At 4.30 a.m. on July 1st 1916, after a sleepless night in the trenches of the Somme, Major J.L. Jack breakfasted rather meagrely on tea, bread and butter, ‘the more solid of our mess rations having been lost during shelling on the way up the previous night’ – it doesn’t seem much to prepare the stomach or the spirit for the assault that was to follow. Traditionally, soldiers in the British army expected a heartier meal before an attack, rum and bacon being the preferred combination, although the appearance of ‘extras’ always bore with it the unappetising concern that something dangerous was on the horizon. Lieutenant W.J. White was grateful for the bacon he consumed in the his battalion HQ dug-out on the same morning, even if he did have to fry it over a candle and Lance Corporal W. Disney enjoyed the hot coffee laced with rum that found its way to his trench, despite it being flavoured with the petrol from the can in which it had been transported.
In the main, officers ate better than their men: they were less reliant on army rations because of their greater income and mobility. An officer also had the service of a batman one of whose duties was to ensure the appearance of regular meals, something that could require considerable time and effort. The sparse breakfast available to Jack on 1st July is demonstrative of the priorities of an army on active service; the movement of artillery and ammunition always took precedence and the forage for the mules and horses that hauled the material also ranked above the men’s rations.
The provisioning systems of the British army on the Western Front worked relatively successfully throughout the First World War. The static nature of the conflict allowed for the establishment of reliable supply systems which, after the Retreat from Mons in the late summer of 1914, only really broke down again during the German army’s Spring Offensives in 1918. There were always parts of the line that were less accessible to ration parties than others, the Ypres Salient for example, which meant that the overall positivity of the picture tended to conceal relatively small yet persistent supply problems at the front which were never wholly resolved.
The regular supply of the rations didn’t necessarily satisfy the soldiers, however, because the army’s main focus was on the calorific value of the food delivered and that often meant a diet of relentless monotony: bully beef and hardtack biscuit everyday. The level of c4,000 calories a day set for frontline troops is close to that used by the current British army, but there’s little similarity in the calculation of the optimum diet to provide the energy required to perform military duties.
The development of nutritional understanding over the century has resulted in a far more complex approach to feeding which recognises the digestive difficulties inherent in a high protein diet and the psychological factors associated with eating. The modern term ‘menu fatigue’ is not one that would have been recognised in the First World War, but the soldiers certainly experienced it and in their boredom, longed for the familiar foods of civilian life. The huge logistical issues of feeding hundreds of thousands of men meant that the more easily stored and transported hardtack and bully was, for the army command, always preferable to fresh bread and meat even though the latter had a far higher morale dividend.
Supplying the men on the Somme was difficult as the munitions for the hungry guns clogged the trenches. Jack’s diary recorded that ‘only snatches of food’ were available during the first few days of the fighting. Of course, battle acted as an appetite suppressant for many, but his reflections emphasised the importance of the restorative powers of food once in reserve when he wrote on July 7th ‘healthy young soldiers recover with remarkable rapidity from the most gruelling experiences when they have a good sleep and a square meal’.
 John Terraine (ed.), General Jack’s Diary: War on the Western Front 1914-1918 (London, 2003), p. 144.
 Martin Middlebrook, The First Day of the Somme (London, 1971), p. 113.
BBC local radio stations across England and the Channel Islands will launch the final collection of stories from the landmark project World War One at Home, run in partnership with Imperial War Museums.
Over the past two years around 1400 powerful stories about people and places on the home front of Britain and Ireland during World War One have been broadcast
and all are linked to specific places across the country. The final stories will be broadcast from Saturday June 25th.
The project has uncovered surprising stories about familiar neighbourhoods where soldiers trained, the wounded were treated, women worked in factories, crucial front line supplies were produced, major scientific breakthroughs were made, prisoners of war were held and where heroes and heroines are buried.
David Holdsworth, Controller of BBC English Regions, said: “World War One at Home has been an enormously ambitious project that has really engaged our audiences on BBC Local radio over the last two years. These final broadcasts will put the spotlight on people and places around the country that had a significant role to play during the conflict. And the dedicated BBC website that features all of the stories will provide a valuable digital legacy for years to come.”
