Funeral directors and Remembrance Day: an especially meaningful time for those in the business of remembrance

08 November 2019

A look at the role of the funeral director when Britain was at war.

Funeral directors and Remembrance Day

Each year, many funeral directors support Remembrance Day through elaborate window displays, remembrance events and the sharing of messages of peace and respect for those who died at war. On Remembrance Day 2019, 101 years since the 11am cessation of the First World War, we look at why funeral directors choose to make such an effort to commemorate those who fought and died for our freedom, as well as the role of the funeral director when Britain was at war.

If you walk along your local high street this weekend, you may see remnants of Hallowe’en and Bonfire Night in shop windows, or even early-bird Christmas enthusiasts putting the tinsel out ahead of time. But if you should pass by your local funeral directors, you might see the shop front decorated with war time memorabilia and poppies in commemoration of those who died at war.

The reason for funeral directors’ recognition of Remembrance Day is the professions’ affinity with remembrance as an idea. Funeral directors are, by their very nature, caring and sensitive individuals with a genuine passion for helping people through the loss of a loved one. The theme of Remembrance Day is therefore one which many funeral professionals feel a personal connection to.

Remembrance Day services take place on and around the 11 November each year to commemorate the day in which the First World War ended in 1918. World War I is remembered as one of the bloodiest conflicts in history with the number of military and civilian deaths estimated to be around 17 million from all sides of the battle1.

While services and events are traditionally held on the anniversary of the cessation of the First World War, the meaning of the day has been expanded to honour soldiers who fought and died in all wars. Remembrance Day is commemorated each year with the distinctive red and black poppy. The reason for the use of this symbol is that poppies grew and flourished in their thousands on the battlefields of the First World War when the fighting had stopped2. World War I was fought on the beautifully tranquil flat green countryside of Northern Europe in Germany, Belgium and France; with notable conflict regions including Flanders and the Somme.

During the First and Second World Wars, funeral directors took on greater challenges to support the war effort. According to the book The Undertaker at Work: 1900-1950 by funeral director and lecturer, Brian Parsons3, the role of the funeral director became extremely stretched during and after wartime. This was due to dramatic increases in the death rate, while the number of funeral directors declined because of conscription. He writes: “Both the wars had their impact; generations of young undertakers were called up. Some came home, some did not. It was business as usual and they just had to cope.”

The funeral profession has a special affinity with Remembrance Day services and paying tribute to the fallen because of the nature of the industry, which essentially comes down to arranging respectful goodbyes for loved ones. This is the reason that you will often see your funeral director commemorating the day with poppies in their windows and posters on their walls.

On this Sunday 10 November, remembrance parades and church services will take place around the country, including the prestigious march to The Cenotaph war memorial in Whitehall. Following this there will be a two-minute silence at 11am on Monday 11 November to honour all those who died in battle. For more information about the Poppy Appeal and how you can help to support it, please visit The Royal British Legion website.

1. BBC, Viewpoint: 10 big myths about World War One debunked, 25 February 2014.
2. The Royal British Legion, 11 things you might not know about the poppy, as seen November 2019.
3. Funeral Guide, The undertaker at work: History of the funeral profession, 14 September 2016.