Category Archives: Uncategorized

100 miles for 100 years: First World War themed trails in Kent

“100 Miles for 100 years” has developed 37 self-guided First World War themed heritage trails for Kent, enabling local communities to actively engage with their local heritage. People can discover more about the people of the time and the impact that the First World War had on local communities in an easy to follow, interesting manner in either a digital or printed format, all of which is accessible through one portal. The variety of information is designed to engage and provide modern day relevance, not just for the enthusiast, but for people with little knowledge of the period.

Continue reading 100 miles for 100 years: First World War themed trails in Kent

The Zeebrugge Raid: Creating a Legend

In our latest blog Professor Mark Connelly talks about the British naval raid on Zeebrugge, which took place on 23rd April 1918, and its commemoration over time.

Continue reading The Zeebrugge Raid: Creating a Legend

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

100 Years in the Air – RAF Centenary

In this guest blog Dr Emma Hanna from the University of Kent talks about the formation of the RAF which recently celebrated its centenary.  Continue reading 100 Years in the Air – RAF Centenary

Finding the ‘women like us’ in the First World War

In this guest Blog for Women’s History Month, Dr Julie Moore  from the University of Hertfordshire  and the AHRC’s WW1 Engagement Centre Everyday Lives in War‘, talks about the ways in which community researchers are engaging with some of the less well-known stories of women’s everyday experiences during the First World War, and calls for community researchers to put themselves on the record. Continue reading Finding the ‘women like us’ in the First World War

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

Over Here: American Aviation during the First World War

Handley Page Aircraft, between ca. 1915 and ca. 1920. Picture courtesy of Library of Congress http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/ggb2006002611/                                                           Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print

In this latest Guest Blog, Professor Ross Wilson, from Chichester University, talks about the visiting US forces that were present in West Sussex and their aviation contribution during WW1. Continue reading Over Here: American Aviation during the First World War

Visions of the Front, 1916-18

Self-taught artist Leading Seaman W L Foster of the Beagle Class destroyer HMS BULLDOG, showing two of his shipmates examples of his art carried out in off-duty hours.Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205152802
SEAMAN ARTIST FROM NORTHUMBERLAND SERVING ABOARD THE BULLDOG. 11 NOVEMBER 1943, PORTSMOUTH. (A 20320) Self-taught artist Leading Seaman W L Foster of the Beagle Class destroyer HMS BULLDOG, showing two of his shipmates examples of his art carried out in off-duty hours. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205152802 © IWM (A 20320)

In this latest Guest Blog, Dr Ana Carden-Coyne, an AHRC WW1 Expert from the Centre for the Cultural History of War, University of Manchester, talks Art and its importance throughout WW1.

In 1914, Laurence Haward, the first Director of the Manchester Art Gallery, began collecting important works of war art. Haward spoke of modern war not as a romantic adventure or performance of heroic make-believe, but bitterness and courage, folly and waste. The artist, he concluded, was in tune with the meaning and impact of war, and ‘will reflect that world and the human emotions it arouses’. Haward’s words made a powerful testimony for the artists of the period who strove to communicate the sensation and impact of modern war.

THE WAR ARTIST JOHN SINGER SARGENT (HU 56114) Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205182180
THE WAR ARTIST JOHN SINGER SARGENT (HU 56114) Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205182180

The First World War saw over 2 million soldiers from Britain and the Dominions wounded. Whether conscript or volunteer, officer or other ranks, British or colonial, military medical organisations played a pivotal role in evacuating the wounded from the frontline to the casualties and treating patients in order to return to the front. Artists depicted the chaos of the frontline casualty, the wounded soldier’s experience of pain and helplessness, and medical attempts to alleviate the agony of wounds or the shock of witnessing the death of comrades. Countering such images of pain, were also images of men’s suffering relieved, seen in the efforts of stretcher-bearers and nurses. Doctors also shared the personal cost of the war, with thousands killed and wounded. Artists, many with frontline experiences as soldiers or as medical workers, often confronted what they witnessed as the inhumanity of modern war with gestures of both collective pain and humane attempts to provide assistance. Paul Nash, for instance, depicted ashen-faced stretcher-bearers carrying their wounded burden across a landscape pitted with charred trees (Wounded, Passchendaele, 1918).

