Category Archives: Research

Making Memory and Legacy: Virtual Archives of Conflict from WW1 to The Troubles

In this latest Blog Post, Dr Johanne Devlin Trew,  from Ulster University & the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Funded Living Legacies World War One Engagement Centre, talks all things ‘Republican Crafts’.

On Wednesday March 14, 2018, a community conference and exhibition entitled Irish Republican Prison Crafts: Making Memory and Legacy was held at Belfast’s historical Crumlin Road Gaol. It showcased the Heritage Lottery funded project of Coiste na nIarchimí [Republican ex-prisoners organisation], supported by Living Legacies, Ulster University and The Open University. The goal of the project was to create a virtual archive of conflict-related Republican prison crafts that are in the possession of prisoner families and to capture the stories surrounding these objects of memory. The project took as a model the virtual archive developed by Living Legacies to record WW1 material sourced from the general public.

Continue reading Making Memory and Legacy: Virtual Archives of Conflict from WW1 to The Troubles

The Great War Theatre Project

In our latest Blog post, Dr Helen Brooks talks all things Theatre and WW1.

Dr Helen Brooks is Co-Investigator to Gateways to the First World War, an AHRC Funded WW1 Engagement Centre.

Helen is Principal Investigator of the Great War Theatre project and Co-Investigator of the Performing Centenaries project. She is a senior lecturer in Drama at the University of Kent, where she also teaches on the First World War Studies MA course in the School of History.

Hippodrome programme - Special Collections and Archives, University of Kent
Hippodrome programme – Special Collections and Archives, University of Kent

Continue reading The Great War Theatre Project

Performing Commemorations Project: Dramatic Responses to the Legacies of the First World War

On 10 February, Kurt Taroff and Michelle Young from the Arts & Humanities Research Council-funded “Living Legacies 1914-18” engagement centre, led a full-day workshop in the Brian Friel Theatre at Queen’s University Belfast. Continue reading Performing Commemorations Project: Dramatic Responses to the Legacies of the First World War

Sharing stories of WW1 Munition factories In North and North East London

Female munition workers in a Birmingham factory, March 1918. Copyright: © IWM. (Q 108408)

 

The Billy Youth Engagement Project ‘Sharing stories of WW1 Munition factories In North and North East London’:

Dr Sam Carroll from the Gateways to the First World War Engagement Centre talks about a case study “The Billy Youth Engagement Project” .  Sam is the Commmunity Heritage Researcher for the Gateways Centre.  Continue reading Sharing stories of WW1 Munition factories In North and North East London

The Centre for Hidden Histories: Taking the First World War into Schools

Pupils from Blue Coat Junior School give a performance at St Matthew’s Church, Walsall on Remembrance Day 2016

The Centre for Hidden Histories: Taking the First World War into Schools

By Michael Noble, Centre Co-ordinator for the AHRC Funded WW1 Engagement Centre for Hidden Histories. More details on these Centres can be found by looking at the AHRC’s website.   Continue reading The Centre for Hidden Histories: Taking the First World War into Schools

The Legacy of War Service; The Experiences of First World War Veterans

 

First War Memorial in Shropshire built by The National Federation of Discharged & Demobilised Sailors & Soldiers in 1920. Picture - Kind Permission of Nick Mansfield
First War Memorial in Shropshire built by The National Federation of Discharged & Demobilised Sailors & Soldiers in 1920. Picture – Kind Permission of Nick Mansfield

By Dr Nick Mansfield, Senior Research Fellow in History, UCLan, with assistance from Dr Oliver Wilkinson, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Wolverhampton

2017 will mark the centenary anniversary of the creation of the first veterans’ associations in Britain; the National Association of Discharged Sailors and Soldiers (The Association); the National Federation of Discharged and Demobilised Sailors and Soldiers (The Federation); and the Comrades of Great War (The Comrades). Their emergence in 1917 reflected radical changes, challenges and needs created by the First World War.

Branch banner of the Tooting and Balham National Federation of Discharged and Demobilised Soldiers and Sailors (NFDDSS), c. 1919 (People’s History Museum, Manchester)
Branch banner of the Tooting and Balham National Federation of Discharged and Demobilised Soldiers and Sailors (NFDDSS), c. 1919 (People’s History Museum, Manchester)

The conflict witnessed a massive increase in the size and composition of the British military and, relatedly, it created new expectations regarding state responsibilities towards those who served their country (or post-1916 those whom were compelled to serve) as well as their dependents.

In such circumstances the traditional reliance on regimental and charitable supports, such as those offered by the Soldiers and Sailors Families Association (SSAFA), proved inadequate; albeit such associations continued to do valuable work both during and after the conflict. Yet veterans now sought to mobilise and pressurize the government in response to the challenges they were facing and the rights they felt they were due. This initiated a dynamic over the next four years during which many veterans’ associations formed, most with overt political affiliations, and often existing in competition with each other.

