Sorry, this episode is not currently available on BBC iPlayer Radio


There are now no living survivors of the First World War, yet Remembrance Day has gained a new and powerful significance in the nation's life. Today we not only commemorate the war dead on Remembrance Sunday, we also mark the anniversary of the actual moment in 1918 when the guns stopped firing with a two minute silence.

This custom, which ceased in 1939, was reinstated in 1995, meaning that today we remember the war dead more actively than any previous post war generation, and arguably more than at any time since the First World War itself. As Professor Jay Winter says, Remembrance is "the spinal column that connects 1918 with 2011".

While the ceremonial rituals of Remembrance have remained constant, their social and emotional meaning has changed over the years, mirroring the massive shifts in British society since their creation more than ninety years ago. Remembrance is now pivotal to British identity, as shaped by the collective memories of two great conflicts. The Second World War especially has infused our culture with feelings of pride, moral worth and British exceptionalism. The Remembrance ceremony has become a crucial moment to sustain this sense of ourselves, despite the more controversial legacy of modern wars.

In this programme, Denys Blakeway explores the Act of Remembrance through recordings of the ceremony, and the debates surrounding it, and asks why Remembrance Day has become so important in the life of the modern British nation, despite the relatively few who have fallen in recent conflicts.

With Professor David Cannadine, Professor Jay Winter, Dr. Adrian Gregory, Dr. Dan Todman, author Juliet Nicholson and forces chaplain, Padre Mark Christian.

Producer: Melissa FitzGerald
A Blakeway Production for BBC Radio 4.

1 hour

Last on

Sat 12 Nov 2011 20:00



Discover more seriously interesting Radio 4 documentaries.