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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.

Ross’ project was funded via Gateways to the First World War, an AHRC Funded WW1 Engagement Centre. The joy of this project was that it was locally focused.   The Chichester News also featured the project in detail, remarking on technology, training and personal histories.

When the United States entered the war in April 1917 the need to expand their armed services was matched by a pressing issue of modernisation. Whilst the army and the navy could be developed, the nation had fallen behind Britain, France, Italy and Germany in one key area: aviation. Over the course of their engagement in the First World War, new aeroplane designs, engines and services were created that brought American aviation up to speed and sparked a new era of fascination for flight in the post-war era.

This wartime development of military aviation in the United States can be traced to the factories and flight schools that were developed after 1917. Workshops that had been making automobiles, were quick to produce the famous, powerful ‘Liberty’ engine that could outperform its European competitors. American universities and colleges also began training students as the US Government realised the enormous gulf between themselves and their new allies. The Aviation Section, Signal Corps, of the United States Army expanded rapidly with an extensive recruitment drive.

However, the site of these advances in aviation were also located in the American aerodromes that began to be constructed in Italy, France and Britain. These military bases enabled the United States to share knowledge, training and tactics with their allies in arrangements that set the basis of international military alliances during the twentieth century. Contracts were signed between the allies and manufacturers which provides materials and land.

It was the Handley Page Agreement of January 1918 that brought Americans to Sussex. This would offer access to a new development in aviation technology: the Handley Page Bomber. This huge machine, with a wing-span of over 20 metres, was designed to conduct raids into enemy territory. It was regarded as a key part of the development of the United States’s arsenal. The agreement enabled:

“…assembling Handley Page machines in the United Kingdom, of which all the component parts have been manufactured in the United States, and for providing thirty Handley Page Squadrons to be entirely at the disposal of the Commander in Chief of the United States Army in Europe.

This was a highly ambitious plan. Construction and shipment of the parts were to commence immediately with the following targets:

  • May 1918: 50 aeroplanes with 125 Liberty motors
  • June 1918: 100 aeroplanes with 250 Liberty motors
  • July 1918: 160 aeroplanes with 400 Liberty motors

Aerial photograph of Ford Aerodrome in 1918, courtesy of the New York Public Library Digital Collections: The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. “View of Ford Aerodrome taken from the air. Ford [] Aerodrome, Sussex England, Oct. 23, 1918.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1860 – 1920. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-b379-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
The parts would be shipped to a factory in Oldham from the United States and then delivered to training bases in Sussex. Five sites were selected for aerodromes but only Ford, Rustington and Tangmere were constructed with hangars, classrooms and barracks in place by August 1918. Individuals were assigned duties at these locations but delays in manufacturing meant that none of the Handley Page Bombers ever arrived. Instead, pilots, navigators and ground crew trained on two smaller aircraft:

  • Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2
  • Airco DH.4 (De Havilland)

A strict regime of training was set out at these bases. Many of the pilots had been avid aviators before the war and the thrill of this new and precarious technology attracted the free-spirited and brave. Therefore, instruction focused on discouraging any techniques unsuitable for military purposes:

“All pilots are warned that “stunting” over hangars, diving over troops, transports, camps, villages or towns is expressly forbidden.”

Picture Courtesy of Library of Congress: By Louis D Fancher 1844-1944.  A poster for recruiting for the Aviation Section, Signal Corps “Over there! Skilled workers On the ground behind the lines” – In the Air Service / / Louis Fancher. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/93502849/

 

 

The arrival of Americans in Sussex was warmly received by local residents and social events were arranged to welcome the newcomers whilst baseball games and music shows were used to develop good relationships with locals. An ‘American Club’ was founded in North Pallant, Chichester, in the summer of 1918 to make servicemen feel at home and romantic relationships saw a few local Sussex women go to the United States after the war.