While such organisations propelled an ex-service agenda, raising awareness of the real problems that were being faced by demobilised personnel, they resulted in friction, fractions and outright fear both within the British political establishment and within society at large. That fear reached fever-pitch during some isolated incidents of disorder, such as the destruction of Luton Town Hall during a veterans’ protest about unemployment in 1919. These occurrences seemed to confirm contemporary fears about brutalised and radicalised returning servicemen who threatened the social order. A peace of sorts was established in 1921 with the amalgamation of these associations into the deliberately non-political British Legion; although even then some former Federation and Association voices continued to murmur for more radical intervention.

A World Requiem (Art.IWM PST 13753) whole: the title and text are positioned across the whole, in blue, set against a red and white vertically striped background. image: text only. text: ROYAL ALBERT HALL Manager - HILTON CARTER, M.V.O. UNDER THE MOST GRACIOUS PATRONAGE OF THEIR MAJESTIES THE KING and QUEEN IN AID OF FIELD MARSHAL EARL HAIG'S APPEAL FOR EX-SERVICE MEN OF ALL RANKS (British Legion) Patron - H.R.H. THE PRINCE OF WALES... Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/31719
A World Requiem (Art.IWM PST 13753) Copyright: © IWM (Art.IWM PST 13753). Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/31719

Yet it was the Royal British Legion (RBL) that endured as the veteran’s organisation in Britain and which has became culturally enshrined as part of the national, and local, commemorative landscape.

However, while the history of the RBL has gained attention in contemporary historiography, recently in Niall Barr’s as yet unrivalled monograph The Lion and the Poppy (2005), those of the other British veterans’ organisations have received only a smattering of scholarly attention.

Indeed, there is at present a striking dearth of material regarding the experiences and activities of ex-service personnel who were demobilised in Britain during and after the war. One-point worth highlighting here is that such veteran’s activities need to be understood as a wartime and not solely as a post-war phenomenon. Moreover, the experiences of British veterans have yet to be traced in comparative perspective with the development of veteran’s associations, and ex-service voices, on the continent. Nor should transnational comparison eclipse the need to examine regional difference, together with unifying tendencies, in veteran activities within the UK. It stands to reason, for example, that the context of demobilisation in Ireland from 1916 would present different experiences, challenges and responses than demobilisation in England. Such notions are currently understated and underexplored. Most strikingly of all is an almost total failure to recognise and research the distinct experiences of demobilised ex-servicewomen in Britain; unsurprising as it is, it is only recent scholarship that has put British women’s’ service experiences onto the historical record.

Leading Aircraftwoman Vera Blackbee of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) collects more official documents having signed on with a representative of the Ministry of Labour at the WAAF Demobilisation Centre, RAF Wythall.© IWM (D 25683)
Leading Aircraftwoman Vera Blackbee of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) collects more official documents having signed on with a representative of the Ministry of Labour at the WAAF Demobilisation Centre, RAF Wythall. © IWM (D 25683)
Demobilised men in one of the barges in Rotterdam in which they were transferred from the Rhine steamer to the one that took them to England. In this photograph the steamer is seen alongside. May 1919. © IWM (Q 7668)
THE DEMOBILISATION OF THE BRITISH ARMY, 1919-1920 (Q 7668) Demobilised men in one of the barges in Rotterdam in which they were transferred from the Rhine steamer to the one that took them to England. In this photograph the steamer is seen alongside. May 1919. Copyright: © IWM (Q 7668) Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205239483

It is therefore reassuring that some of these issues were probed in January 2015 when Dr Nick Mansfield organised a symposium on ‘Ex-Servicemen After the Great War’ held in conjunction with the ‘Land Fit For Heroes’ exhibition at the People History Museum, Manchester. That event featured some of the leading scholars currently working in the field (including Dr Niall Barr, Dr John Borgonovo, Mr Paul Burnham & Dr David Swift) alongside involvement from the RBL. Yet it served only as a taster, it alerted an appetite and identified omissions in its own schedule, such as the absence of ex-servicewomen’s experiences , and provided opportunities to go much further. Now would seem to be the time to do so, not only because of the contemporary relevance of the topic, but also because new sources have come to light that offer avenues for research activities and agendas.

