'Serbian troops dance a traditional Kola at their camp near Salonika in June 1916', courtesy of the Imperial War Museum, © IWM, Q 32156

Centenary News provides an overview of European First World War Centenary plans

Posted on centenarynews.com on 04 August 2013
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Centenary News provides an overview of what we know about Centenary plans in Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, as well as the city of Sarajevo.



Plans to mark the Centenary of the First World War in Belgium are some of the most advanced in Europe. Commemoration programmes, research projects and international events have been developing in Belgium for the last few years.

Witnessing some of the bloodiest battles on its soil, Belgium became a symbol for many of the iconic images and themes associated with the war, such as the poppy.

The 'Rape of Belgium', as the German invasion and occupation of the country became known, is featuring in commemorations at regional and national levels.

The highly regionalised nature of the country and its divergent French-speaking and Flemish populations means that there are a number of Centenary events at local and regional levels, as well as at a "national" level.

As such, commemoration plans often run in parallel with one another between the French and Flemish speaking regions. The Belgian press has highlighted that this has created some tensions over the organisation of Centenary events.

The Belgian Prime Minister, Ellio Di Rupo, announced in May 2013 Belgium's Centenary plans.

They include a series of anniversaries which will be observed at a national level, such as the German invasion of Belgium. Anniversaries of other significant dates will also be marked at federal levels.

The Government in Flanders has been at the forefront of planning, and many international events are being developed with partners, particularly as so much of the conflict took place on Belgian soil.

The Flemish Peace Institute has also issued "advice concerning the Centenary of the First World War and its message of peace" in a report made available in English in June 2013.

Other projects being planned include the plotting of driving routes which will allow motorists to explore battlefronts and the staging of a play by the author of War Horse, Michael Morpurgo.

The vast number of war memorials and First World War themed museums in Belgium means that the country will be a global focal point for commemorating the conflict.



Plans to mark the First World War in Britain began in earnest in October 2012, when the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, announced £50 million of funding would be committed to commemorating the conflict.

Since that date community, regional, national and international plans to mark the 100 year anniversary of the conflict have developed.

There has been a debate in Britain about the nature of the plans. In the British press, it has been argued that plans reflect a fear of "upsetting the Germans". Whilst, in a similar vein, concerns that the Centenary "focuses on British defeats", have been expressed.

This has fed into the overarching discussion about the Centenary in Britain, as to whether the period should focus on "celebration or commemoration". Centenary News filmed the UK Special Representative for the Centenary, Dr. Andrew Murrison MP, and Professor Sir Hew Strachan, addressing the debate.

A wide ranging group of figures from British public life, including actors, historians and politicians, published an open letter in May 2013 criticising any prospect of glorifying the conflict in the UK.

The signatories, who included actors Jude Law, Patrick Stewart and Alan Rickman, stated that "far from being the war to end all wars" or a "victory for democracy", the signatories believe that "it is important to remember that this was a war that was driven by big powers' competition for influence around the globe, and caused a degree of suffering all too clear in the statistical record of 16 million people dead and 20 million wounded".

In June 2013, the Government announced a four year plan for the Centenary.

The Government made a further announcement about plans to "put Victoria Cross Winners at the heart of the Centenary".

The Heritage Lottery Fund has been an important source of financial support for community, regional and national Centenary projects. Some of the projects which have been successful in their applications to the Heritage Lottery Fund were announced in August 2013.

The Imperial War Museum will also play an important role in national commemorations, with the museum currently closed in preparation for its Centenary exhibitions.

The Imperial War Museum's Centenary Partnership is bringing together local, national and international organisations to mark the anniversary of the conflict.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is undertaking a large scale restoration of headstones in its cemeteries around the world ahead of the Centenary, and has signed an agreement to work with its French and German counterparts.

The British Government also plans to work with its international partners, and signed a "Letter of Intent" with France.

Devolved governments

Scotland announced its own Centenary programme in May 2013, which included commemorating Scottish specific anniversaries and the significance of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in August 2014.

Queen Elizabeth II will lead a candle-lit Vigil at Glasgow Cathedral on 4th August 2014, where Commonwealth leaders will gather.

Many leaders will be in Glasgow for the Commonwealth Games, and the closing ceremony of the Games is expected to mark the Centenary.

A service will also be held at St Symphorien Military Cemetery in Mons, Belgium – which has an equal number of British and German soldiers.

Northern Irish plans so far include themes of reconciliation, both within Northern Ireland and with the Republic of Ireland, as well as the First World War ship HMS Caroline being transformed into a "floating museum".

Wales is expected to announce its Centenary plans in the next year.



Plans to mark the Centenary of the First World War in France have been gaining momentum at regional, national and international levels.

The French Government launched Mission Centenaire 14-18 in 2012. It is responsible for developing, supporting and publicising France’s Centenary commemorations programme over the four year period.

