Today is the anniversary of Britain’s entry into the Great War. I have written before of the scenes in London in early August 1914, so will today turn to the scenes four years later, when a national war shrine was unveiled in Hyde Park.
August 4th fell on a Sunday in 1918. In keeping with the previous anniversary of the start of the war, it was a national day of prayer – prayers for peace, for victory and in thanks to those serving and killed in the war.
A rally was held in Hyde Park that afternoon, during which a war shrine was unveiled. Unlike the war shrines in streets around London and elsewhere, this one did not carry the names of soldiers, sailors and airmen – instead it was a memorial to all those who were serving, had served or had been killed in the war. It was unveiled by the Bishop of London (the belligerent bishop of a previous post on this blog), who had organised the event and the memorial.
The memorial had a base shaped like a maltese cross and was decorated with purple and white drapes. The main body of the monument was a 24-foot spire with a Union Flag and the flags of Britain’s allies around the top.
Twenty thousand people were reported to have attended the unveiling. Organisers claimed that over two hundred thousand people had laid flowers there in the first week. Due to its popularity, what had been intended as a temporary structure was kept in place – indeed it remained there until October 1919, although late-1918 plans to replace it a permanent structure (with a design by Sir Edwin Lutyens) were dropped.
The history of this popular national war shrine both helped to prompt the creation of the Cenotaph on Whitehall and predicted the future of that monument. There again, Lutyens’s original, temporary Cenotaph – erected for the Peace Day parade in July 1919 was so popular that the current, stone version was erected on the same site.
Daily Mirror, 5/8/1918
A King, Politics of Meaning in the Commemoration of the First World War in Britain, 1914-1939 (PhD thesis – the basis of King’s excellent academic book on the same subject)