National War Savings Committee Poster No. 84
National War Savings Committee Poster No 84:      Up Civilians! (Art.IWM PST 7900)  Copyright: © IWM (Art.IWM PST 7900). Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/9989

These include the Minutes of the Bury St Edmunds and District Branch of The Association (B/15371), which have been recently acquired by the Suffolk Record Office . These are the only surviving branch records of the three constituent organisations of the RBL; the Association, the Federation and the Comrades. It is this paucity that has made researching early ex-service organisations so hard, with the most significant source base being local press reports of veterans’ activities. Newspaper reports are, however, problematic, as they present huge inconsistencies. The Association and the Federation were often mistaken for each other in the press, which may indicate that in some localities the two left wing organisations merged their campaigning. The Federation also published a national Newsletter, which recorded local activities. Meanwhile, the RBL retains a range of its own manuscript records. However, researchers must contact them directly, making access not as readily available as material in the public domain. This material includes some minute books of the Executive of the Federation between 1917 and 1921, as well as those of the early British Legion. There are also 233 tranches of RBL branch and district minutes cared for in local record offices. Although these also include material from Women’s’ sections, the vast majority cover later periods from the Second World War. (See http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/results/c?_srt=5&_q=Royal+British+Legion&_col=500&_naet=O )

 

For Progress in the Future - Save Now (Art.IWM PST 6252) whole: the image is positioned in the upper four-fifths, held within a white inset. The title is separate and located in the lower fifth, in black and in red. The text is integrated and placed in the upper two-thirds, in grey, in yellow with brown shadowing, and in black. All set against a yellow background. image: a montage of stylised images; illustrating various vegetables, as well as products ... Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/10009
For Progress in the Future – Save Now Poster issued by National Savings Committee (Art.IWM PST 6252)  Copyright: © IWM (Art.IWM PST 6252). Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/10009

The newly discovered Bury St Edmunds Association minutes are the only surviving local archives relating to the early veterans’ organisations. Regretfully they only start on the branch’s formation in September 1919, making it relatively late in the Association’s history and after its radical campaigning heyday. As a result, the Bury St Edmunds Association comes over as relatively conservative; perhaps unsurprising given the background of the area  as an agricultural district and brewing town. In its first meeting, for example, it appointed a Captain R Gibbons as branch auditor, whereas on its foundation the Association refused to admit any officers as members unless they had originally served in the ranks! The Bury St Edmunds branch also accepted – by a narrow vote – a gift of £50 from Lord Invegh, the Guinness magnate, who owned a shooting estate in Suffolk. This indicates a vestige of the Association’s campaigning spirit. So too did its policy of pressing for the proposed Bury St Edmunds’ war memorial to take the form of housing for war widows and disabled veterans rather than a stone memorial. But from early 1920 its efforts appear more mundane; supporting football and cricket teams and by November 1920, establishing its own premises which, significantly, were opened by a senior army officer, General Sir Stuart Ware.  Though this association did protest against the overall reduction of war pensions in February 1921, it consistently supported the amalgamation of the three ex-service organisations into the British Legion, with the huge £1.5 million profit from the wartime United Service Fund, as an incentive offered by Prime Minister David Lloyd George. It would therefore seem that these records support a view of ex-servicemen’s’ activities which saw original militant local campaigning evolving into relatively conservative activation and approaches.

More nuance and more enquiry is now needed and it is hopeful that both established and emerging academics are turning their attention to this area. Indeed, next year a symposium will be held on 18 March 2017 at the Centre for the Study of Modern Conflict at the University of Edinburgh, to explore the experiences of veterans (both men and women), and their dependents during and after the conflict, and to investigate how military service influenced their subsequent lives. This event, which can be followed at what-tommy-did-next.org.uk, has been conceived with British veterans in mind yet it seeks to include transnational perspectives. It will feature a keynote by Professor Jay Winter which seeks to explore British experiences through the prism of comparable French developments. Moreover, the event is being organised in tandem with the writing of a new book, edited by Dr David Swift and Dr Oliver Wilkinson, which will synthesize scholarship on ex-servicemen and ex-servicewomen in Britain and Ireland after the First World War. The volume aims to explore some of the currently missing areas in terms of British veterans, fusing a traditional political approach (e.g. examining the how and why ex-service personnel mobilised – or were mobilised – across the political spectrum), with a cultural approach, which will include consideration of gender, disability, identity and memory as connected to the ex-service experience.

THE DEMOBILISATION OF THE BRITISH ARMY, 1919-1920 (Q 7501) Soldiers waiting on the bank of the Rhine in Köln for the steamer which is to take them to Rotterdam from where they are to go to England for demobilisation. 31st March 1919. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205239321
THE DEMOBILISATION OF THE BRITISH ARMY, 1919-1920 (Q 7501) Soldiers waiting on the bank of the Rhine in Köln for the steamer which is to take them to Rotterdam from where they are to go to England for demobilisation. 31st March 1919. Copyright: © IWM (Q 7501). Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205239321

As the First World War Centenary continues many are now thinking about the post-2018 landscape and mooting the legacy of their current activities. Yet, for those men and women who served during the First World War their demobilisation did not mark the end of their experiences but simply opened a new phase. Moreover, that phase was defined by the legacies of their war experiences and existed in a political, social, economic and cultural context that was defined by the war. It is an exploration of that legacy and that context that is needed and we hope that the sources, events, publications and issues discussed here will help in that direction.

