Helen Frisby 2009

University of Leeds

Dead and buried? Disposal and commemoration in England before and after the Great War

Some historians have argued that the Great War of 1914-1918 precipitated a decentring of the corpse from popular commemorative ritual. One piece of evidence routinely cited for this argument is increases in the cremation rate following the Great War. However, I would suggest that the Great War did not influence popular disposal and commemoration practices to the extent that some have argued, and that even today the body remains firmly at the centre of popular commemorative strategies. I will start by describing the commemoration of the dead during the pre-War period, with particular reference to the ‘garden cemetery movement.’ Although the cremation rate increased after the Great War, this increase was initially modest; as late as 2000, around 28% of disposals were still by burial, suggesting that for many people the body still remains a focal point for commemoration. Meanwhile it is common practice for ‘cremains’ to be carefully disposed of, with considerable effort often expended in commemorating the deceased at or near to the actual site of disposal. This section of the talk is illustrated with photographs of inventive commemorative strategies observed in a Garden of Remembrance in Leeds, West Yorkshire. It is therefore clear that there remains a long-standing, entrenched popular association between disposal and commemoration of the dead.


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