This was a period of experimentation and aviation was a very dangerous area of military development. As such, a number of American aviators sadly lost their lives at the aerodromes in Sussex. For example, Second Lieutenant Carlton Merrill Bliss (1895-1918) from Massachusetts, died at Tangmere in November 1918, in a crash probably caused by a malfunctioning control. He was buried at Brookwood American Military Cemetery in Surrey.

Brookwood American Military Cemetery in Surrey – Photograph Courtesy of Professor Ross Wilson

Whilst the aerodromes in Sussex were quickly decommissioned in November 1918, the legacy of the expansion of American aviation can be witnessed in the interwar development of the United States Air Force as the Signal Corps was found to be insufficient. This history highlights how the conflict can be measured in the physical construction of factories, aerodromes and military capabilities, but also the social relationships that were formed between people away from the front who would never have met save for the conditions of wartime.

 

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).

Belgium WW1 refugees now given final resting place

Read the post in the Northwich Guardian regarding new graves provided to two Belgian Refugees who initially were buried in unmarked graves during WW1.

War Grave, Northwich. Pictured are Alice Barstow aged 6 and Olly Robinson aged 7, from Winnington Park School
War Grave, Northwich. Pictured are Alice Barstow aged 6 and Olly Robinson aged 7, from Winnington Park School. With gracious thanks to Northwich Guardian.

Thanks to a collaborative project assisted by the Centre for Hidden Histories (An AHRC Funded WW1 Engagement Centre), permanent graves have now been provided, that are also able to list information on the boys short lives. The article contains more detailed information.

Remembering the Army Chaplains of the Great War

Our latest Blog by Sarah Reay takes a look at the role of Army Chaplain’s throught the story of her grandfather, Rev Herbert Butler Cowl.

In the world of academia, references to Army Chaplaincy are few, and Rev Cowl’s story sheds new light to the subject.

“Sometimes as I cross a bit of rising ground between here and Headquarters, where the country is open, and the road only lined by an endless avenue of huge polled witch-elms, I stand in the darkness; watch the probing searchlights flicker on to the clouds and hear those grim far off voices speaking death. It is a new sound; it is another world; and it calls to unprecedented scenes and experiences. God grant as we march into it all, that there may arise a man in me that is sufficient to this new occasion!”

These were the words written by the Rev. Herbert Butler Cowl, a young Wesleyan Army Chaplain, to his parents on his way to the frontline in 1915.

Rev. Herbert Butler Cowl C.F. M.C. (Author's private collection)
Rev. Herbert Butler Cowl C.F. M.C.               (Author’s private collection)

Most of the Army Chaplains were new to such challenges – they had no experience of working with soldiers in the field of war. Herbert and the thousands who volunteered during the war to become Army Chaplains wanted to do their best and support the men under their pastoral care. It was considered to be a righteous war and the churches responded with a supply of suitable candidates! Suitability ranged from being physically fit, to the ability to preach ‘extempore’ (‘off the cuff’), an ability to ride a horse and to speak French and / or German. Herbert Cowl was one of the youngest Army Chaplains in 1914 – he had most of these qualities and he was in his late 20’s.

As we remember the Centenary of the Great War, the Army Chaplains seem to be an almost forgotten group of men who carried out a vital role during the war. Not only did they provide spiritual guidance and sustenance to the men, but they became major contributors to general morale. Also, they gave invaluable assistance in the Field Ambulances at the frontline, helping medical staff, from doctors to stretcher-bearers. They worked in the Home Camps and the Garrisons too, helping to prepare men for what they had to face at the front in battle and also supporting the wounded and sick soldiers who had returned to Blighty.

Sunday parade service at Bordon - Authors private collection
Sunday parade service at Bordon – Authors private collection

No man wanted to be forgotten and left behind in the mud of Flanders. It was comforting for the soldiers to know, and be re-assured, that if the worst fate should come to them, the padre, a good man, would inter them and send them to Heaven with the full blessing of God!