National Federation of Discharged & Demobilized Sailors & Soldiers Membership Emblem, NFDDSS, c. 1919 (Royal British Legion Collectors Club)
National Federation of Discharged & Demobilized Sailors & Soldiers Membership Emblem, NFDDSS, c. 1919 (Royal British Legion Collectors Club)

 

First World War Centenaries: Are we commemorating things the right way

Douaumont Ossuary & Cemetery remembering French soldiers killed at the Battle of Verdun in 1916
Douaumont Ossuary & Cemetery remembering French soldiers killed at the Battle of Verdun in 1916. Photograph used with kind permission of Centenary News.

In this Blog kindly submitted by Professor Philpott of Kings College London, he talks about the anglo-french commemorations and the Thiepval memorial. Professor Philpott is Professor of the History of Warfare and War Studies PARC Chair.

This year will see the most important centenaries of the First World War. In July, Britain will mark the opening of the Somme offensive with a monarch-led commemoration of what has become the defining memory of Britain’s war. Willing citizen volunteers were sacrificed to German machine-guns in a mismanaged attack on strong enemy defences – someone had blundered. For many that will be sufficient: the war is long past, the memory is still bitter and it should not be dwelt upon. But the very fact that one hundred years later these events still stimulate national effort and public interest shows the Great War’s historical resonance and invites us to think about what we are doing and why.a soilder of thew great war

These passing centenaries give historians an opportunity to explain the war; to update its history while respecting its memory. But the war remains divisive. Historians have criticized the knee-jerk schedule of national commemorations and have pressed for the success of 1918 to be commemorated alongside the over-familiar tragedies of earlier years. This provoked ripostes of outdated triumphalism whereas the purpose is to bring balance, and to improve understanding of the war as a series of historical events. The centenaries ought to be informed by three decades of scholarship. There is no better time to set aside patriotic narratives in order to explain how and why Europe went to war against itself. We have an opportunity to relate British experience to that of the other belligerents, and to grasp the meaning and significance of the war for the generation that fought it.

home-listing-ww1leedsThere is a danger that a new round of commemorations will merely impose a modern memory on that which has flourished since the last round of significant national commemoration fifty years ago. In France, where the centenary commemorations of the Battle of Verdun are commencing, this may already be happening. In the 1980s Verdun, the scene of ten months of fighting between French and German forces, became a site of international reconciliation when West German representatives attended commemorations for the first time. It was an acknowledgement that a post-1918 spirit of community, eclipsed between 1933 and 1945, ultimately prevailed. Nowadays in united Europe the war is increasingly remembered as a shared tragedy rather than as an international rivalry. The Nord–Pas De Calais region marked the centenary in 2015 by installing a Ring of Remembrance listing the names of the fallen of all nations killed in the region at Notre Dame de Lorette, France’s second site of national commemoration. Perhaps that is a way to use commemoration to serve contemporary agendas while respecting the history of the conflict – we are friends now although we were not then.

Beechey family memorial
Beechey family memorial

Maybe such an approach does not suit Britain’s currently ambiguous relationship with Europe. Yet when the dignitaries gather at the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing on 1 July, they will (although few may appreciate it) be paying homage at the only Anglo-French memorial along the western front. France’s sacrifice on the Somme is also being commemorated, although few now remember it. It is up to historians to correct such skewed history. Britain’s disaster on 1 July can certainly be better understood as a military event when contrasted with the French army’s complete success that day. Moreover, the reverence of that opening day and for its victims obscures the real story of the Somme offensive, which may have begun terribly, but ended eight months later in weary triumph when the German army ceded the field rather than face another such battle. Some might argue that the human sacrifice, some 1.2 million men of all armies, renders such outcomes irrelevant. At the time, however, everyone was aware that the Somme had turned the course of the war, and that its result was decided. This sacrifice was worthwhile to the generation of 1916 and they did not appreciate the ‘futile slaughter’ that their descendants wrote into the historical narrative. We may no longer share their values, but that does not mean in absentia that they do not deserve to have their motives acknowledged and achievements marked alongside the customary solemnity of remembrance.

