The annual tradition that first took place in 1919 to pay tribute to the war dead.
Although the First World War was brought to a close by a ceasefire – the Armistice – on 11 November 1918 – the final peace treaty was signed more than seven months later, on 28 June 1919.
As that moment approached, the Government’s thoughts turned to how to commemorate both an international victory and the impact of so many lives lost on foreign soil. More than 1.1 million soldiers who had been born in Britain and elsewhere in the Empire died in the ‘Great War’. Half of these have no known grave and few were buried on home soil.
A Peace Committee chaired by Lord Curzon, Foreign Secretary, declared Saturday 19th July 1919 a Bank Holiday and outlined a celebration running over four days, including a Victory March through London, a day of Thanksgiving services, a river pageant, and a day of popular festivities.
Numerous representatives of the allied nations were in attendance and the Peace March was one of the most impressive spectacles ever witnessed by Londoners and the world. Nearly 15,000 troops took part in the march, led by the victorious Allied commanders.
The Cenotaph – July 1919
The idea was conceived to erect a temporary memorial structure in Whitehall to be the end point of the great procession where the march would pause to honour the dead. Edwin Lutyens, at the request of the then Prime Minister Lloyd George, designed and built the Cenotaph (literally ‘Empty Tomb’ in Greek) which was a wood and plaster construction.
At its unveiling by King George V, the base of the monument was spontaneously covered in wreaths to the dead and missing from The Great War and such was the extent of public enthusiasm for the construction it was decided that The Cenotaph should become a permanent and lasting memorial. Re-made from Portland stone, its inscription reading simply “The Glorious Dead” and unveiled by King George V on 11th November 1920 just as the ‘Unknown Warrior’ was borne past en route to burial in Westminster Abbey, the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London, has since played host to the Remembrance Service for the past nine decades.