After the war, there were a number of Army Chaplains, who became popular public figures, including the famous Rev. Studdert-Kennedy M.C., known as ‘Woodbine Willie’, for handing out Woodbines (cigarettes) to the troops; the Rev. ‘Tubby’ Clayton and the Rev. Neville Talbot who co-founded ‘Toc H’ Talbot House in Poperinghe, Belgium. Talbot House was styled as an “Every Man’s Club”, where men were welcome, regardless of rank, and Christianity was promoted as an alternative to the other types of recreation on offer in the town. However, there were many other Army Chaplains who carried out incredible acts of bravery, too many to detail in this blog, but they were a band of brothers who have been largely been forgotten over the last 100 years.

Throughout history, men going to war have always sought the support of the representatives of their church. However, the First World War saw an unprecedented need and demand for Army Chaplains. During the war over 3,000 Chaplains were recruited from the different religious denominations. Of these, 179 made the ultimate sacrifice and gave their lives for King, Country and God.  We need to remember them!

The Rev. Herbert B. Cowl C.F. M.C. considered himself no hero, but this is his story – one of many stories that has never been told.

Let us hope that more stories regarding the Army Chaplains of the Great War will come into the public domain over the coming years. Their selfless courage must never be forgotten.

Book Cover - The Half Shilling Curate, with kind permission of the publisher, Helion & Company
Book Cover – The Half Shilling Curate, with kind permission of the publisher, Helion & Company

More information on Army Chaplains can be gained from the Museum of Army Chaplaincy at Amport House, Amport House near Andover, Hampshire.

http://www.army.mod.uk/chaplains/23363.aspx

http://www.halfshillingcurate.com/

 

What’s in a name?

Dr Chris Kempsall from the University of Sussex and an AHRC Researcher listed on the WW1 Experts List, talks “What’s in a Name” and contacts between combatants.

THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME, JULY-NOVEMBER 1916 (Q 79005) British and French soldier in conversation at the entrance to a dugout at Bernafay Wood, 13 October 1916. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205323765
THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME, JULY-NOVEMBER 1916 (Q 79005) British and French soldier in conversation at the entrance to a dugout at Bernafay Wood, 13 October 1916. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205323765

When members of the Entente alliance met for the first time during the First World War there was often a period of intensive cultural exchange. Often the soldiers of the different combatants had previously had, at best, limited contact with the people of other nations. How they came to understand each other was a crucial part of building a functional alliance.

However, these initial contacts were often complicated by competing issues of national identity and vocabulary. What names did the soldiers of each army wish to be called by and did these preferences match the names and ideas their newfound allies already held?

As the cornerstone of the Entente alliance, the identity assumed by French soldiers was a manifestation of their own political ethos. The self-styled Poilus, or ‘hairy ones’ that composed the French army viewed themselves not just as soldiers but politicised defenders of the ideal of French republicanism.  Such was the importance of their goal they believed it could not be achieved without becoming dishevelled by both dirt and hair.

For their part, the British soldiers took on the identity of Tommy Atkins, a term that had existed since at least the early 19th century. Being a ‘Tommy’ was a less political role that that of a Poilu, with the British soldiers seeming to draw strength from the inclusive nature of a term that meant common soldier.

Both the British and French soldiers recognised the preferred nature of each other’s identities and would generally adapt to referring to each other as such. However, this was not always without incident. The tendency within the British army to refer to the French as ‘Frogs’ or variations on this theme endured throughout the war, much to the annoyance of their French allies. This situation was not improved by the fact that the British appear to have passed this habit on to the arriving American soldiers in 1917 and 1918, which caused friction between these new allies.

THE HUNDRED DAYS OFFENSIVE, AUGUST-NOVEMBER 1918 (Q 49809) British, French, American and Australian soldier with a German prisoner reading President Wilson's message to the Kaiser at Corbie, 24 October 1918. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205283632
THE HUNDRED DAYS OFFENSIVE, AUGUST-NOVEMBER 1918 (Q 49809) British, French, American and Australian soldier with a German prisoner reading President Wilson’s message to the Kaiser at Corbie, 24 October 1918. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205283632

 

For their part, whilst some French soldiers recognised the different nations that composed the British army and its empire but often, for convenience sake, simply used the term ‘British’ as a catch-all description. This in turn often caused irritation in some Scottish soldiers who objected to being stripped of their own national identity.

