Q. What is your role as the Special Representative for Centenary Commemorations?
AM: My role is to be the Prime Minister’s special representative for the Centenary Commemoration of the First World War. The Prime Minister feels very strongly that this is a very important anniversary to be marked appropriately and properly. The way he has chosen to do that to get the plans up to enable us to that is to appoint me and also establish the part for Culture Media and Sport as the lead department for implementation
Q. How important is the tapestry of local and grass roots commemorations?
AM: Clearly we need to have some fairly large scale national events along the four year period which government will organise. This will be seen as very much UK events but I think this has to be very much more than that. We need to reflect the enthusiasm that communities have shown already for marking the Centenary for the Great War and all the events during the four year period. I have been really impressed by the number of projects that have been created already in anticipation for start of that anniversary period in August next year. I think the reason I use the word tapestry what most people’s experience of this is going to be is precisely that. They are going to see events and projects in their areas which hopefully they will find helpful in explaining how it was that local communities were involved in the Great War. In particular the people that were from those areas, how they were involved and I think that brings history to life for people. I think too often history seems a long grey and stayed discipline. To bring it to life you really do need things like focus on people and activities; and I think we are going to talk about sport particularly that means something to people and in those ways you can bring history alive it becomes a real thing with which they can easily connect.
Q. Is there a role for sport / football in the Centenary Commemorations, if so to what extent?
AM: Well if you want to engage people you have to go where they are and clearly in this country we love sport. In particular we love football it is our national obsession. It just happens that that sport had a part to play in the Great War. I am not going to represent it as being fundamental to the outcome of the War, not at all, but nevertheless it was one of those in relation to Christmas Truce, it was one of those wonderful intensely personal things that I think people associate with. I think people are interested in and the indications that we have had already is that people are inspired by the Christmas Truce of 1914 and would like to see that as part of the Centenary Commemorations that we undertake. I am very pleased that organisations like the National Children’s Football Alliance has taken that up and intend to make sure that the Christmas Truce is a very strong focus for what we do in the early part of the Centenary period.
Q. How important is it to the government that young people and multi-cultural communities are involved in the commemorations?
AM: The government has said very clearly that we need to have a very strong emphasis on young people and education as part of this. A lot of what we do will be around remembrance because I think that is what the public would expect and it is right and proper that we do that. But it has to be much more than that. So we need to have a strong focus on education to establish a legacy from this and clearly much of that most of it needs to be focussed on young people. So we intend during the four year period it will be our young people who are the prime focus of the activity that is undertaken.
Q. What will make the British contribution to the commemorations stand out?
AM: One of my jobs is to go around and talk to other countries and found out what they are doing. Some of doing things are quite similar to our approach, some dramatically different. I think in this country we have been quite clear about our target audience which clearly population as a whole but specifically young people. I think that is one of the unique features of what we propose doing, so heavy emphasis on young people and education. I think we are very well focussed on legacy so at the end of this four year period we don’t want the thing simply to be consigned to a book we want it to be on-going and of course a lot of that is wrapped up with young people who carry the torch forward clearly. I think our national commemorations will also be very inspiring in terms of the UK offer to this. It is clear however that the expectation is that this will be very much a commonwealth looking centenary period. Our commonwealth partners clearly historically were very much involved with us during this period in history and it would be remarkable if we didn’t reflect that in the way that we commemorate the centenary 100 years on. From the start this will look very much like a commonwealth commemoration so shoulder to shoulder particularly with our commonwealth partners but of course with others from across the divide of this Great War period.
Q: How do we include all communities and neighbourhoods in taking part in the commemorations?
AM: I think sport is one where you can do it. Because sport perhaps for some slight calculation intuitively isn’t always associated with a conflict. It is a largely pacific activity so I think that’s an imaginatively way to engage people who otherwise might have felt disconnected from this centenary. I particularly welcome the work that National Children’s Football Alliance are doing around football. There are other sports of course that have some historical presence in the years between 1914 and 1918 and I suspect strongly that the genomic plans around those will be developed forward in advance of the start of the centenary period. The Heritage Lottery Fund is being very generous in sponsoring local projects that will engage people many of whom perhaps would not otherwise have taken part in this. The whole point of this is to emphasise in people’s mind the important of this period in history, to explore that causes conduct and consequences of the Great War, and to establish a legacy going forward at a time actually within which we could very easily start to forget some of this because the Great War for many of us still has some contemporary relevance. Many of us can remember family members and friends who were involved with this four year period. But for the next generation that won’t be the case, so their accounts are going to be third hand not second hand. This offers us a great opportunity, a unique opportunity to make sure that we carry forward a legacy for what is probably the seminal event in our modern history.
Q: How important is it that the world of football recognises the Christmas and the opportunities it can present?
AM: I actually do think it would be an opportunity that is too good to miss and the recognition factor around the Christmas Truce 1914 is huge. If I had a concern it would be that we don’t have a unified approach to developing that as a theme so it looks if you like desperate and chaotic and I think the important thing is that football authorities, national and international, recognise the importance and significance of this and the appreciation that the public both in this country and overseas, will give to properly organised events and an overall package that looks coherent. I think that is a challenge. I am confident it will be achieved by all organisations and others. I look forward to Christmas next year to seeing this being dealt with in a highly appropriate and productive fashion.
For more information about Centenary Commemorations and events near you click on Centenary Partners
Click on the film below to view the interview with Dr Andrew Murrison.