Commemoration - Primary

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What is 'commemoration'? To commemorate means to remember through an action or a sign. We may carry out an action, or say certain words, in a special place.

When a pet dies, we mark the grave with a stick or a stone. When people die, we remember them not just by our thoughts, but by physical objects - a photo perhaps. People hold funerals and write the names of the dead on gravestones. Remembering the dead is as old as time, as old as the pyramids of ancient Egypt, as old as the green burial mounds around Stonehenge.

No soldier from the 1914 to 1918 war is now alive to tell his story. But we can still see some of these people and hear their voices on audio and video recordings. Many of their memories were sad. Often they did not want to talk about the terrible things they had seen, but felt they had to, so that we would know about the war today.

(Play the 'Commemoration' video clip.)

Words like those that ended that clip are found on war memorials. You can see war memorials all over the British Isles. You will find them in parks, town centres, village greens, churchyards, town halls, factories, even post offices and railway stations. Does anyone know where our nearest war memorial is?

All the old soldiers from World War One are now dead. But you can still read their names on war memorials. Long, long lists of names. Names of people who died in the world wars. Sometimes several members of the same family are named on the same memorial, brothers or cousins, all from one village or from one part of town. Putting up a memorial was a way of saying, 'We will not forget you, even if we cannot visit your grave.'

(Play the 'Remembrance' video clip.)


In the video, we saw the Queen and other people at the Cenotaph in London. A cenotaph is an empty tomb. No-one is buried inside. It is a memorial to the dead who lie buried far away. We see the Cenotaph in London on television during the annual Remembrance Sunday commemoration. The Queen and the leaders of the country and armed forces take part. So do many members of the public. They lay wreaths of poppies at the foot of the Cenotaph.

(Optional: play the 'Poppies' video clip.)

We wear poppies to show we remember. Poppy-wearing started after World War One. Red poppy flowers grew in the fields of France and Belgium over which some of the most terrible battles of World War One were fought. The area became known as 'Flanders fields'.

A Canadian army doctor called John McCrae wrote a poem called 'In Flanders Fields' after the funeral of a friend killed in battle in 1915. Here it is:

(You could read the verse aloud, or it could be read by a small group of children.)

Portrait of Dr John McCrae Portrait of Dr John McCrae (credit: Mccrod Museum, Montreal)

In Flanders' fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place: and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders' fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe;

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high,

Useful link

In Flanders Fields audio clip

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders' Fields.

John McCrae's poem became famous. Sadly he did not live to see peace. He died of pneumonia in January 1918.

After World War One, many of the bodies of soldiers killed in the fighting were buried on the battlefields, in war cemeteries. People still visit them today. There are memorials and monuments, with long lists of the names of soldiers who never came home.

Thousands of soldiers who died have no known graves. Some of you may have heard of the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior. It is in Westminster Abbey in the heart of London. One soldier is buried there. His body was brought back from France after World War One. Nobody knows who he was. His grave commemorates all the unknown soldiers who fell in battle.

A hundred years have passed since World War One began. This centenary is being marked or 'commemorated' in lots of ways. There are exhibitions, museums, plays, films, TV programmes, even flying displays and parades. This year, you will see and hear a lot about World War One.

There will also be times of silence. Times to remember and be sad. But there will also be times to be thankful for the peace we have today.

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