The Bureaucratization of Death: The First World War, Families, and the State

Ann-Marie Foster*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
35 Downloads (Pure)


After the First World War the British state tried to show the families of the dead their thanks, and memorialize the dead, through the two-minute silence and the creation of the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior. However, before families of deceased servicepeople encountered the state through national commemorations they encountered it through the administrative paperwork of death. Other than brief mentions in wider works, the bureaucracy of death is remarkably absent from discussions of death, yet the paperwork associated with death was a significant part of family experiences of bereavement, particularly in wartime. This article argues that state bureaucracy played a key role in defining people’s experience of wartime bereavement, both practically, through the paperwork sent, but also temporally, by controlling when and how families could carry out grave-related elements of mourning, such as choosing an epitaph. Over the course of the early inter-war period, the bureaucracy of death encountered by the families of the war dead could profoundly shape their experience of loss.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberhwac001
Pages (from-to)475–497
Number of pages23
JournalTwentieth Century British History
Issue number4
Early online date17 Feb 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2022

Cite this