Ivor Perry 2019

University of Durham

‘Gone to a foreign land to die’: memorialising WW1 dead on family headstones

This paper is drawn from a case study which in turn forms part of a larger project on the religiosity of ordinary people in WW1, as seen through their headstones. The bulk of the project data lies in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) headstones, which form the first, mass, collection of British headstone inscriptions. The study of CWGC headstone Personal Inscriptions is itself threaded through with evidential problems, and contested information. For example, present research suggests that around 50% of identifiable graves have no inscription at all. A number of reasons have been suggested, including the possibility that other forms of memorialisation, such as In Memoriam notices in the local newspaper, were regarded as preferable. One such form of memorialisation was to include the name of the casualty on the family gravestone at home. The discussion, a subset of the case study, focuses on five casualties remembered in the cemetery of their home village. It considers the village demographics, the roots of the ‘popular’ religiosity of the time, and brings together the official memorialisation on CWGC headstones and memorials, with the expressions of loss and grief on the family headstones. Additionally, it considers the ‘civilian’ elements of the headstones, and points towards an evolving religiosity in the village in the years between 1900 and 1930.


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