Diane Lees, Director-General of IWM, said: “The World War One at Home project has inspired countless people across the UK to engage with and uncover stories about the impact of the First World War from their own communities. It has been a fantastic partnership project between the BBC and IWM and one that has shed further light on those who lived, died and survived during the First World War and the way in which we want to remember them now.”
BBC Sussex and Surrey
In Sussex, the coastal town of Peacehaven owes its creation to the events of the First World War. With many men from the local area signing up to join the War effort, a local businessman called Charles Neville devised a plan to create a garden city by the sea where people including ex-servicemen would be able to purchase plots of land upon which they could build homes and a new life.
Actor Brian Capron tells the intriguing story of the only town in the UK to be named after peace and how the evolution of Peacehaven was far more complicated than Mr Neville had anticipated.
In September 1914 a secret propaganda bureau was set up at Wellington House in London. The bureau was run by writer Charles Masterman and was said to be so secret that most MPs were unaware it existed.
The bureau called upon writers and newspaper editors to put together material which showed Britain’s war effort in a good light and to counter enemy messages. Wellington House also printed its own material including newspapers, cartoons and books which were circulated around the world to influence neutral and enemy countries.
BBC Radio Bristol
Downend in Bristol is the home to one of only two Boy Scout War Memorials on public land in the country. It was erected in 1921 in memory of members of the 1st Downend Scout Troop who lost their lives in the Great War of 1914-18.
The first name on the memorial is Rev P G Alexander who founded the Downend Scout Group in 1909. Philip Alexander was the curate of Christchurch Downend at the start of the 20th Century and was married to the niece of legendary cricketer WG Grace. When war broke out he joined up and, in 1916, was aboard HMS Hampshire when it was sunk by a German mine near the Orkney Isles. Lord Kitchener was also on board the ship at the time and both Kitchener and Alexander lost their lives.
BBC Radio Cumbria
In the 1930s, Bramwell Evans was known to millions from his role on BBC Children’s Hour where he regaled a generation with his tales of life from a travelling family. But prior to this, Evans was a Methodist Minister in Carlisle where he reached out to a new audience of munitions workers by holding religious services with musical entertainment in a popular cinema.
Evans and the Methodists in the city identified a need for social support for munitions workers. They looked after young women away from home; found lodgings for over 1000 men, girls and married couples who came to work in Carlisle;
and established Sunday evening services in Botchergate Cinema. These services attracted good quality singers and musicians and ran regularly at various points during 1916 and 1917, welcoming people into the cinema early on cold and wet days.
BBC Newcastle look at the vital, though secret, role that Cullercoats Coastal Radio station in North Shields, played during World War One. The station intercepted radio messages sent to and from German ships and U-boats and passed them to Admiralty Headquarters in London. Although they were encrypted, a number of German codebooks had been seized during the war, allowing many messages to be interpreted.
The Station had been built in 1908 when it was used by the inventor Guglielmo Marconi to send test signals to a station in Denmark. It continued to operate as a maritime radio station after the two world wars before it was closed in 1998.
All BBC Local Radio stations across England will broadcast five World War One At Home stories from June 25th to June 29th.
All the final World War One At Home stories and many more will then be available online on a dedicated website at www.bbc.co.uk/ww1
Notes to Editors
BBC “World War One At Home” journalists have also been working with academics from universities across Britain who have been supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The AHRC funds research in the arts and humanities and helps share the findings with the wider public.
Each World War One at Home story broadcast on radio and TV over the last two years will be available to listen to online and the audience will be able to browse stories to find out how their area’s experience contrasted with those elsewhere, and discover the nationwide experience of the Home Front.
The stories will be classified by place (a BBC local area such as BBC Leeds or BBC Kent or a nation – BBC Wales, BBC Northern Ireland and BBCScotland) and by themes such as Sport, Working for the War, War in the Air.