Nash, Paul; Wounded, Passchendaele; Manchester Art Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/wounded-passchendaele-205681
Nash, Paul; Wounded, Passchendaele; Photo Credit: Manchester Art Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/wounded-passchendaele-205681. Available under a CC BY-NC-ND licence

Under the lurid green sky, almost gangrenous in tone, the arduous journey of evacuation transforms an everyday occurrence on the frontline into an apocalyptic scene.

THE ARMISTICE DAY, 11 NOVEMBER 1918 (Q 42481) The 'Cease Fire', Artists' Rifles, 11th November 1918. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205276911
THE ARMISTICE DAY, 11 NOVEMBER 1918 (Q 42481) The ‘Cease Fire’, Artists’ Rifles, 11th November 1918. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205276911 © IWM (Q 42481)

Combining pathos and intimacy with epic power, Henry Lamb recreated the medical encounter of the First World War in his monumental oil painting, Advanced Dressing Station on the Struma, 1916 (183.6 x 212.3cm). Lamb finished the work in 1921, but before that he had worked as a doctor for the Royal Army Medical Corps in Salonika (Thessaloniki) in Greece. This front has received far less attention in the commemoration culture of the last few years, but it held a deep meaning for Lamb. The campaign around the river Struma aimed to push back the Bulgarian advance into eastern Greece. The area was targeted for the liberation of Serbia from the Central Powers. From the position of a medical officer, Lamb witnessed the casualties engaged in the British push across the river towards the strategic city of Serres in Greek Macedonia.

Copyright Estate of Henry Lamb. Photo Credit: Manchester Art Gallery © All rights reserved.

Advance Dressing Station on the Struma. ©Estate of Henry Lamb. Photo Credit: Manchester Art Gallery © All rights reserved.  Every effort has been made to contact the copyright holder.

The scene of a dressing station set deep in the forest is modernist in design but bears strong religious overtones that lend emotional weight to the image of helping the wounded. The central group focuses on the relationship between a wounded man and a stretcher-bearer, who attends him with a cup of water, a great relief that many soldiers wrote about as the comfort given between men. Thirst and cold were understood much later in the war as signs of hemorrhage and shock. The bearer’s hand gently touches the wounded man’s head, providing comfort symbolic of the pietà (Christian iconography of Mary cradling Jesus’ corpse).

THE WAR ARTISTS OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR (Q 10195) Jules Arthur Joets, a French soldier-artist, painting an equestrian portrait of Field marshal Douglas Haig at Saint-Omer, 31 December 1917. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205245908
THE WAR ARTISTS OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR (Q 10195) Jules Arthur Joets, a French soldier-artist, painting an equestrian portrait of Field marshal Douglas Haig at Saint-Omer, 31 December 1917. Copyright: © IWM.  Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205245908 © IWM (Q 10195)

Indeed, the pietà was often used in war-time humanitarian images of nurses caring for wounded men. But Lamb transforms the theme into an effigy of masculine care and the intimate brotherhood of shared suffering. Placed on the ledge of a shallow trench, the stretcher resembles an altar. In the right hand corner is a Thomas splint used for compound fractures, from which soldiers could die. Pathos is also created by the figure on the left, head in hand, perhaps affected by malaria, a common disease of this front, or perhaps a reference to psychological suffering. The central figure stands over the patient, staring pensively into the distance. Made three years after the end of the war, the composition of this painting symbolises the pain and succour of the entire conflict.

