How Popular Culture Shapes and Restricts Public Memory

This year marks the centennial of the First World War: an epic, transformative global conflict that lasted just over four years and claimed the lives of seventeen million soldiers and civilians. Today, there are no living survivors of the Great War; we must rely solely on collective memory to understand what happened amid the blood and the mud, the writing and the waiting, one hundred years ago.

There is, of course, an inherent problem with this. The British remember the war in a particular way; as, indeed, every country involved does. For us, the war was futile, horrific, catastrophic – a war of ‘lions led by donkeys’ – that stripped our country of its bravest and brightest. Interestingly, this was not the common belief in the immediate aftermath of the war; this idea only really gained traction during the economic slump of the 1920s. But despite this fact, and even in the face of a recent boom in scholarship around the First World War, there has been little impact on popular remembrance. The war is still understood in Britain as the ‘bad war’ – especially in contrast to its successor – and this over-arching narrative is emphasised and promulgated by popular culture.

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My Great Grandpa In The Great War

My great grandpa, Norman George Dale, was born on 7th March 1896 to Frederick Dale, a farmer, and his wife Martha. He was one of ten children, three sisters and seven brothers and the family lived happily at Oxheys Farm in Cheshire.

When the war broke out in 1914, two brothers, Harry and Fred, stayed at home to maintain the family farm; even when conscription was introduced in 1916 they was exempt from service as a result of their occupation.

The remaining brothers Sidney, Walter (32), Albert (23), Frank (21) and Norman (18) all fought in the war. While Norman was technically too young to serve overseas – the minimum age for this being nineteen – he lied about his age so he could fight beside Frank, as the two youngest brothers were inseparable.  Walter, Albert, Frank and Norman all joined the Manchester Regiment; Albert in the 22nd Battalion, Walter in the 2nd/5th and Frank and Norman in the 2nd/6th.

Norman George Dale

Norman George Dale

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