The war may now, finally, be becoming a historical event as it passes beyond living memory. Hopefully its incidents and their consequences can start to take life beside the culturally constructed memories that predetermine national commemorative agendas. No doubt, like Waterloo just passed, the Somme will still be commemorated at its bicentenary – it is one of history’s ironies that the potentially awkward centenary commemorations of that decisive battle could be cancelled since the French and German had switched allegiance and were fighting each other once again. While one does not hold out great hopes for real revision of the national memory in 2016, perhaps 2116’s commemorations will have better balance, and may mark the Somme’s end as well as its start while acknowledging the joint effort, shared suffering and universal sacrifice. It may still be too soon for historical reenactors to gather en masse to refight it, however! History does not go away, but our engagement with it can become less partisan as the generations pass.

A Global Conflict: William Barry, Australian Prisoner of War

On the anniversary of the Battle of Fromelles, a guest Blog by Anna Maguire talks about the the particular experience of William Barry, an Australian Prisoner of War during the Somme.

Anna Maguire is an AHRC funded doctoral student at King’s College London and Imperial War Museums, as part of the Collaborative Doctoral Partnerships programme. Her research on colonial encounters during the First World War looks at how the interactions of troops from the colonies, particularly New Zealand, South Africa and the West Indies, with other people and places were represented in letters, diaries, memoirs and photographs. Her focus on encounters has allowed the collections of IWM to be read in a different frame, to better understand the colonial experience of the First World War.

In the summer of 1916, as the battle of the Somme raged on, subsidiary attacks were planned by the British Army to exploit German defensive weaknesses and consolidate progress made. One such attack was at Fromelles on 19 and 20 July 1916, where the 5th Australian Division of the Australian Imperial Force fought alongside the 61st (2nd South Midland) Division in XI Corps. Among the Australian men was William Barry. Suffering from a bad wound in his leg, Barry was captured and taken prisoner by the Germans.

Picture Courtesy of Australian War Memorial
Infantry Men of the 5th Australian Division, with whom Barry served, moving through the mud into the forward area in France. Australian War Memorial, E00020 (Picture Courtesy of Australian War Memorial)

Barry suffered greatly in the various prisoner of war camps where he was held. His false teeth were taken by his captors, and eventually his leg had to be amputated because of the severity of his injury. Yet along with the shared hardships the prisoner of war camps were a place for encounter and interaction for the men brought together in captivity. Barry encountered troops from across the British and Imperial Forces. Alongside other Australians and some Irish prisoners was a Hindu called Madan Akhan, known as ‘Rajah’, who had been captured in 1914. He shared stories of how the Germans had attempted to get other Indian prisoners to turn against the British. Barry also befriended a man from Sri Lanka who had travelled to Britain to enlist:

“While at this place I palled up with a lad by the name of Ronald Ondatji, a native from Ceylon. He and other young fellows had paid their passage to England and joined a Tommy Regiment, as there were no native troops sent from Ceylon. He was a well educated lad and was a prefect in the Holy Trinity College at Kandy and above all a great sport and a cricketer, having played against the M. A. Nobles Australian Eleven, during the English tour.”

Making links with other men brought together under the banner of the British Empire at war was an unanticipated consequence of the prisoner of war camps: what were their backgrounds and experiences of colonialism? After a year and a half in captivity, Barry was released as part of the prisoner of war exchange programme and travelled back to the United Kingdom, from where he would embark on the journey home to Australia.

A ‘composite copy’ of William Barry’s vivid war diaries is held at IWM London. Alongside his prisoner of war experience are accounts of swimming with Jamaican men in the Suez Canal in 1915 and having tea with Princess Beatrice at Windsor Castle in February 1918. While his extraordinary tales of adventure seem, on the surface, full of the charms of interactions between different colonial groups, understanding the challenging wartime and imperial contexts in which these encounters occurred is central. Recovering colonial experience of the First World War by reading diaries like William Barry’s is an essential activity for remembering and grasping the extent of this global and transnational conflict.

For more information on the AHRC Funded WW1 Engagement Centres please check the website.

Representing Resistance: 1916 and the Impact of Conscription

Sabine Grimshaw is an AHRC funded doctoral student at the University of Leeds and Imperial War Museums, as part of the Collaborative Doctoral Partnerships programme. Her research on pacifism and protest during the First World War examines how the representation of male and female war resisters changed over the course of the war as well as considering how resisters have been commemorated in the war’s fiftieth anniversary and centenary.

This year marks the centenary of the introduction of a piece of wartime legislation that had significant ramifications for the war and the British public: compulsory military service.