THE WAR ARTISTS OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR (Q 27992) Mr. Bud Fisher, the American Cartoonist, working at his desk. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205288481
THE WAR ARTISTS OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR (Q 27992) Mr. Bud Fisher, the American Cartoonist, working at his desk. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205288481 © IWM (Q 27992)

Henry Lamb was educated at Manchester Grammar School and studied medicine at the Manchester University Medical School. He left his studies for Paris, to attend the Académie de La Palette, where renowned modernists Jean Metzinger and Henri Le Fauconnier taught. The war compelled Lamb to finish his studies. He received a commission in the Royal Army Medical Corps and was with the Northumbrian Field Ambulance Unit in Salonika from August 1916 to March 1917. He was later sent to Palestine and awarded the Military Cross for his courage in tending the wounded during the bombardment of 5th Inniskilling Fusiliers at Jiljila in early May 1918, an incident he later depicted in an Imperial War Museum commission, Irish troops in the Judean hills surprised by a Turkish bombardment.

Irish Troops in the Judaean Hills Surprised By A Turkish Bombardment, 1919 (Art.IWM ART 2746) image: An elevated viewpoint of a scene showing an encampment under bombardment at an hour before evening 'stand to'. Dense clouds of smoke drift across the scene from exploding shells. Soldiers run and attempt to shelter from the bombardment, while two soldiers carry a wounded soldier in the lower right of the composition. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/15761
(Lamb, Henry) Irish Troops in the Judaean Hills Surprised By A Turkish Bombardment, 1919 (Art.IWM ART 2746) image: An elevated viewpoint of a scene showing an encampment under bombardment at an hour before evening ‘stand to’.
Dense clouds of smoke drift across the scene from exploding shells. Soldiers run and attempt to shelter from the bombardment, while two soldiers carry a wounded soldier in the lower right of the composition. Copyright: © IWM (Art.IWM ART2746). Original Source:http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/15761. With kind permission from the Imperial War Museum.

In May 1918, he arrived on the Western Front where he suffered gas poisoning and was invalided home ahead of the Armistice. Lamb exhibited a number of drawings and watercolours at Manchester City Art Gallery in 1920. One of these prompted the Gallery Director, Lawrence Haward, to commission Lamb to make this major painting as the beginning of a war art collection for Manchester City Art Gallery.

This was on display among other works at the award-winning Whitworth Art Gallery, co-curated by Senior Curator David Morris and Ana Carden-Coyne (Centre for the Cultural History of War, University of Manchester). Visions of the Front, 1916-1918 and ended on November 20, 2016, although a descriptive video describing the picture is online.

THE MACEDONIAN CAMPAIGN, 1915-1918 (Q 13742) A poster, executed in colour, for a variety show titled ‘Hairlock Combs’, given on board HMS LORD NELSON. It is the work of Commander Millot, quite a notable artist, and Naval Attache on the staff of Vice-Admiral John de Robeck. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205248891 © IWM (Q 13742)

 

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)

 

After the Guns Fell Silent: Researching the medical and social care provided to British disabled ex-servicemen of the First World War

In this Guest Blog, Dr Jessica Meyer, an AHRC WW1 Expert, talks Medical and Social Care provided to ex-servicemen.

AA075348 - Ministry of Pensions & National Insurance © Historic England Archive
A georgian house with cows on the front lawn probably in Herefordshire, occupied by the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance.  Image similar to one featured in country fair magazine, march 1955. Image AA075348 – Ministry of Pensions & National Insurance
© Historic England Archive. Used with kind permission of Historic England.

One of the most significant legacies of the First World War across Europe was the return home of a large number of men whose lives were profoundly altered by war-attributable disabilities.  In Britain, many of these men received aid and care from the State, in the form of the Ministry of Pensions, and a range of charitable institutions. Most, however, relied on their families for support, particularly their wives, mothers and other female relatives, to provide the medical and social care necessary for them to reintegrate into civil society.