Regional museums are also developing plans to mark the Centenary of the conflict, with the Museum of the Great War of the Pays de Meaux expected to be a leading institution in France's efforts to mark the conflict.

Due to the amount of battles that took place on French soil, international plans to commemorate the conflict feature in France's commemorations, with many countries choosing to send dignitaries to France or to restore memorials in the country.

Australia announced in July 2013 that it would be contributing $700,000 towards the renovation of Franco Australian Museum in Villers-Bretonneux for the Centenary.

Canada announced that it will spend $5 million on a permanent visitor centre at the Canadian National Vimy Ridge Memorial in France, to commemorate the Centenary of the battle in 2017.

The international element of France's Centenary commemorations is wide in scope, with a "Letter of Intent" having been signed with Britain in July 2013 to co-operate during the Centenary period.

France has also provided funding to the city of Sarajevo, in order to mark the Centenary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the outbreak of the conflict.

It has also been reported the Tour de France will plot a special Centenary route in 2014 - including along battlefronts - to mark the 100 year anniversary of the conflict.

There has been a debate in France about how much focus is being placed on the Centenary of the First World War.

The year 2014 marks not only the 100 year anniversary of the First World War for France, but 70 years of liberation from Nazi rule in 1944.

As a result, Centenary commemorations may be integrated with, or overlap with, events taking place to mark the celebration of France's liberation.



German plans to mark the 100 year anniversary of the conflict at a national level have not yet emerged.

However, Germany will provide funding towards events in Sarajevo to mark the Centenary.

Plans at regional level - particularly amongst museums - to mark the conflict are beginning to take shape, and more news is expected from them in the coming year.

Representatives of the German Government are expected to mark dates of international significance, particularly on the Western Front, alongside Belgian, British and French dignitaries.

The will to commemorate the conflict in Germany - both at public and political levels - may be a factor affecting German Centenary plans.

The end of the First World War brought political and economic instability to Germany and is often viewed as central to the rise of Nazism in the country, and therefore sits uncomfortably in the nation's history.

Coupled with the fact that - in general - the Second World War overshadows the First in Germany, the Centenary may not be marked in the same way in Germany as it is elsewhere.

At a conference held at the National World War I Museum in Kansas City in March 2013 entitled A Century in the Shadow of the First World War, Dr. Reiner Pommerin of the Militärgeschichtliche Zeitschrift told the conference that "nothing is going on" in Germany to mark the Centenary.

Furthermore, Germany may choose to mark the end of the conflict: the sailors' mutiny at Kiel in 1918; the German Revolution; and the Armistice for many Germans had a greater bearing on Germany's history than the conflict itself.



In an interview with Centenary News, Professor Evgeny Sergeev, of the Russian Academy of Sciences said that: "In general, people in Russia are not as enthusiastic about World War One as about World War Two, because, as you know, Russia was not among the winners of the conflict".

The Russian Revolution of 1917 and the rise of Bolshevism and the Soviet Union means that the First World War - labeled an "imperialist war" by Lenin - has been somewhat overshadowed.

Professor Sergeev highlighted the efforts underway to develop a commemorative programme to mark the Centenary in Russia, which involve both "state and public organisations", as well as a "commemorative lecture" on the conflict to be delivered to schoolchildren in September 2014.

The professor added that President Vladimir Putin's administration has "recognised the importance of joining other European countries, the USA and Japan in the commemoration of the First World War’s beginning in 2014".

Russia's participation in commemorating dates of international significance during the Centenary period is therefore expected.

The Russian Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev, ordered the creation of an "organising committee" in March 2013, to make preparations to mark the Centenary of the First World War.

It is expected that more plans from the committee will emerge in the coming year.

In Moscow, a major international conference examining 'Russia in the First World War' will be held in June 2014 at the National Research University Higher School of Economics.

Additionally, a new statue dedicated to the memory of First World War soldiers is to be erected in Moscow.


City of Sarajevo

The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra has announced that it will perform at Sarajevo Vijecnica (city hall) on the 28th June 2014 to mark the Centenary of the assassination.

France and Germany also announced in April 2013 that they would provide funding to the City of Sarajevo to mark the outbreak of the conflict. 

A programme of events in the city will include commemorations, academic reflection upon the conflict, as well as cultural and athletic events for the month of June 2014.

A foundation - Sarajevo heart of Europe - has also been established by France and the city of Sarajevo. The foundation will be involved in the commemorations.

Centenary News spoke to the Mayor of Sarajevo, Ivo Komsic, on the 99th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

The Mayor said that “it is important to remind ourselves of the tragic consequences of war and send a message of peace” and gave details of Sarajevo's Centenary plans.

© Centenary Digital Ltd & Author