"This little pig stayed at home": Cartoon ridiculing the Conscientious Objector.  Courtesy of Imperial War Museum Q103334
“This little pig stayed at home”: Cartoon ridiculing the Conscientious Objector. Courtesy of Imperial War Museum Q103334

The Military Service Acts of 1916 were particularly contentious not only because they brought an end to the British voluntarist tradition but because they offered the possibility for those with a conscientious objection to the war to refuse military service. These so-called ‘Conscientious Objectors’ (COs) were often the victims of public antagonism, and their relative prominence in society refocused the way that the anti-war movement was represented both by outsiders and themselves.

Before conscription, opposition to the war was framed very much as something specific to women. Indeed, anti-war publications often suggested that working for peace through opposition to the war was a task that was not only specifically suited to women but was the duty and responsibility of women. This type of argument was often underpinned by an understanding of women as naturally pacifistic, loving and nurturing which was primarily linked to their ability to become mothers. However in the aftermath of conscription the identification of peace as a feminine issue ended and instead male COs are framed as the leaders of the movement against war. The stance taken by COs was positioned as part of a specifically English struggle for liberty and freedom of conscience.

Moreover, the representation of objectors had to respond to substantial and widespread criticism and ridicule in a way that was not necessarily true for that of anti-war women. The intensity of this derision, which often specifically targeted the masculinity of COs, and the subsequent response of the anti-war movement to this, highlight the contemporary assumption that peace and opposition to war were not the preserve of men. In order to counter attacks on their masculinity, COs and their supporters frequently mirrored many of the qualities that were associated with the volunteer soldier who, during the war, was considered to be the pinnacle of masculinity. Sacrifice, duty, and patriotism all became significant themes in the representation of COs and demonstrate how particular wartime masculine qualities directly impacted upon the self-representation of the anti-war movement.

Accordingly, the introduction of conscription can be seen as having great significance not only due to its break with English tradition and impact of the waging of war itself but also because of its considerable implications for those who opposed the war. By examining the way that representations of the anti-war movement changed during the war, we can thus see how particular developments directly impact on those who opposed the war.

For more information about the AHRC’s WW1 Engagement Centres, please visit the website.

 

 

 

Battle-scars and Dragon’s Claws : The Legacy of Mametz Wood

The Mametz Dragon. Image Courtesy of Alun Edwards / First World War poetry Digital Archive, University of Oxford

In this guest Blog, Dr Gethin Matthews from the Department of History at the University of Swansea talks about the battle of Mametz Wood, which commenced on 7th July 1916.  Dr Matthews is principal investigator on ‘Welsh Memorials to the Great War’, a project funded by the AHRC Funded Living Legacies 1914-18 World War One Engagement Centre.   There are 5 WW1 Engagement Centres, whose focus is to provide UK-wide support for community engagement activities, commemorating WW1.

Those from outside Wales who are interested in the history of the First World War and its aftermath may be surprised to discover how one relatively minor battle on the Western Front has such resonance in certain Welsh circles. The Battle of Mametz Wood, fought from 7 to 12 July 1916, was part of the early Somme campaign. The losses, of around four thousand killed and wounded on the British side, though heart-rending are much smaller that the numbers lost on just the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

 

Berea Cricieth – Rhys ab Owen / Welsh Memorials to the Great War
Tregarth Church – Courtesy of Meg Ryder / Welsh Memorials to the Great War

Translation of text:

For the Honour and Glory of God and in sacred memory of
Lieut. H. K. Brock BA.          Neuf Berquin
Pte. J. I. B. Brock                   Ypres
Pte. W. H. Hughes                  Poperinghe
Pte. D. Jones                           Ypres
Pte. O. Jones                           Gaza
Pte. T. Jones                            Ypres
Lc. Cpl. E. Lloyd Morris        Givenchy
Pte. J. Owen                            Warnemunde
Pte. Elias Pritchard                 Bailleul
Pte. H. R. Williams                 Mametz Wood
Cpl. L. J. Williams                  Ypres
Boys of this church who fell in the War 1914-1918.
“For Freedom they lost their blood”

Its significance for Wales is that this was the first battle fought by the troops of the 38th (Welsh) Division, also known with some justification as ‘Lloyd George’s Army’. These were the men who volunteered in droves to be part of the ‘Welsh Army Corps’ that Lloyd George and his acolytes sought to raise from September 1914 onwards: men who were drawn by Lloyd George’s rhetoric about putting the first ‘Welsh army in the field’ since the days of Owain Glyndŵr. (See this blog – http://historyclassics.wordpress.com/2014/10/06/a-welsh-army-in-the-field-lloyd-george-and-the-queens-hall-speech-of-19-september-1914/ – for a consideration of Lloyd George’s famous speech in London’s Queen’s Hall on 19 September 1914). The ideal of the ‘Welsh Army Corps’ became the reality of the 38th (Welsh Division).