All of the stories will be shareable via social media – #WW1AtHome
Crich Stand, a lighthouse on top of a limestone cliff almost as far from the sea as you can get in the UK, is a memorial to the Mercian Regiment (prior to that the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters, originally the Sherwood Foresters). It officially became the memorial after the First World War, but there is a story that in June 1856 the end of the Crimean War was celebrated by a crowd including a Crich-born Crimean War veteran, Sergeant Wetton of the 95th Derbyshire Regiment, was carried up to the top of the hill in a chair (he lost his leg at the Battle of the Alma).
There have been several Stands on the hill, but it wasn’t until the 1920s that the current tower was built and dedicated to the memory of the 11,409 Sherwood Foresters who had been killed in the war. The site, nearly 1,000 feet above sea level, was chosen because it is visible from large parts of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.
The builder was Joseph Payne. The stone used was that of the previous tower, numbered and stored. It was quite an undertaking, with the tower reaching 64 feet, and the dome on the top weighing around 40 tons. It cost £2382, raised mainly through subscription.
After the Second World War, in 1952, a service was held to dedicate the memorial to the 1,520 Sherwood Foresters who died in that war. In 1991 two plaques were added at the base of the tower dedicated to the Sherwood Foresters killed after 1945, and to the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters who died after 1970. Relatively recently, a new stone memorial has been built near the Stand with the names of those who have died in recent wars. It still has empty spaces.
Each year, on the first Sunday of July, close to the anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme, a pilgrimage and service of remembrance is held at the Stand, attended by veterans of the regiment and others. There are few memorials in more prominent and impressive positions.
Dr Lucy Noakes, Reader of History at the University of Brighton and Co-Investigator with Gateways to the First World War writes an interesting Blog regarding the Centenary of WW1.
Gateways is one of five AHRC National Engagement Centres funded by the AHRC in conjunction with the Heritage Lottery Fund.
In 2014, at the start of a programme of First World War centenary commemorative activities in Britain, the Gateways to the First World War team, working with the four other AHRC Engagement Centres, commissioned a Directive on responses to, and the cultural memory of, the war from the social survey organization, Mass Observation. The Directive proved extremely popular, with 200 people writing about their engagement with commemorative activities, the impact of the war on their own families, their historical knowledge and cultural memory of the war years and its lasting legacies for contemporary Britain. In this blog post, I want to consider some of these responses, and what they mean for the way that the war is viewed in Britain today. First though, I will outline the Mass Observation project of which this Directive is a part.
The poet Charles Madge, the anthropologist Tom Harrisson and the documentarist Humphrey Jennings established Mass Observation (MO) in 1937 as a means of constructing ‘an anthropology of ourselves’. In this first incarnation MO drew on a range of research methodologies: as well as advertising for a ‘national panel’ of writers who would respond to regular, open ended questionnaires or ‘Directives’ and submit regular diaries, they recruited a team of ‘Observers’ who would observe the British public in the manner of ethnographic anthropologists, interacting with the society they were studying whilst making careful notes on behavior and beliefs. In addition they used more traditional methods of data collection such as interviews to build a picture of British life and popular views that more quantitative surveys struggled to access. As Britain entered the Second World War the unique ability of MO to access this material was recognised by the Ministry of Information, which employed MO to collect information on ‘morale’. Following the war, and the rise of consumerism, MO gradually shifted to become a more traditional market research organization, collecting and analysing data on consumption habits for advertising agencies and their clients.
MO was relaunched by the University of Sussex as an active project in 1981, when a new panel of respondents was recruited to write on a range of different topics, varying from responses to the Falklands/Malvinas War (1982) to the Miner’s Strike (1984), holidays, personal hygiene, wedding presents and genealogy. This material, together with documents collected between 1937 and 1955 is housed at The Keep, the new archive housing historical documents from Brighton and Hove and East Sussex. The two sets of material provide the researcher with an unrivalled insight into the personal lives and views of the British people which, although they make no claim to representativeness (being composed as they are of a self-selecting group of people who are largely older, more female, more white and more Southern than the population as a whole) nonetheless give us a rich source for the voices, views and life experiences of a range of people who otherwise often remain unrepresented on the public stage.
