13th Report - Lessons from the First World War Centenary Contents

6The role of the DCMS

53.As the lead government department, the DCMS played “a pivotal role”111 in convening the commemorations, but Jenny Waldman praised the way that they acted as “the moderator of all but not the director of it”.112 Lord Ashton told us:

We put together at DCMS a skeleton of national events, and we supported others, but we let our partners get on with it. We questioned them and talked to them in the advisory group, it was all gone over afterwards and we evaluated what had been going on throughout the four years. However, we were very much not there to direct. As you know on this Committee, that is in large measure how DCMS works with the arts in general. It is not a good thing for Ministers to direct the arts.113

54.This ‘hands off’ approach enabled the commemorations to explore different interpretations and narratives of the war and to build trust with artists.114 A similar approach was taken by the National Lottery Heritage Fund who proactively worked with potential applicants in local areas to develop their ideas.115

55.Despite the fact that the timing of the commemorations was self-evident, we heard concerns that the organisations involved suffered from a shortage of planning time.116 Dr Murrison MP commented that the relative lack of government action by 2011 meant “the perception then was that the UK was, if anything, a little bit behind the curve”.117 Diane Lees noted that while the Imperial War Museums started planning for the Centenary in 2010, 14–18 NOW only had tenth months to plan before commencing their programme.118 The appointment of Rt Hon Dr Murrison MP as the Prime Minister’s Special Representative was a catalyst for action, giving others “the sense, correctly, that the PM was taking a personal interest in the work.”119 In his role, the first appointment of this kind,120 Dr Murrison “provided consistency of direction to the centenary’s delivery—vitally important given the high turnover in Secretaries of State at DCMS”.121 Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland subsequently appointed similar representatives.

56.Although the centenary of the Second World War is still some time away, almost seven out of ten members of the British public (68%) support marking it in a similar way to the First World War commemorations.122 In the interim, there are other ‘national moments’ where the learning around a longer lead-in time could be more quickly applied, including the Commonwealth Games and the Festival of Britain and Northern Ireland123 which are both due to take place in 2022. Lord Ashton told us that the DCMS is also considering how to mark anniversaries of events that took place between the two world wars such as establishment of the Weimar Republic.124

57.The First World War is now the most digitally documented period in history.125 The Imperial War Museum’s Lives of the First World War project has digitally collected 7.7 million individual stories of those who helped the British War effort,126 while at the local level organisations such as the Tynemouth Commemoration Project have digitally recorded the employment, military service and burial details of thousands of casualties in their local area.127 The First World War Engagement Centre based at Queen’s University Belfast has led the creation of a digital archive pooling the outputs of projects funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.128

58.In their evidence the DCMS and Rt Hon Dr Murrison MP indicated that the DCMS and Imperial War Museum are working together to preserve the wealth of digital material generated by the commemorations.129 This includes support for small organisations who do not have previous experience of preserving digital work.130 The Welsh Government are also meeting the cost of creating a digital legacy.131 However, the National Lottery Heritage Fund expressed concern that the investment in digital legacy was not made at the outset of the centenary programme132 and British Future noted that artistic legacies were not always included in project budgets.133

59.There was widespread agreement that the DCMS was the right governmental home for the commemorations. But a longer lead-in time may have helped to ensure that preparations and co-ordination was fully in place between local and national commemorations, and with the UK’s international counterparts. While the relatively limited oversight from the DCMS carries inherent risks, the innovation that this generated from artists demonstrates that these are risks worth taking. The DCMS should take a similar approach to future ‘national moments’ including the Commonwealth Games and the Festival of Britain, but planning needs to commence immediately to avoid repeating the short lead-in time given to 14–18 NOW.

60.The centenary commemorations were the first time that a ‘Prime Minister’s Special Representative’ role was used in this way. The fact that this structure was replicated in other UK nations suggests that it was effective. The DCMS should formally include the role of the Special Representative in their evaluation of the centenary and share learnings with other Departments across Whitehall.

61.We were pleased to hear that the DCMS will be funding the preservation of the digital legacy generated by the commemorations. However, it is unfortunate that the need for this was not foreseen at the start of the commemorations. Given that the DCMS leads on digital policy, a strategic approach to preserving digital assets should form part of initial planning of any future government-funded arts or heritage programmes.


111 National Lottery Heritage Fund [WWO97] para 48

112 Q12

113 Q45

114 British Future [WWO113] para 13

115 National Lottery Heritage Fund [WWO97] para 26

116 Q19, Sir Hew Strachan [WW0119], Morris Hargreaves Mcintyre 14–18 NOW: Summary of evaluation April 2019, British Future [WWO113] para 15

117 Q44

118 Q19

119 Dr Andrew Murrison MP [WWO122] para 7

120 Q44

121 Sir Hew Strachan [WW0119] para 4

122 British Future [WW0113] para 3

123 British Future [WW0113] paras 19–21

124 Q61

125 National Lottery Heritage Fund [WWO97] para 50

126 Imperial War Museums [WWO19]

127 Tynemouth World War One Commemoration Project [WWO57] para 6

128 First World War Engagement Centres [WWO121] para 5.2

129 Q65, Q67

130 Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport [WWO96] para 38

131 Welsh Government [WWO115]

132 National Lottery Heritage Fund [WWO97] para 50

133 British Future [WW0113] para 17




Published: 16 July 2019