The arrival of American soldiers in the war’s latter years also brought a new plethora of potential collective names, with their own political dangers. British soldiers found that different groups of these men would answer to ‘Doughboys’, ‘Sammies’, and ‘Yankees’ but would also react angrily to being identified by the ‘wrong’ name. This was particularly notable in the way those who came from states that had once been part of the Confederacy reacted to being called ‘Yankees’ or ‘Yanks’.

Whilst these nicknames could sometimes be used out of a mocking humour, they were often motivated by a grudging form of respect based upon an understanding of each nations place in the Great Power system. Names bestowed on allies who were viewed as being notably inferior were often much more derisive. One British soldier noted that the military High Command had issued an order for British soldiers to stop referring to their Portuguese allies as ‘Pork and Beans’. An order which had little success.

THE PORTUGUESE ARMY ON THE WESTERN FRONT, 1917-1918 (Q 64443) Investiture of British and Portuguese officers in the Portuguese sector, France. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205311699
THE PORTUGUESE ARMY ON THE WESTERN FRONT, 1917-1918 (Q 64443) Investiture of British and Portuguese officers in the Portuguese sector, France. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205311699

The Importance of the Local in Engaging with World War One

In the latest Blog post, Dr Katherine Cooper from the School of Literature, Language & Linguistics at Newcastle University and New Generation Thinker 2016 talks about the importance of ‘the local’ and their engagement with WW1 history.

As a Geordie, I have always had a real sense of the local. Newcastle and the North East play a real part in my identity as both a British citizen and as a researcher.

For me, many of the narratives around the centenary of World War One, from BBC documentaries to memorial events can often seem very London-centric or focussed on the South-East.

Dunstanburgh Castle, Northumberland
Dunstanburgh Castle, Northumberland

Yet the narratives that I have found most interesting and most engaging in thinking about the war and my own relationship to it, have been those that I have uncovered in the archives of Newcastle and Northumberland.

Tyne Bridge Newcastle
Tyne Bridge Newcastle

My interest in this war is longstanding and I, like many others always associate it with the soldier poets, with the Cenotaph in London, with mile of graveyards in France. Even in terms of my academic work, it often it seems very far away, both historically and geographically.

It was fascinating, for me, then to find the stories of men (and women) who had grown up in the places that were familiar to me.

To imagine the nurse, who lived two streets away from my current home in Newcastle itself, who shipped out to Salonika and to read her diaries and hear of her journey, her excitement and the hardships of new wartime life.

Captain John Evelyn Carr (Photograph: Northumberland Archives, Woodhorn)
Captain John Evelyn Carr (Photograph: Northumberland Archives, Woodhorn)

To read about the adventures of Captain John Evelyn Carr who grew up in the same suburb as I did and who kept meticulous diaries of his service in France, collecting cuttings from newspapers, adverts and other ephemera as he travelled through France.

To examine the letters of the couple, William and Barbara, from County Durham, who wrote to each other almost every day, right through William’s training at Catterick Garrison in North Yorkshire. Their correspondence even includes letters from their two children to their father in a prisoner of war camp in Germany.

Even to flick through local men’s light-hearted responses to the war in the magazine of the 16th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers, The Growler, which, much like its famous contemporary the Wipers Times, satirises commanding  officers and mocks those behind the lines for their ‘cushy’ safe jobs.

The Growler c. 1916 (Northumberland Archives, Woodhorn)
The Growler c. 1916 (Northumberland Archives, Woodhorn)

What made a real connection – rather than thinking of the war as something that happened to other people – was thinking of people who had walked through the same streets as me, visited Tynemouth beach or done their shopping in the market towns of Northumberland, shipping out to war and taking these memories and these places with them.

And, I think, for many people these events can seem far away in terms of both locality and time, and this can make them seem alien or even irrelevant.