 

Hermon, Pembrey -Lisa Tiplady / Welsh Memorials to the Great War
Capel y Cwm – Courtesy of Christian Williams / Welsh Memorials to the Great War

Translation of text:
“Their graves are far from Wales”
In affectionate memory of the brave boys of this church who sacrificed their lives on the field of blood.
David Griffith Williams in “Mametz Woods” July 10th 1916.
William Ballard in “Contalmaeson”, July 20th 1916.
James Morgan in “Ypres”, August 5th 1917.
“May they not be forgotten”

Having been trained for the most part in Wales, these recruits were posted to the Western Front in late 1915 and gained experience of trench warfare in quiet sectors for some months. Six days after the opening of the Somme offensive, this division was given the task of clearing Mametz Wood, a dense wood that had been heavily fortified by the Germans who had held it for two years, and was now defended by the elite Lehr regiment of Prussian Guards.

The details of the fighting, and how the Welsh overcame the odds at a tremendous cost can be found in this article by Robin Barlow – http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/welsh-history-month-mametz-wood-2047333 .

However, after the mission was successfully completed, as Colin Hughes wrote in his 1982 book about the battle, ‘neither glory nor distinction was noticeably bestowed’ upon the Welsh soldiers, but they were ‘bundled unceremoniously away to a quiet sector of the front’. The official response of the upper echelons is summarized in General Haig’s comments on the action on 7 July: ‘The 38th Welsh Division … had not advanced with determination to the attack’.

 

Tregarth Church -Meg Ryder / Welsh Memorials to the Great War
Hermon, Pembrey – Courtesy of Lisa Tiplady / Welsh Memorials to the Great War

Translation of text:
In affectionate memory of the brothers who fell in the Great European War 1914-1918
Faithful members of this church
James Davies, Penstar
Wounded 22 June, he died 10 July 1916 in Rouen, France, aged 22
And Robert Jones, Myrddin Cottage, who died 10 July 1916 in Mametz Woods, France, aged 22.
Therefore be ye also ready

In contrast to the dismissive attitude of the Army’s High Command, the reaction in Wales was to laud the courage and tenacity of the Welsh troops. Newspapers printed letters carrying first-person accounts of the fighting within eight days of the action, describing in some detail the horrendous difficulties of fighting a well-armed and determined enemy in strongly defended positions. A ‘Soldier from Bargoed’ wrote to the Western Mail of how ‘The Welsh boys fought like very demons through a wood which was well-nigh impregnable’. In conclusion he declared ‘The whole of the Welsh boys, however, fought with great bravery and proved themselves to be splendid fighters’.

Even as other battles were being fought, the story of the Welsh at Mametz was being re-told and the narrative shaped into one of a remarkable success against the odds. Numerous examples of poetry (not necessarily, it has to be said, of a very high standard) can be found in both languages in various Welsh newspapers). See, for example, the verses in English by Driver W. H Davies from September 1916 – http://cymru1914.org/en/view/newspaper/3580283/6/ART63/ – or by Sgt J. Jarman from August 1917 – http://cymru1914.org/en/view/newspaper/4094738/2/ART20/ ; a Welsh-language example can be found here –  http://cymru1914.org/en/view/newspaper/4016702/5/ART44/  – in September 1918.

Capel y Cwm - Christian Williams / Welsh Memorials to the Great War
Capel y Cwm – Christian Williams / Welsh Memorials to the Great War

Partially, this movement to commemorate the valour of the Welsh troops at Mametz Wood was driven by the soldiers themselves. The pride in their achievements is clear in the doggerel of Sgt. Jarman (‘For the hardest task we went through that morn / That’s been done by British sons’) and Driver Davies (‘My God! What a charge we made / The observers who were behind us / Said ’twas better than being on parade’). There is an interesting report – http://cymru1914.org/en/view/newspaper/4015748/6/ART75/ – of Welsh soldiers serving in France chanting that it was the Welsh who cleared the Germans from Mametz Wood.

Further impetus to commemorate this as a Welsh battle came from the top. When Lloyd George visited Welsh recruits in August 1916 training in the enormous camp in Kinmel Park, near Rhyl, he inspired them with a speech which focused on the achievements of their brothers-in-arms.

Mametz Wood 1916. Courtesy of Alun Edwards / First World War poetry Digital Archive, University of Oxford
Mametz Wood 1916. Courtesy of Alun Edwards / First World War poetry Digital Archive, University of Oxford

 

 

 

 

 

 

The local newspaper [ http://cymru1914.org/en/view/newspaper/4243526/2/ART24/ ] reports that he declared: ‘The attack on Mametz Wood was one of the most difficult enterprises which ever fell to any division. It was left to the Welsh Division, and they swept the enemy out of it (cheers)’.

