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.