Ivor Gurney: words, music, windows

The AHRC’s latest feature article marked the airing of BBC4’s documentary about the life of the Gloucestershire WW1 poet Ivor Gurney. The documentary, which you can watch on BBC iPlayer until 1am on Friday 11th April, draws on Gurney’s poetry, music and his war experiences as a Private at the front line and at home in a mental asylum.

Fittingly, Gloucester Cathedral, where Gurney was once a chorister, has unveiled a new stained-glass window marking the life of the poet. The window will be dedicated at a service this month, and the Dean of Gloucester described it as “a fitting tribute to all who served during the Great War”.

If you aren’t familiar with Gurney’s work, two short clips below from Professor Tim Kendall’s documentary “The Poet who Loved the War” give a new and unique flavour of the unflinching power of his artistic response to his war time experiences.

The poet who loved the war

ivorgurneyThis weekend, a highlight of the TV listings is  The Poet who Loved the War: Ivor Gurney, which airs at 9pm on Sunday night on BBC4 and will be available on iPlayer shortly after. The documentary tells the story of the First World War soldier-poet who  bizarrely joined up in the hope that the ordered army life would help ease a mental health condition. Initially this worked, but he was eventually shot and gassed and spent the last 15 years of his life in an asylum. Yet the poetry he wrote there is uniquely powerful – capturing the experience of the ordinary soldier – and the film argues that it is the equal of the work of any of the more well-known soldier-poets of WWI.

Ahead of the broadcast, Professor Tim Kendall who presents the new documentary has spoken to the AHRC about the research behind the film, and the genesis of the documentary at an AHRC/BBC workshop.

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Whose Remembrance?

Last month, Suzanne Bardgett, Head of Research at the Imperial War Museums, came to the AHRC to share their plans for researching the First World War in this important year, and to share a film, the outcome of an AHRC-funded project.

Whose Remembrance? began as a scoping study under the Connected Communities programme which explored the colonial experience of the two World Wars. The findings were so compelling that the project later received follow on funding for dissemination, and the film is both a part of and a celebration of that.

The film, Bargett explained, is about doing history, rather than about the history itself. It is clear that colonial troops and labourers were often exploited for the war effort, but the film is upbeat because it shows how researchers are dynamically uncovering, reflecting on, and sharing their stories.

As is clear from much of the coverage and stories shared on this blog and elsewhere, there is no one war experience or narrative. The First World War was different for all nationalities and individuals. There is to date no feature film in the UK about colonial war service, despite the many other films that spring to mind (from Oh! What a Lovely War [1969] to War Horse [2011]). The colonial story has often been overlooked, but Whose Remembrance? seeks to change that.

The film hopes to inform teachers and policy-makers, and to inspire other projects addressing the experience of colonial subjects in times of conflict. Already, it has been shown at the UK’s House of Commons, to school groups, and as far afield as New Zealand and Bangladesh – themselves both former British colonies. Now, you can watch and share the film in full via Youtube.

White & Poppe Munitionettes

In this guest blog, Roger Deeks tells us what he found out from fieldwork at the site of a WW1 munitions factory carried out nearly 100 years after they produced shells for the First World War.

The history of munitions supply is one of the most compelling stories of the First World War. A revolution in shell production allied to the more effective use and development of artillery was central to the ultimate British success on the Western Front. The development of indirect fire, meteorology, creeping barrages and aerial coordination were key components in what has become known as the ‘learning curve’ of the British Army. However the scale of bombardment that led to the British firing over one million shells per week in the concluding months of the War was achieved through a monumental shift in shell production in Britain. The creation of the Ministry on Munitions in 1915, galvanising shell production through the creation of new factories, transformed Britain. To staff the munitions factories the home front was mobilised on an unprecedented scale, with women taking on hazardous work that had been traditionally a male preserve. The history of munition production stretches over two of the themes of the BBC World War One at Home stories; about Women and how war transformed their status, and Working for the War, the production boom that fuelled the frontline.

As an AHRC-funded adviser to the BBC I had the opportunity to advise on munition stories in a number of locations and in one particular case this involved fieldwork. This was in Coventry, central to munitions in the First World War, and whose workers were both praised and castigated by the wartime government. The fitting of fuses and explosives into shells had traditionally been carried out at Woolwich Arsenal but such was the scale of demand a huge number of factories known as a National Filling Factories were built around the country. I was particularly interested to be involved in the story of National Filling Factory No. 10, Whitmore Park, Coventry or White and Poppe’s, as it was better known locally. Some preliminary research threw up a lot of information about the company who operated the filling factory on behalf of the Ministry. In 1899 working from a site lower down Drake Street, just off Lockhurst Lane, two engineers, Alfred James White and Peter August Poppe, engine and gearbox manufacturers, had seized the opportunity to grow as part of the development of the automotive industry. As precision engineers their work was ideally situated to address munitions production and they first diversified into shell manufacture during the Boer War. Returning to their traditional manufacturing base the company was ideally placed to respond to the demands for massive high quality shell production in the First World War and the company expanded onto a massive 66 acre site part of which is still in existence.

