.
As we look back at the Centenary, I am sure people will say that the way in which it was commemorated brought about a significant shift in our collective understanding of the First World War. And National Lottery investment was central to that change.
A new understanding of the war
Before the Centenary, the First World War was understood largely through the filters of powerful war poetry and school history lessons. The focus was largely restricted to the nature of trench warfare, the tragedy of large scale casualties and how the poppy became synonymous with remembrance.
Today, and although these themes are still very important, as a result of National Lottery investment, the First World War is understood in its broader context.
Of course, we still remember that almost 980,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers were killed in this devastating conflict, but we also now understand with greater clarity that over five million returned, many with life-changing injuries. And that medicine advanced rapidly as a result of the war, particularly in the fields of reconstructive surgery, prostheses and mental health.
“Many of us have learnt about how our own families were changed by the war and its aftermath, while others have seen stories they already knew given fresh life and relevance.”
We have a clearer view of the seismic impact of the war on women’s role in society. The suffrage movement may have suspended its campaign during the war, but the character and consequences of the conflict almost certainly achieved even more to advance the cause of women’s equality than four years of continued campaigning would ever have done.
National Lottery-funded projects have discovered the stories of professional women footballers; the heroic acts of individual women like Edith Cavell, who helped more than 200 Allied troops escape German-occupied Belgium; and women like Dorothy Lawrence who was determined to ‘do her bit’ and sneaked into the British army disguised as Private Denis Smith.
The war directly changed how people lived and with the introduction of Homes for Heroes, inner city slums were cleared and thousands of new homes constructed. Local residents on one such new estate in Bellingham, South London have discovered their links to the war through the restoration of The Fellowship Inn public house, built in the 1920s as a dedicated community space for war veterans and their families.
The War and the Centenary changed us forever
Communities, families and society were forever changed by the First World War. In smaller but still significant ways it’s also true that society has changed again as a result of the First World War Centenary.
Many of us have learnt about how our own families were changed by the war and its aftermath, while others have seen stories they already knew given fresh life and relevance. At a time of great uncertainty in Europe, we have all been reminded of the terrifying consequences of nationalism and the failure of political and diplomatic processes.
I’m immensely proud of the role National Lottery investment has played in helping people to better understand our shared heritage and its continued relevance to this day. Every National Lottery player should feel proud of what their generosity has made possible.