Don't let Brexit talks 'mute centenary' of Great War, historian warns

By Hannah Richardson
BBC News education reporter

Image source, Getty Images

Sensitivities around the Brexit negotiations could mean the centenary of the Great War is not given due recognition, a historian has warned.

Sir Anthony Seldon said there is a danger that "the fear of offending one side or the other on Brexit will lead to the centenary being muted".

The Downing Street historian said the bloodiest war in the history should leave a very significant legacy.

He called for a pathway to link battle sites and cemeteries on the old front.

Sir Anthony acknowledged there had been some successful commemorative events, such as the poppy display at the Tower of London, which marked 100 years since the start of the war in 2014.

"But we need to go much further," he said, "to etch the significance of the war onto the young and those of all generations, many of whom don't have the haziest idea about the war and its significance."

'Perils of conflict'

He added: "The best possible legacy would be the fulfilment of the dream of a young officer who wrote to his headmaster shortly before he was killed in action in 1915.

"His vision was of a 500-mile pathway along the entire length of the Western Front along which he said he wanted 'every man and woman in Western Europe to walk as a reminder of where war leads'."

Sir Anthony suggested a commitment to lay the footpath should be made before the centenary ends next year.

"It will be a path along which those of all ages and all nationalities can walk, hike or cycle, with frequent markers along the track pointing out what had happened here between 1914-18'.

"The track will renew and revitalise the areas of fighting for the second 100 years.

"It will remind those of all nationalities of the importance of collaboration and the perils of conflict."

Sir Anthony said soon there will be no relatives left with personal ties to the fallen.

He added: "Failure to create such a pathway joining up all the cemeteries and sites of battles will consign these memorials to a long, painful retreat into irrelevance."

A spokesman for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: "We recognise how important it is to commemorate the First World War and in 2018 will mark 100 years since the end of the war through a number of major UK-wide events that will be a fitting, poignant tribute."

Related Internet Links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.