So, what do the responses to the Directive indicate about the British people’s understanding of the First World War at its centenary, and their relationship to commemorative events? The first activity that we asked the respondents to do was to quickly note down ten words or phrases that they associated with the war. With the exception of a small number of people, one of whom refused to do this as he considered it ‘a pointless exercise’, the majority of the responses indicate the strength of the cultural memory of the war as a futile tragedy, marked by sacrifice and pointless suffering. The words that conjured up the war for a 55 year old woman – Death, blood, mud, futility, young men, uniforms, nurse, bandages, gas, trenches – were strikingly similar to those given by a 70 year old man: mass slaughter, mud, trenches, horses, the cenotaph, Oh! What a Lovely War, Blackadder Goes Forth, war poets. These are remarkably analogous to those that the second year students at the University of Brighton who take the course on ‘Europe at War, 1914-18’ list when asked to perform the same exercise at the start of the academic year. The cultural memory of the war, described by Dan Todman as being almost entirely negative, remains a powerful descriptor of the war amongst both MO respondents and University students.
However, despite the frequent references to Blackadder Goes Forth, and to the war poets, War Horse and Birdsong amongst the respondents, this memory is not simply or simplistically drawn from popular culture. Instead, many of those who chose to write on the topic for MO movingly described the impact and multiple legacies of the war for their own families. Family history seems to be emerging as one of the key ways in which people are engaging with the centenary of the war. This should not be surprising: the popularity of genealogy, enabled by websites such as Ancestry.com and demonstrated through the success of programmes such as Who Do You Think You Are? on BBC One, has been evident for several years. Several respondents enthusiastically explained how they had researched their ancestor’s experiences, and some were editing diaries and letters for publication, or writing articles for local newspapers. Others described pictures of male veterans that sat proudly on their mantelpiece, and the meaning of these photos for their families, one 49 year old man explaining that his Grandfather’s photo, and the knowledge that he was gassed and taken prisoner, meant he collected money for the British Legion and watched the Cenotaph ceremony on television each year. For these respondents, the experiences of their ancestors were directly shaping their actions in the present.
Other respondents touchingly described the more immediate impact on their families: a 90 year old woman opened her response with a simple sentence – ‘my father’s sadness’ – whilst another recounted her mother’s struggles after her first husband died, leaving her a widow with a small child. Several recalled unmarried aunts, neighbours and teachers, whose lovers and fiancées had died in the war, and 53 year old woman reflected on the returned men, explaining that her grandfather returned from the war ‘a totally different person’ as ‘he suffered from shell shock and was broken’.
By this point I would expect many academic historians to be shaking their heads and muttering darkly about ‘the Blackadder effect’ lambasted by the then Education Secretary Michael Gove in 2014 when he complained that the war was a ‘just war’ mistakenly perceived as a ‘misbegotten shambles’. Revisionist histories of the war years, led by but not confined to military historians, have rightly and sometimes provocatively reminded us that more survived the war than died, that the war had some positive and long lasting social and political impacts, and that British military strategists did have some good ideas, and were not all ‘donkeys’ leading ‘lions’. However, to oppose these histories to the enduring cultural memory of the war, and to somehow see each as lessened by the presence of the other is, I would argue, to miss the point about cultural memory. The memory of the war is not a zero sum game, and one does not have to cleave to one position or the other. Instead, the war can be understood as both an eventual military success for Britain (albeit one with a far higher attrition rate than would be acceptable today), a long-term political disaster for Europe, and as a tragedy for many thousands of individual households. The continued emotional resonance of the war for many of the MO respondents, often articulated through a consideration of the impact of the war on their families, demonstrates that historians who seek to dispel this ‘myth’ through academic analysis and argument are unlikely to succeed. Instead, academics and members of the public engaged in commemorative activity, whether it be responding to MO Directives or participating in some of the HLF activities supported by Gateways and the other Engagement Centres, need to be in dialogue with one another, and historians need to pay careful attention to the enduring legacy of the war in many families. Historians would do well to remember that the memory of the war articulated in Blackadder Goes Forth has survived in large part because of its continued resonance and meaning for many of those whose families were profoundly shaped by the war years.