Indeed, there was a debate in some Welsh newspapers in the spring of 1918 – before the outcome of the War was decided – as to which encounter should be commemorated as ‘the’ Welsh battle of the War: the choice being Mametz Wood or Pilckem Ridge (31 July 1917). In the euphoria that greeted the ‘victory’ in 1918, there were numerous poems written about Welsh valour in the battlefield, many of which took Mametz Wood as their theme.

Mametz Dragon Silhouette. Courtesy ofAlun Edwards / First World War poetry Digital Archive, University of Oxford
Mametz Dragon Silhouette. Courtesy ofAlun Edwards / First World War poetry Digital Archive, University of Oxford

A short story about a Welsh miner at Mametz won a prize at the National Eisteddfod in 1923; one of the best memoirs by a Welsh soldier about the war is Up to Mametz, published by Llewelyn Wyn Griffith in 1931. The most famous Welsh painting of the War is The Welsh Division at the Battle of Mametz Wood by Christopher Williams. https://museum.wales/cardiff/whatson/8949/Wars-Hell-The-Battle-of-Mametz-Wood-in-Art/

One of the most astonishing artistic works to come out of the First World War is David Jones’ In Parenthesis – this was largely inspired by his experiences with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers at Mametz (see https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jun/25/in-parenthesis-no-longer-who-was-the-author-of-the-greatest-poem-of-the-first-world-war ).

Thus it is not surprising that as interest in the First World War grew in the 1980s as the number of veterans of the conflict grew fewer, the focus on the experiences of the Welsh in this one battle became more intense. Following a campaign by the Western Front Association, a challenging and beautiful memorial was raised to the 38th Welsh Division at Mametz. Designed by sculptor/ blacksmith David Petersen, the memorial was unveiled in 1987: three documentaries were broadcast on Welsh television to accompany the event.

At a local level, the name of Mametz resonated long in various communities throughout Wales.

A ward at the Cardiff Royal Infirmary was designated the ‘Mametz Ward’. The 15th Welsh Regiment (Carmarthenshire Battalion) designated their reunion the ‘Mametz Wood dinner’. A wounded soldier in Llanrug renamed his home ‘Mametz Cottage’.

A project I am currently managing, Welsh Memorials to the Great War – http://war-memorials.swan.ac.uk/ – funded by Living Legacies 1914-18 – http://www.livinglegacies1914-18.ac.uk/  – has uncovered further examples of how the name of Mametz remained engrained within some Welsh communities. The project has collected information on well over two hundred WW1 memorials in Wales (with hundreds more to be gathered) and one interesting aspect that comes over in many of them is the geographical range that is incorporated in the local commemorations. The men who are remembered served all over the globe: a large number of Welsh soldiers who served with Canadian or Australian units are commemorated in their home villages.

Many of the memorials to those who died state where the men met their fate, although most of the time the details are non-specific, stating simply ‘France’, ‘Gallipoli’ or ‘Mesopotamia’. However, a few are more precise. There are twelve names in the memorial at Tregarth church, Caernarfonshire. The last line carved on this memorial – ‘Tros ryddid collasant eu gwaed’ [‘For Freedom they lost their blood’] comes from the Welsh National Anthem. Four died at Ypres and one at Gaza – both names that appear with tragic regularity on several more Welsh memorials. One, Pte. H R Williams, died at Mametz Wood.

 

Capt. Hywel Williams - Cymru1914.org
Capt. Hywel Williams – Cymru1914.org

 

Other memorials in Welsh chapels have an explicit reference to Mametz Wood. Three soldiers are commemorated in the memorial at Capel y Cwm, Pentrechwyth, Swansea: one of them was David Griffith Williams, who was killed in the battle.

The memorial in Hermon chapel, Pembrey, has two names, including Robert Jones, another who was killed at Mametz Wood.

One more chapel memorial deserves particular attention – although the only photograph I have obtained of it is rather poor. The chapel, Berea, Cricieth (Caernarfonshire) closed a few years ago after its membership fell to single figures. The significance of this place of worship is that it was Lloyd George’s family’s chapel: for many years his highly respected uncle, Richard Lloyd had been its leading light. Two brothers, Hugh and Hywel Williams, who were family friends of Lloyd George’s family, died within six weeks of one another in 1916. Both had been active in the recruiting campaign, trying to persuade young Welshmen to answer the call put out by their politician friend. Captain Hywel Williams was killed at Mametz Wood.

Dr Gethin Matthews, Dept. of History, Swansea University

Mametz dragon & wood. Image Courtesy of Alun Edwards / First World War poetry Digital Archive, University of Oxford
Mametz dragon & wood. Image Courtesy of Alun Edwards / First World War poetry Digital Archive, University of Oxford