The Cenotaph on Whitehall has been the focus of national remembrance acitivities, including the 2 minute silence on Remembrance Sunday, since it was first erected in 1919. But interestingly it was originally just a temporary memorial, constructed from painted wood. However, the design proved so popular with the public that it was replaced the following year by a near identical copy, built from portland stone.
These photographs, from the collection of the Imperial War Museum, show the Cenotaph in use through the Twentieth Century.
In this photograph taken on 11 November 1920, the oak coffin containing the body of the unknown warrior passes the Cenotaph on route to Westminster Abbey.
The stone Cenotaph was then unveiled by King George V.
This next photograph, taken between the First and Second World Wars, shows people placing wreaths at the Cenotaph.
After the Cenotaph was unveiled in 1920, the queues of people waiting to pay their respects stretched for seven miles. Large numbers of wreaths continued to be laid at the Cenotaph throughout the 1920s and 30s.
Old and faded wreaths were removed by the Office of Works, but this had to be completed by 9am as the public became upset and complained if they saw wreaths being taken away. It became the custom for men to raise their hats as they passed by.
The architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens, had intended the flags to be carved from portland stone and dyed, as he later included on some other memorials he designed. However, he was over-ruled by the government and real flags are used to this day.
In this last photo from 8 May 1945, huge crowds gather in Whitehall around the Cenotaph to listen to Churchill’s Victory speech and to celebrate Victory in Europe Day.
The dates MCMXXXIX and MCMXLV were added to the Cenotaph in 1946.