EPW055122I met Siobhán Harrison, BBC journalist producing the World War One at Home programmes, in Coventry at Drake Street on a wet November day, equipped with plans kindly provided by the Herbert Museum & Art Gallery in Coventry to see what remained of the original factory and local people remembered of it. From the archaeological perspective the visit was illuminating; what became clear was that Whitmore Park was much more than a factory. Despite continual use and change on the site, a return to munitions during the Second World War and becoming part of Jaguar and other automotive components manufacture, much of the layout remained the same. The site was served with railways, sidings into sheds and the shell filling buildings were constructed to minimise the risk of a chain reaction of explosions. The core buildings were off ‘Swallow Road’ and the munitions buildings, now demolished had become the home of Swallow Sidecars which became SS Cars, then Jaguar and later used by Dunlop Aviation Division.

We were delighted to be provided with more information from the site staff from their own recollections and maps. What became clear was that the site was much more than a factory; by 1918 there were 12,000 staff recruited from far and wide, the majority of who lived adjacent to the factory in dormitories and factory houses. This in turn required a vast infrastructure; cinema, shops, swimming baths and allotments. Scattered amongst the buildings, many being demolished, were several of these buildings, the baths and the bank; relics of the first factory on the site. The munitions workers had a factory magazine; The Limit.  Foleshill Park and other areas around the factory had ‘munitions cottages’ that were used long after the War ended.

A day’s work provided only a few minutes commentary on the White and Poppe story, but made us both aware of the impact munitions had on the landscape and people of Coventry and its legacy.

Voices of war and peace

How does World War One connect with the lives of young people? What does it mean to young people today when we talk about the trenches or Zeppelin attacks, rationing or shellshock? What about those who came to live here as a result of conflict, both past and present? What does the commemoration of a war mean to them?

These and many others are all questions that will be explored by a new World War One Engagement Centre over the next few years. Based in Birmingham, the questions have added importance as Birmingham is a culturally diverse city and one with the youngest population in Europe.

Among the other questions the Centre will explore are questions around the legacy of the War – not only what happened between 1914 and 1918 but also the impact that the War continued to have during subsequent years, for example, by 1916 training programmes for soldiers with disabilities were being held in Birmingham’s famous Jewellery Quarter and by 1930 child guidance clinics had been set up – almost certainly the result of the emotional turmoil caused to youngsters during the War.

As well as exploring the impact of the Great War on communities in Birmingham and the Midlands, the Centre will focus on themes of national importance. These include Gender and the Home Front, led by Professor Maggie Andrews from the University of Worcester, Belief and the Great War, led by Dr Michael Snape from the University of Birmingham, and Commemoration, led by Dr Joanne Sayner also from the University of Birmingham.

Voices of War and Peace: the Great War and its legacy is one of five new First World War Engagement centres set up by the AHRC to connect academic and public histories of the First World War and its legacy. A University of Birmingham-led initiative, the Centre also involves academics from Birmingham City University, Newman University, the University of Wolverhampton and the University of Worcester, and is based at the recently-opened Library of Birmingham. The Centre is led by Professor Ian Grosvenor, the Centre Coordinator is Dr Nicola Gauld, and there are seven Co-Investigators from the five partner institutions. In addition there are over 30 cultural partners including the Cheltenham Festivals, the BBC and YMCA England.

The Centre is formally launched in Birmingham next Friday (21st March).

For further information, please go to the centre website (opens in new window)

Nicola Gauld

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WW1 Experts List: Now Available

The AHRC have compiled a list of WW1 researchers funded by the AHRC with expertise in the First World War and its commemoration who are happy to speak to journalists and broadcasters about their research. The list on the AHRC website includes their research specialisms and contact details, and the list will be updated throughout the period of the commemoration.

The researchers listed have expertise in everything from propaganda to poetry, shell shock to submarines, censorship to conscription, and fishing to the Western front. Preview these topics in the word cloud below.

If you need any further help in relation to media and press regarding WW1, contact the AHRC’s Communications Manager (Press and Media) – Danielle Moore-Chick. Email: d.moore-chick@ahrc.ac.uk. Telephone: 01793 41 6021

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Promoting World War One at Home

The launch of World War One at Home has seen a great deal of activity across the country this week. Over 220 stories were launched – the first drop of what will be a permanent record of 1400 places and their WW1 story. Thirty-eight BBC English teams, the three Nations and Cymru all delivered stories with some wonderful reaction from the audience (see activity on #WW1AtHome).