The papers of the Mass-Observation Project are available for research at The Keep, Brighton. Record information for The First World War Directive sponsored by the AHRC engagement centres can be found here.
(With thanks to the Gateways Centre for providing this post).
In this Guest Blog, Dr James McConnel from Northumbria University talks about the emigrant ‘Geordies’ .
Much has recently been written about the ‘myths’ associated with the ill-fated Dardanelles campaign of 1915–16 in relation to their importance for Australian and New Zealand perceptions of the war and, in particular, the conflict’s role in shaping national identity. But one myth that persists in is that of the ethnic homogeneity of the armies involved. After all, the ‘Turks’ were an assemblage of Greeks, Jews, Arabs, Germans, and Turkish soldiers, the ‘French’ forces included North Africans and Senegalese troops, while the ‘British’ included English, Scottish, Welsh, and Irish units. And yet, the same heterogeneity was also true of the Anzacs.
That non-Australian accents are conspicuously absent among the Australian characters in Peter Weir’s 1981 film Gallipoli (and the growing number of film and TV representations of the campaign) is indicative of this particular myth. In fairness, there has been some scholarly recognition of the presence of Irish and other European immigrants in the Australian Imperial Force, but the presence in the Australian army of significant numbers of British and more specifically English-born men has received much less attention. As the scholar Kent Fedorowich has noted, this is not unique to Australia, as ‘historians have ignored … the experience of thousands of British-born migrants who … enlisted in their respective dominion forces and served overseas’ during the First World War. Nonetheless, in the case of Australia, it arguably reflects the role of Gallipoli in the post-war construction of Anzac heroism.
Indicative of this de-anglicising phenomenon are the fortunes of one of the most famous Anzacs of all: John (Jack) Simpson Kirkpatrick. As a result of his exploits at Gallipoli ferrying wounded comrades to safety on a donkey, Kirkpatrick posthumously became the embodiment of Australian ‘mateship’ and ‘larikinism’. That this ‘true Anzac’ was originally from North Shields in the North-East of England and had only been in Australia a matter of years before he enlisted was not always apparent in the ways that he was remembered there. Instead, he was assimilated into a post-war construction of heroic Australian masculinity. And yet, for all his notoriety, Kirkpatrick was far from unique, as there would have been plenty of Australian (and New Zealand) soldiers with British, and particularly English, accents among his comrades at Gallipoli, as well as among the Australian and New Zealand units who later served with such distinction in France.
Australia (unlike Canada) did not distinguish between England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales when recording the origins of its British recruits during the war. As a result, it is difficult to be precise about the English component in the AIF. Analysis of Australian attestation papers for the period up to June 1915 by Robson suggests that the British-born made up ‘nearly one in four of all recruits’. Approximately 27 per cent of the first AIF contingent (totalling 20,626) were British born, with estimates varying between 18 and 22.5 for the war as a whole. By comparison, Winegard claims that of the 8,417 men of the first contingent of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, 25.6 percent had been born in the UK, while figures for later in the war (1916–18) indicate that English-born enlistees accounted for 14 percent of recruits. Among these thousands of men and women were a sizeable number who – like Kirkpatrick – hailed from the North-East of England.
Preliminary analysis of the data generated by the ‘Dominion Geordies’ project (supported by the AHRC-funded Living Legacies First World War Engagement Centre based at Queen’s University Belfast) suggests that a little over 7,000 men and women from the old counties of Durham and Northumberland served with the land forces of Australia, New Zealand, and Canada between 1914 and 1918. Of these, about 40 percent served with the Australian and New Zealand armies during the First World War (the bulk serving with the Canadian Expeditionary Force). Having established this, the project’s next phase is to understand this phenomenon within the context of the much larger story of ‘Geordie’ migration that long pre-dated 1914, since these men and women were members of what has recently been termed the ‘English Diaspora’. Often seen as ‘invisible migrants’, English emigrants were part of a significant outflow that was facilitated by faster steam boats, railways, and telecommunications: in 1913 alone 389,394 people left Britain, a large number of them being English people who travelled to Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. As such, the ‘Dominion Geordies’ project seeks to locate wartime service in relation to the pre-war migration experiences of emigrant North-Easterners and – crucially – their later post-war journeying.
