How to Remember the Victims of Covid-19: Experiences of the First World War

Ann-Marie Foster

Research output: Book/ReportOther report


Covid-19 has brought with it a host of new ways to publicly remember the dead. The National Covid Memorial Wall created by Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, the Marie Curie Day of Reflection, set to mark the first day of the UK lockdown (23 March 2020), and the online Remember Me book of remembrance established by St Pauls Cathedral are all national, sometimes international, initiatives which commemorate mass death. While the UK government ponders an appropriate memorial response to Covid-19, academics have produced work urging policymakers to develop memorial practices which are inclusive, accessible, and appropriate. As people begin to create memorial monuments, remembrance events and online spaces to a sudden and sustained loss of life, understanding how previous communities have commemorated the dead can provide guidance for future policy priorities.

The Covid-19 pandemic is not the first time that the nation has had to work out how to grieve – previous wars, disasters, and other mass death events all precipitated new ways of remembering the individual dead. Families, communities, and governments all adapted to such events and created objects and ephemera to send to the bereaved. These items were often cherished by the recipient, and in many cases became family heirlooms. This was recognised during the First World War centenary in (2014-2018) , when commemoration initiatives urged families to rediscover their ancestors’ items to connect to their war experiences. But what about the people who could not trace their lineages back to the First World War? What of families whose pasts were caught up in colonialism, trauma, and discrimination? The focus on family memorial objects, only gifted by the British government to a selection of mostly white servicepeople, excluded the families of many whose ancestors were involved in the First World War. Centenary commemorations prioritised heteronormative family connections forged through blood over broader community ones, drawing on an idealised version of the family.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherHistory & Policy
Publication statusPublished - 9 Nov 2022

Cite this