© IWM (Art.IWM PST 12222)
Recruits Wanted (Art.IWM PST 12222) Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30892

Such support involved both physical and emotional labour. In 1921, Cannon Nisbet C. Marris wrote to the Regional Director of the Ministry of Pensions for the Nottingham Region about his son, Oswald, an ex-serviceman who suffered from functional paralysis, required ‘constant attention and is very helpless, requiring frequently two persons to move him in bed.’ [1] This work, Cannon Marris explained, was undertaken by himself and his wife.  Three years later, Mrs. W.H. Botterill described in her application for treatment assistance how, in addition to caring for her badly shell-shocked husband, she worked outside the home to ‘keep our home going, support myself, and provide my husband’s extra expenses, laundry, postage, etc.’ Just over a month later she suffered a breakdown due to what her doctor described as ‘overwork and strain.’ [2]

Mrs. Marris and Mrs. Botterill are only two of the women who appear in series PIN 26, (which are Ministry of Pension personal award files from the First World War held at the National Archives, London).  These 22,756 files represent only 2% of the approximately 1,137,800 First World War files ever created.  Nonetheless, they provide a rich resource of material for historians of the First World War and its medical, social and cultural legacy.  A tiny fraction of the available files have been used by historians to explore the cultural history of medicine and the war [3] but, as Michael Robinson has recently pointed out [https://fournationshistory.wordpress.com/2015/10/05/the-four-nations-and-beyond-the-post-armistice-experiences-of-shell-shocked-british-army-veterans/], a great deal of work on this material remains to be done.

© IWM (Art.IWM PST 5116)
New Scale of Separation Allowances (Art.IWM PST 5116)  Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/28413

The Men, Women and Care project, a five-year European Research Council Starting Grant-funded project currently underway at the University of Leeds, aims to facilitate future projects through the creation of a public database of the information contained in the PIN 26 files.  This will enable scholars to identify clusters of potentially relevant material by variables such as type of disability, amount of pension or gratuity, region of residence and existence of dependents. By publishing the database in conjunction with a separate catalogue series MH 106: Admission and Discharge Registers and Medical Sheets for Personnel of Expeditionary and Imperial Forces, 1914-1919 and the release of the 1921 national census, the project will provide resources to the next generation of scholars working on the legacy of the First World War in Britain.

© IWM (Art.IWM PST 11148)
Disabled Ex-Service Men (Art.IWM PST 13806) Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/31758

In the meantime, the four members of the Men, Women and Care team will be using the process of putting the database together to identify material within PIN 26 to further our own research into the ways in which care for disabled ex-servicemen shaped British society.  Our specific projects include looking at the nature and extent of family-based medical and social care, how distance from home influenced care provision, the role of stigma in care provision, and the work of religious charities in supporting disabled ex-servicemen and their families.

Through these projects we aim to recover the voices and experiences of both disabled ex-servicemen and the women who facilitated their reintegration into post-war society. Too often unrewarded for their efforts by the State and overlooked by scholarship, these women formed a vital element of the social order in the interwar years. Through the stories of women like Mrs Marris and Mrs Botterill we hope to learn more about the lives of women whose war work persisted long after the guns fell silent.

La Protection Du Reforme No2 © IWM (Art.IWM PST 11148)
La Protection du Réformé No. 2 [Protection for Category Two Invalided Soldiers] (Art.IWM PST 11148) Half-length depictions of two moustachioed, convalescent French soldiers, who face the viewer. The nearest man sits bare-headed with his hands crossed. The other soldier wears a serviceman’s kepi.  Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/22629
[1] The National Archives (TNA), PIN 26/19945, Cannon Nisbet C. Marris, Letter to Regional Director, Nottingham Region, Ministry of Pensions, 6th January, 1921.

[2] TNA, PIN 26/21239, Mrs W. H. Botterill, Application for Treatment Assistance, 5th March, 1924 ; Ella C. Flint, M.B., Report, 23rd April, 1924.

[3] See Joanna Bourke, Dismembering the Male: Men’s Bodies, Britain and the Great War (London: Reaktion Books, 1996); Jessica Meyer, Men of War: Masculinity and the First World War in Britain (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).