By using the term ‘Geordie’, we are aware that the name is often used to describe the people of Newcastle and Tyneside, but it has been used by scholars to describe the people of the wider North-East region and it was used more broadly in the early twentieth century in the British and empire press to include Durham and Northumberland. In seeking to find volunteers across the world who will help the project to research the lives of these soldiers, we’re using the term because it’s internationally recognisable.
The project is partnering with the path breaking HLF-funded Northumbria World War One Commemoration Project (NWW1), a community initiative that is researching the war dead of the modern borough of North Tyneside and building on the success of an earlier HLF-funded project on Tynemouth. This type of community-university collaboration is at the heart of the Living Legacies First World War Engagement Centre’s mission. NWW1’s experience in mobilising community volunteers, and its expertise in designing and developing databases, has proved vital during the early stages of the Dominion Geordies project. The project launched its global appeal for ‘citizen historians’ in January 2016 and has already secured much favourable coverage from the Australian, New Zealand, and Canadian media. This, in turn, has led to offers of help from dozens of volunteers from all three former Dominions, who will use the online resources created by the project to help them undertake research. This research will eventually populate the freely-accessible database and provide material for a short documentary film and a number of scholarly articles looking at the service of emigrant ‘Geordies’ in the context of migratory patterns before and after the First World War.
Canterbury Cathedral Lodge hosts a free study day exploring the history of medical services during WW1.
Speakers include Professor Alison Fell (University of Leeds) and Dr Julie Anderson (University of Kent) and the event will include a presentation from a First World War centenary project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
There were two huge battles in 1916 on the Western front. Verdun and the Somme. The Battle of Verdun commenced on 21st February 1916 with a German offensive against the French. It lasted ten months.
France found themselves compressed at Verdun and British troops had to do the major push at the Somme.
Verdun and the Somme are closely connected because the British found themselves under pressure to bring the Somme offensive to July 1st. In addition Germany also had to send troops from Verdun to the Somme to bolster positions there.
What are your thoughts on these events? Do you have any knowledge, comments or research to add?
In 2015 Prof Alison Fell (University of Leeds) embarked on a new AHRC-funded research project, supported by the Gateways to the First World War engagement hub at the University of Kent focusing on Sister Edie Appleton’s war diaries. Alongside Prof Christine Hallett (University of Manchester), Alison is helping to develop a new play based on the diaries. The collaboration is with Sara Robinson – a freelance theatre producer, Project Director of Somme 100 and Edie’s great-great-niece.
Edie’s diaries, extracts from which are available online are a wonderfully evocative record of the trials, as well as the occasional pleasures, of nursing at the front. Here’s one of her vivid depictions of wounded and traumatized soldiers in General Hospital No 1 at Étretat, a seaside town 20 miles north of Le Havre, in September 1916:
September 11th. “We had a convoy of 399 in … only 70 wounded. Far the most of the sick were suffering badly from shell shock. It is sad to see them, they dither like palsied old men, and talk all the time about their mates… who were wounded and never brought in. The whole scene is burnt into their brains and they can’t get rid of it. One fellow said his job was to take bombs up to the bombers, and he had to push past men with their arms blown off or wounded. He had to get past, because the fellows must have their bombs.”
As a trained nurse rather than a volunteer VAD nurse, Edie had medical skills, and had developed the coping mechanisms necessary to deal with the physical and emotional suffering of her patients. She rarely lets slip any moments of despair, although it’s clear she was under enormous pressure. She had a lively sense of humour, and included some wonderful sketches. A key theme is her love of swimming, which provided some relief from the intensity of her nursing work.
The challenge the project addresses is how to turn Edie’s diaries into theatre that can engage a wide audience. The creative team meet regularly with Alison and Christine, and consult a range of primary sources, in order to develop an innovative production. The play will highlight the highs and lows of her nursing, showing in particular the importance of comradeship between the nurses as they treated the First World War combatants.