Although we all know that men from all the UK and, indeed, all over the world, fought in World War One, it brings the whole experience very literally closer to home to learn of the experiences of those from, well, closer to home.

When Carr writes of his experiences on the first day of the Somme, it seems incredible that there was a man from the leafy suburb of Gosforth there at the front, on that day (and there were many more besides, and from all over the North-East, as his account testifies).

He describes helping to evacuate the wounded from the frontline describing ‘I spent I think quite the busiest day in my life, the wounded began pouring in about 11am & continued coming all day, in the 2 stations we had approximately 4000 cases, I evacuated 2 trains including 966 cases, many being terribly mutilated, the sights and agonies of the men are too awful for words.

‘It is a sight never to be forgotten seeing there splendid men lying like helpless babies, & one poor fellow died while I was putting him into the train & I had to take him back’.

Carr’s experiences certainly struck a chord with me because of this local connection and I wanted to see if this was a way of helping others to connect with or commemorate the war, particularly during these centenary years.

In 2014 I won an AHRC Collaborative Skills Development Award to run a project with the Northumberland Archives at Woodhorn. The project aimed to use local stories, like that of Carr, to help local school children to engage with the experiences of World War One.

Working with a group of archivists, film-makers and postgraduate students, we made two films documenting the school students’ responses.

The sense of locality, of recognising the familiar names of Morpeth, Newcastle, Durham, Ponteland, Alnwick in these letters and photographs really helped these local sixth formers to relate to their experiences. The local accounts helped to bring the war home to students who were surprised to hear about the roles people from towns and villages they knew had performed during the war.

Bringing the war closer to home, in this instance, served as a really useful way of helping to promote these connections to a new generation.

Moreover, as local archives and libraries are increasingly threatened with cuts and closures, this can mark out a great way of demonstrating the value of their collections and even bringing in some much-needed financial assistance.

The local, whether in Devon or Dumfries, Dunston or Dublin, can help us all to identify with the events of the past and to connect with them more meaningfully in the present.

 

 

 

How do Germany and Britain remember the First World War, and can the differences explain Brexit?

In this latest guest Blog, Dr Ingrid Sharp of the University of Leeds writes about Germany & Britain, how they remember WW1, and voting.

Ingrid is one of the researchers funded by AHRC with expertise on the First World War and its commemoration. A list is held on the AHRC Website of these academics who are happy to be contacted about their research. Many of these are also heavily involved in the AHRC Funded WW1 Engagement Centres.

voting-30403_1280European commentators are baffled by the British decision to leave the EU following the referendum on 23rd June, in which over 17 million Britons voted to leave the EU despite the uncertainty of any measurable gains and the strong likelihood of substantial losses. Can a look at history, and the way we choose to remember it, help to explain why?

One area where history plays an enormous role is in determining the relationships between nations, especially Britain and Germany post 1945 – the Third Reich, the Second World War and the Holocaust have cast huge shadows on the diplomatic landscape, which deepen whenever we have a significant anniversary of these events. The way we mark these anniversaries often says more about our current political concerns than it reveals about our understanding of history, and can contribute to international relations in both positive and negative ways.

Holocaust Memorial - Berlin
Holocaust Memorial – Berlin

Different approaches

The different ways in which Germany and the UK are approaching the centenary of the First World War 2014-2018 at an official level offer an interesting perspective on how the nations see their place in Europe and reflect very different attitudes to the European Union.  The EU is seen by the current UK government and many of the population as a purely economic project, as opposed to Germany’s view of it as a lasting symbol of post-war reconciliation.

Can we draw parallels between centenary attitudes to WW1 and the discussions around the UK’s continued membership of the EU?

