War remains: contributions of the Imperial War Graves Commission and the Australian War Records Section to material and national cultures of conflict and commemoration

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Abstract

© 2015 Taylor & Francis. The Imperial (subsequently the Commonwealth) War Graves Commission (IWGC) was established in 1917 comprising member countries of the former British Empire. The organisation was charged with providing appropriate memorials to commemorate the Empire’s war dead, individually and equally, without regard for military rank, class or nationality. This was no easy task given the numbers of dead from multiple theatres of war, the variety and oftentimes competing demands of imperial and national war offices, and the uncertain aesthetics arising from individually attuned and publically oriented commemorative intentions. Equally caught up in the mix of agencies and design practices were hordes of war trophies, captured artillery and military relics retrieved from battlefields across Europe, items carefully catalogued and preserved by the British War Office (BWO) and offspring agencies to provide artefacts for building memorials in Commonwealth states. This paper describes the work of the IWGC during and immediately following the years of the First World War. It relates the Commission’s activities building war cemeteries in view of changing geopolitical circumstances and commemorative conventions. The paper highlights tensions that appeared in the near routine collection of trophies for memorials and war cemeteries between British imperial offices and those of dominions and former colonies, specifically the Australian War Records Section which gained independence from the BWO in May 1917. The paper examines the mutual engagement of war’s material culture with patterns of sentiment shaped by mass conflict, an engagement mediated by administrative practices of war and remembrance.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)217-240
JournalNational Identities
Volume17
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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