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The Undertaker at Work

wpcc459697_05_06 By Brian Parsons
314pp, PB,
250 x 176mm
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Reflecting the rapidly changing nature of the undertaker’s work in pre, inter and post- war Britain, this book details the introduction of embalming; how the enormous task of dealing with the dead from both World Wars was undertaken; how undertakers coped with the tragic death toll of the Spanish flu, and the rise of the Co-operative Funeral Service. Around these more institutional historical keystones, the author includes several important burials from the period: the moving story of the burial of the Unknown Soldier; the extraordinary tale of the ‘empty coffin’ of Lord Kitchener, and the awful logistics of dealing with the worst ever aviation tragedy, the crash of the airship R101. Also included is the author’s own collection of rare photographs detailing the changes in modes of transport, premises and coffins that took place during this time, along with contemporary advertising and other images showing the undertaker at work. A further section illustrates the work of a related occupation, the monumental mason. 

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“The undertaker is a professional, often taken for granted but seldom ignored, whose services each one of us will one day require. Brian Parsons has provided a comprehensive historical survey of the first half of the twentieth century when undertakers became a profession and when the devastating loss of life in two world wars brought death to virtually every door. Written with the sureness of touch and a richness of telling detail, which only an historian who has actually worked in the business could display, this study will surely become essential reading for anyone interested in understanding an often hidden but certainly most fascinating trade.” Philip Smyth, J H Kenyon Funeral Directors