In the UK, WWI is culturally very much alive, and our emotional attachment is sustained by the annual commemorations and the 2-minute silence observed at 11.00 on Remembrance Sunday in November.  Our commemorations emphasise the military aspects, prioritise the stories of combat soldiers and honour the memory of our nation’s military dead. The red poppy is a powerful symbol of commemoration that highlights the heroic patriotic sacrifice made by young men in times of war – and that tends to make it harder to challenge the cause for which that sacrifice was made. The red poppy also reinforces the UK’s tendency to commemorate rather narrowly along national lines. This was shown in 2014 by the massively popular installation Bloodswept Lands and Seas of Red by artists Paul Cumming and Tom Piper, which featured  888,246 red ceramic poppies at the Tower of London, each of which stood for one British soldier who died in the war, including Colonial and commonwealth troops. This was a purely British commemoration, looking back to our Colonial past rather than reflecting our European present.

The Tower of London with the evolving art installation 'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red'. The major art installation named “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red” consists of 888,246 handmade ceramic poppies, each poppy representing a British fatality during World War I and created by ceramic artist Paul Cummins and stage designer Tom Piper. POA(Phot) Mez Merrill, © Crown copyright
The Tower of London with the evolving art installation ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’. The major art installation named “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red” consists of 888,246 handmade ceramic poppies, each poppy representing a British fatality during World War I and created by ceramic artist Paul Cummins and stage designer Tom Piper. POA(Phot) Mez Merrill, © Crown copyright

The EU as a symbol of peace in Europe

In contrast, Germany’s commemorations are rooted in its European identity. We can see an attempt to integrate the story of WWI into the history of the European Union as a powerful symbol and tool of peace in 20th century.  The narrative goes like this: the war led to the removal of the old regime and, with the founding of the Weimar Republic, the introduction of democracy in Germany. This has eventually led to the founding of a strong democracy in a Germany deeply embedded into the EU, a Germany able and willing to set national interests aside in the cause of peace.

Notre Dame de Lorette-Anneau de la Mémoire (The Ring of Memory). Attribution: Daniel VILLAFRUELA
Notre Dame de Lorette-Anneau de la Mémoire (The Ring of Memory).  Attribution: Daniel VILLAFRUELA

An example of this international focus is the 370 meter wide elliptical Ring of Memory, opened in 2014, which commemorates 580,000 dead of several nations in the Lens area of Northern France that was subject to fighting, shelling and occupation.  The names of the fallen are listed alphabetically and no mention is made of their nationality.  The idea behind this monument is that the war was a shared catastrophe that has left a shared legacy of European co-operation that will prevent future wars tearing us apart. German commemorative events stress the importance of creating a European memory culture that transcends national memory, seeking to create a common historical narrative that has the effect of binding the nations more closely together and recognising their common interests.

In contrast, Britain’s approach to the Centenary is inward-looking, focussing in its commemoration mainly on the heroism of British sacrifices, seeking to find something uniquely British in our past to shore up our fractured national identity.  This is mirrored in our attitude to the European Union. During the referendum, on both sides of the campaign, the arguments were based on British self-interest – would we be better off in or out of the European Union?  – and not at all on the question of what our membership could contribute to the stability, mutual support and ultimately to the preservation of peace in Europe.

Field of Poppies
Field of Poppies

Halt! Who goes there?

THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME, JULY-NOVEMBER 1916 (Q 4180) A sentry of the 10th Battalion, Gordon Highlanders at the junction of two trenches - Gourlay Trench and Gordon Alley. Martinpuich, 28 August 1916. Copyright: © IWM.© IWM (Q 4180) Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205073475
THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME, JULY-NOVEMBER 1916 (Q 4180) A sentry of the 10th Battalion, Gordon Highlanders at the junction of two trenches – Gourlay Trench and Gordon Alley. Martinpuich, 28 August 1916. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205073475

In this guest blog, Dr Mike Benbough-Jackson of Liverpool John Moores University talks about Sentries and their roles during WW1.

Mike is one of the researchers funded by the AHRC with expertise on the First World War and its commemoration. A list is held on the AHRC Website of these academics who are happy to be contacted about their research. Many of these are also heavily involved in the AHRC Funded WW1 Engagement Centres.

