Marking London's WWI Memories, 100 Years On

A century after the end of the devasting Great War, we look at related venues, exhibits and events in the capital during November 2018.

The 11th month, on the 11th day, at the 11th hour marks the moment when World War I ended, and this year marks a century since that remarkable announcement.

Roy Stephenson, Historic Environment Lead at the Museum of London, and Richard Hughes, the Imperial War Museum’s First World War curator, share some of London’s wartime stories.

Crowds cheering outside Buckingham Palace, photo in Imperial War Museum, London, UK

Grenades on Clapham Common

London remains one of the world’s greenest cities to this day, and its vast parks were put to good use by the army. Wimbledon Common became a large encampment, resembling a whole city of wooden buildings, holding battalions of troops before or after their journey to the Western Front.

Meanwhile, a corner of Clapham Common became a trench warfare training ground. On the land closest to Clapham North Station, a network of trenches was dug and it was an area for testing hand grenades. Inmates at London’s infamous Wormwood Scrubs Prison helped to manufacture the army’s grenades, which were then sent to Clapham Common in hand carts. 

Women on the March

It is no coincidence that 2018 also marks 100 years since of the first women won the right to vote in the UK. As the suffragettes battled the Houses of Parliament, World War I saw women replace enlisted men in public transport, engineering and munitions’ manufacturing roles.

Photo of women workers at Museum of London, London, UK

This is a strong story depicted at the Museum of London, displaying a collection of uniforms that would have been worn. Visitors can see this remarkable uniform stash in the Museum of London’s People’s City gallery. To see it brought to life, visit on Saturday 10 November, 2018, where an actress playing a wartime munitions factory worker walks around the museum as part of its London at War family day. 

Lusitania camisole, Imperial War Museum, London, UK

The Lusitania Camisole

On 7 May 1915, the unarmed passenger ship Lusitania was attacked by a German submarine near southern Ireland. Nearly 2,000 passengers were on board including Margaret Gwyer, who was returning from Canada with her new husband. As the ship sank, the couple were sucked into one of its funnels. When the Lusitania’s boiler room exploded, they were blown back out again and, miraculously, became two of the few survivors of the attack. The Imperial War Museum displays the camisole that Margaret was wearing that night, which has remained in remarkably good condition.

Zeppelin Strikes

Before the horror of the Blitz during World War II, London experienced the threat of Germany’s menacing Zeppelin airships. These huge, cigar-shaped hydrogen balloons were steered by the wind, which meant that they could emerge anywhere in the skies over or near London. Although difficult to stop, several were shot down in areas outside the city such as Hertfordshire and Stevenage.

Eventually, however, Zeppelins began striking London. According to Roy Stephenson: ‘If you walk down Tooting High Street you can see the damaged pediment of a building which we know is from a Zeppelin attack.’ In September 1915, one pilot managed to drop bombs from Golders Green towards central London, over Bloomsbury, Holborn and Clerkenwell, as well as the City of London’s Guildhall area and Liverpool Street Station. At 57a Farringdon Road, you’ll find a plaque on the building that commemorates the attack.

National Army Museum, London, UK

Armistice Day

Countless stories are told about the moments immediately after the end of the war. The Imperial War Museum has built a record of many of these stories, told by the people who lived them. A total of 32 first-hand stories can be heard as 30-second clips at the museum’s new installation, "I Was There: Room of Voices", focusing on what people were doing immediately after the war was over.

The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior

As London recovered, thoughts turned to commemorating those who lost their lives during the war. The Cenotaph on Whitehall, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, is the UK’s national memorial to the war, which was formally unveiled in 1920.

As the stone Cenotaph was revealed, Westminster Abbey buried the body of a single soldier at the west end of its nave. To commemorate the second anniversary of the armistice, this unidentified soldier was found on the battlefields of France. Now known as the tomb of the Unknown Warrior, the grave contains French soil and is covered with black Belgian marble, and reads: "Thus are commemorated the many multitudes who during the Great War of 1914-1918 gave the most that man can give."

Neil Simpson
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