Olympic style ‘Cultural Element’ to be at centre of UK Government’s Great War commemorations


  By a Newsnet reporter
Fears that commemorations of the Great War, being planned by the UK Government, will be used in order to promote ‘Britishness’ in the run-up to the independence referendum have deepened today.
UK Culture Secretary Maria Miller has confirmed that a series of Olympic style cultural events will be staged in order to mark the centenary of the conflict that led to the deaths of almost one million allied servicemen and sixteen million lives in total.

Writing in the Sunday Times, Miller says: “In much the same way as culture played a huge part in the Olympics, we think it is vital that in a national programme of such importance that the cultural element is at the fore of our commemorations.”

One of the chairs of the centenary cultural programme board is Jenny Waldman, who produced the London 2012 festival which organised London Olympics cultural events.  Part of Waldman’s remit of London 2012 was to make it very deliberately British and not just London centric.

Speaking last October when he officially announced details of the commemorations, Prime Minister David Cameron said they would be like the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, that: “captures our national spirit in every corner of the country, something that says something about who we are as a people”.

Mr Cameron’s description of the events as “like the Diamond Jubilee celebrations” were recently criticised by artists who wrote:

“Mr Cameron quite inappropriately compared these events to the diamond jubilee celebrations and stated that their aim will be to stress our national spirit,”

The group, including high profile actors Patrick Stewart and Jude Law, revealed plans to hold their own commemorations they said would mark the “courage of many involved in the war but also to remember the almost unimaginable devastation caused.”

The group have set up an online petition which describes as “disturbed” their own reaction to Mr Cameron’s plans and calls on commemorations that “ensure that this anniversary is used to promote peace and international co-operation.”

Confirmation that Olympic style culture will be central to the commemorative events will fuel speculation that they will be used by Unionists as a means of countering support for Scottish independence.  The referendum date of September 18th 2014 comes only weeks after the centenary events are due to kick off.

A government source told the Sunday Telegraph: “We have seen in recent years that communities across the UK are really at their best when they are brought together with feelings of patriotism and history.  We saw this with the Jubilee, the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Olympics.”

According to the Sunday Times, the principle ceremony in the UK is set to be held in Glasgow the day after the closing ceremony of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.

The London Olympics were cited by Mr Cameron on Friday in his speech at the Scottish Conservative conference as one of the examples of why Scotland should remain in the Union.  The dominance of the Union Flag during the games was seized on by Unionist politicians as evidence of the cultural togetherness they claimed strengthened the case for the Union.

Speaking earlier this year, First Minister Alex Salmond said:

“The events in 2014 to mark the anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War will not be a celebration in Scotland, but a commemoration of the servicemen and women who paid the ultimate price in defence of our country.

“Scotland’s war memorials – from the magnificent to the more modest – pay tribute to those fallen and will be an important part of the commemorations in communities the length and breadth of Scotland during 2014.”

Last month the Scottish government announced its own series of events to commemorate the centenary of the start of the Great War.

The five-year programme was compiled by the specially created Scottish Commemorations Panel, headed up by distinguished former Army Chaplain Norman Drummond and Janet Harvey, National Vice Chairman of the Royal British Legion Scotland.

The programme features commemorations of the significant battles at Loos and Arras, both of which have particular resonance for Scotland given the involvement of those who fought for Scottish battalions and the high casualty rate they suffered.

The First Minister also confirmed that the centenary of the beginning of WWI would be marked with a Drumhead Service on the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle, replicating services conducted on the front line where neatly piled drums draped with flags were used in place of a religious altar.