Britain experienced an epidemic of spy fever during the early years of the war.[i] It must have felt like the invasion and spy fiction that had gripped Edwardian readers before the war was becoming a reality. A young woman sketching the landscape was viewed with suspicion. Why record the contours of the Mersey now of all times? That information could be used by a German saboteur. As it turned out, Gladys Dalby New was released when the sketch was deemed far too inaccurate to be any use.[ii] Others, however, were less fortunate.

Gladys Dalby New (centre) flax picking in Somerset in 1918. Photograph with kind permission and courtesy of Liddle Collection (Leeds University Library)/WW1/DF/095.
Gladys Dalby New (centre) flax picking in Somerset in 1918. Photograph with kind permission and courtesy of Liddle Collection (Leeds University Library)/WW1/DF/095.

Walkers who were in the wrong place at the wrong time put themselves in danger. Sentries across the country were responsible for guarding places and routes and, unlike the many other Britons who were keeping an eye out for suspicious activity, they were armed and prepared to shoot. Indeed, as a captain explained at an inquest into the killing of a deaf man by a sentry who had acted after his command was ignored stated: if a sentry did not shoot and something happened as a result then he would be executed.[iii] The following examples from the north-west of England illustrate how a man who ignored a sentry’s challenge became an early casualty of the war and how another sentry put his own life on the line while defending a railway. The ‘Sentry V. Spy duel’, as the Manchester Courier described an incident in Dover, brought the war to the home front before the bombs from zeppelins or shells from the ships took their toll on the civilian population.[iv]

One of the earliest fatalities was a 62 year-old peddler, William Robert Dawson, from Morecambe. He was shot at Dunning’s Bridge, Maghull on 11 August 1914 as he made his way to Liverpool. [v] It was around midnight when the sentry asked him to stop three times but received no response. Then Dawson was asked to put up his hands. At the inquest three days after the episode, Dawson was said to have replied ‘To ­­—- with you and hands up’ before being shot. Despite being treated at a nearby Epileptic Home, Dawson died.

Dunning's Bridge, Maghull
Dunning’s Bridge, Maghull with gracious thanks to Brian Elsey, publisher of Leeds Liverpool Canal http://www.leedsliverpoolcanal.co.uk/

Like the soldier who shot Dawson, Private J. Steele of the 3rd Kings Liverpool Regiment was protecting a communication route, though in his case it was a railway rather than a bridge over a canal.

Fornby Power House 1936c - With gracious thanks to Formby Civic Society
Fornby Power House 1936c – With gracious thanks to Formby Civic Society

Steele had been stationed by the power station of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company in Formby on Saturday 21 November 1914.[vi] Just before midnight a man was spotted in the vicinity of the power station.

Formby Power House 1983c - With gracious thanks to Formby Civic Society
Formby Power House 1983c – With gracious thanks to Formby Civic Society

Steele challenged him and the suspect fled. The area was searched but the trespasser was nowhere to be seen. Later he reappeared and on being challenged a second time fled once more. Steele fired and missed. His target returned fire with a revolver and hit Steele, severing the radial and ulner arteries in his wrist. Again, the suspected saboteur escaped, probably making use of the many nearby sand dunes.

THE GERMAN ARMY ON THE WESTERN FRONT, 1914-1918 (Q 88103) German troops in well constructed trench position on the Western Front. Note an alarm gong by the sentry in the foreground. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205331659
THE GERMAN ARMY ON THE WESTERN FRONT, 1914-1918 (Q 88103) German troops in well constructed trench position on the Western Front. Note an alarm gong by the sentry in the foreground. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205331659

[i]  D. French, ‘Spy Fever in Britain, 1900-1915’, Historical Journal, 21:2 (1978), pp. 355-370.

[ii] Liddle Collection (Leeds University Library)/WW1/DF/095.

[iii] Manchester Evening News, 18 September 1914.

[iv]  Manchester Courier, 2 October 1914.

[v] Liverpool Courier, 18 August 1914.

[vi] Liverpool Echo, 23 November 1914.