AHRC academics have been in the forefront of promotional activities with local, regional and national broadcasts, and on Thursday it was my turn to join in and offer the AHRC perspective. It began at BBC Radio Bristol, my own local station. Local or not, in the fast-paced world of live radio, I’m not sure the interviewer had fully read the brief because he didn’t seem sure who I was (not the Mayor of Bristol anyway, who was on air before me). Nevertheless, I made it clear who I was and who I represented, and all was well.

This baptism of fire was the start of a long process. A succession of interviews followed, some live and some recorded, and I was able to emphasise the wonderful work our researchers have done across the UK, how they have – yes – checked facts, but also interpreted them and given valuable insights into context, connections between stories, national themes and so on.

Local radio stations particularly liked the references to local stories: Gloucestershire, to Ivor Gurney; Teesside to the bombardment of Hartlepool; Wiltshire, to the wonderful Rex Warneford story; and Surrey and Sussex, to the equally wonderful Brighton Pavilion story. (Click ‘see more’ below for each of these local highlights). The last also made a point of introducing me as a former student of Sussex University, emphasising the overarching message of the entire project – the importance of the local!

Two hours later I emerged from my booth and from what felt like a virtual tour of England, pleased that the AHRC and its work on the project had been mentioned on nearly a dozen local radio stations, from Cornwall to Teeside, and from Gloucestershire to Cambridgeshire.
Continue reading Promoting World War One at Home

World War One at Home – Friday 28th February across the BBC

By the fifth day, World War One at Home is starting to hit its stride as communities engage with the stories already shared, and start to share their own stories and share their views on Twitter and through phone ins.

Professor Jane Chapman (University of Lincoln), one of the AHRC-funded advisers on World War One at Home, appeared on BBC Radio Cambridge for a phone in debate about WW1’s legacy and if and how it should be taught in schools. You can listen again online to the thought-provoking discussion – it starts from 1h06m20s. This debate topically follows on from the media furore around ‘left wing myths’ about WW1.

Roger Deeks (University of Birmingham), another AHRC-funded adviser on World War One appeared on the morning show on BBC Radio Gloucestershire who surveyed some of the things that have already come out of the series there. You can listen again online to Roger’s discussion of the Gloucestershire stories – it starts from 2h36m50s. One local story reveals how a man from Amberley worked to improve how the dead were recorded and how their graves were maintained – Fabian Ware, one man, responsible for the dignified resting places of many thousands of fallen troops.

As World War One at Home continues through this centenary year, many more poignant stories like this will be revealed, and many more debates on the legacy of the conflict will be had. For now, it is clear that after just one week, many radio listeners and television audiences in the UK think differently about their locale and its place in the First World War.

World War One at Home – Thursday 27th February across the BBC

BBC Newcastle, like other stations, has been sharing local stories each morning. One story which has caught the attention of many listeners is the history of women’s football in the North East. Blyth Spartans Ladies FC, like many other teams, was made up of women munition workers (like the ones in this blog’s header). They had been taught to play by navy lads on the beach and in two years they were never beaten. Their centre forward Bella Reay scored 133 goals in one season and went on to play for England.

In Lancashire, BBC Radio Lancashire invited local listeners to re-evaluate their view of ‘war horses’, often best known from the book by Michael Morpurgo (or the film and play based on that book).
Lathom Park was used for horse training throughout the war. It’s thought up to 300,000 animals could have passed through it in that time, on their way to the front.

And finally, the AHRC’s own Dr Philip Pothen (Head of Communications) himself appeared across the BBC. Philip was interviewed by local radio stations across the country, speaking about the AHRC’s involvement in the project, and how researchers would be working in those areas to highlight the local stories. More on this to come on this blog…

World War One at Home – Wednesday 26th February across the BBC

BBC News Magazine and BBC Scotland has been exploring the tale of Carl Lody, a German spy who reported on British warships in the Firth of Forth in Edinburgh. Lody, who used the alias Charles Inglis, was executed at the formidable Tower of London in 1914.

On Twitter at #ww1athome, people are sharing and posting stories like the one above. BBC Shropshire’s Genevieve Tudor posted a picture of a local women’s network who organised the collection of eggs for the frontline in Much Wenlock. Comedian Johnny Vegas joined the conversation, tweeting his approval, and suggesting that the woman on the left reminded him of his paternal grandmother.

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In the East Midlands, it is the history of the University of Leicester that is explored by a current medical student. Soldiers injured on the front were transported to the a hospital on the site, the former County Lunatic Asylum repurposed after the outbreak.. After the war, the University was established there as a living memorial.

Researching the First World War

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