Tag Archives: ww1

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)

 

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).

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.

WW1 cartoons reach new audiences in Sydney

AHRC-funded research on WW1 comics is on display down under. Professor Jane Chapman’s research is part of the ‘Perceptions of War’ exhibition at Macquarie University Public Art Gallery in Sydney. Professor Chapman’s talks in Australia have particularly attracted interest from the Chinese community.

Members of the Sydney Chinese community are translating the WW1 comics and cartoon material on display, attending the public talks, and promoting it on their own social network site.

Translator Lan Zhang will use the content for teaching English and understanding of Western culture, and incorporate the content into Chinese English undergraduate classes.

Her grandfather was the Chinese government’s official illustrator and reporter during World War Two, covering the country’s invasion by Japan. She says:

Arts and history are both important in our life, I believe. By them, we can learn from our past and have the courage to go ahead, that is why your research on the cartoons from the trenches inspires me too.

‘Perceptions of War’ is on at the Macquarie University Public Art Gallery in Sydney until the 19th March 2015. There are free public lectures by  Professor Jane Chapman:

  • Thursday 19 February at 1pm, “Visual Satire and Australian Identity, 1914-18”
  • Wednesday 5 March at 1pm, “Humour as History – Soldier Cartoons from the Trenches”
  • Free Mandarin guided tour on the 18th of March at 2pm
christmas-day-at-gallipoli
Christmas Day at Gallipoli from the Anzac Book Collection the Australian War Memorial

Riots, music halls and Spiritualists: World War One in the North West

In this blog article, Matt Shinn investigates various aspects of life during World War One in the North West of England.​

‘Location is everything in the First World War,’ says Mike Benbough-Jackson, Senior Lecturer in History at Liverpool John Moore’s University. ‘Your experience of the war could be completely different from someone else’s, depending on your locality. And nowhere bears this out better than the North West’.

If you’d spent the war in Liverpool, for example, you would have been in a maritime trading city, with a major Imperial role. And you might well have known some of the many Liverpudlians who were on board Cunard’s liner Lusitania, which was making for Liverpool when she was sunk by German U-boats in May 1915. Though the sinking itself is well-known, being one of the triggers for the United States entering the war, what is less well-known is that this event sparked a series of anti-German riots in Liverpool and Tranmere, with attacks on shops – and not just German-owned shops, but Chinese-owned ones too. A dark chapter in the city’s history, which few now are aware of.

As a major centre for the importation of animals, millions of which were used in the war effort – including the real-life War Horses – Birkenhead was also the centre of efforts by the animal charity the Blue Cross to bring the concept of animal rights to the fore.

Moths to a flame

The role of the music hall was also particularly important in the North West, with its large working-class urban populations. As Mike Benbough-Jackson points out, ‘music hall can be seen as just another of the channels for exercising pressure on men to enlist, drawing them like moths to a flame’. The World War One at Home project has featured the story of one such recruit, Percy Morter, who went to a show at the Palace Theatre, Manchester, where the renowned female drag artiste Vesta Tilley was recruiting for the army. The star placed her hand on Percy’s shoulder and encouraged him to take the King’s shilling: he joined the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, and died on the Somme the following year. And yet at the same time, the music halls could be much more than just propaganda tools – ‘they also included dramas featuring soldiers leaving, the loss of loved ones, and weeping widows’.

Liverpool Scottish at Bellwearde, June 1915 (IWM)
Liverpool Scottish at Bellwearde, June 1915 (IWM)

Mediums and hoaxers

The North West was also a particular focus for another phenomenon that was seen throughout the UK during the First World War: the growth of Spiritualism, as recently bereaved wives and parents tried to contact the spirits of dead servicemen.

‘The North West featured a very wide range of people who claimed that they could communicate with lost loved-ones,’ says Mike Benbough-Jackson, ‘from sombre Spiritualist churches for the august and scientifically-minded, Arthur Conan-Doyle types, through to crystal ball-gazers on the Blackpool seafront. I was struck by the extent, though, to which magistrates and the local police throughout the North West mounted sting operations, to try to clamp down on hoaxers.’ Women police officers, in disguise, were generally used to gather evidence: there were real concerns that so-called mediums, claiming to be in touch with the spirits of the dead, would cause distress.

While it might seem like a harmless quirk, ‘this kind of state surveillance is just one example of how the First World War was a massive set-back for liberal thinking in Britain. And it shows how big a question it became for many of the people who stayed at home during the war, of how you should behave during it. Many sporting events were cancelled, for example, and many people were unsure whether to take holidays. It’s surprising how personally people in Britain were affected by the war, and how different things became from the workaday world. You really need to look at the war with an estranging eye.’

The First World War and the fourth estate

Frank McDonough, Professor of International History at Liverpool John Moore’s University, has written on the origins of the First World War. As part of the roadshows associated with the World War One at Home project, he’s also presented research on the press reaction to the events leading up to the outbreak of war in August 1914, and in particular on how it was reported in the North West, in papers such as the Manchester Guardian and Blackpool Gazette.

‘The Manchester Guardian was one of the first papers in the country to realise that things in the Balkans could escalate into a world war – but that was right at the end of July 1914 (less than a week before Britain declared war on Germany). The press didn’t understand the Anglo-French Entente, and nobody thought that the Anglo-Russian Convention would lead to anything. Until then, the big story in the British press had been the prospect of Home Rule in Ireland.’ With their large Irish populations, readers in Liverpool and Manchester in particular had had their attention fixed across the Irish Sea.

War and reconciliation

Another perspective that Frank McDonough has comes from his spending a large amount of time doing research in Germany. ‘Germans take the position that the First World War was a disaster, leading to Versailles, the Weimar Republic and ultimately the Nazis. They fear that the centenary will be used in Britain just as another opportunity to rub German noses in it, with no reconciliation involved. They don’t recognise themselves in the depiction of the Germans as Huns in the First World War.’

Frank McDonough says, by contrast, that he would like to see the commemoration here as being about reconciliation. ‘People in the UK sometimes think that the war was all about the War Poets, but the War Poets hardly sold at all. Wilfred Owen’s poetry sold just 2,000 copies during the war – it was hardly Sergeant Pepper. The best-selling book about the First World War, after the conflict had ended, was Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front – which is about a German soldier.’

The depiction of the war in films and musicals has also spread the idea that it was ‘a complete waste, with generals using recruits as cannon-fodder, or even deliberately planning to kill off working-class recruits. It’s hard to shift that perception. The historical debate that’s attempted to turn it around hasn’t resonated with the public. But perhaps, through World War One at Home, it will.’

Shaving in the Trenches: Washing and grooming in the Great War

This guest blog post was written by Dr Alun Withey, a 2014 New Generation Thinker and academic historian of medicine and the body. It was originally published on his blog.

As the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War approaches, we are constantly reminded of the horror of trench warfare. A raft of new books, articles, websites and programmes will be devoted to charting the conflict. All of the big questions will be revisited, from the motives for going to war to the fitness of those in charge to lead their men. Much attention has already been paid to the lives of ordinary ‘Tommies’ in the trenches and the recent publication of diaries, such as that of Harry Drinkwater vividly bring to life the experience of living in the shadow of battle.

In the discussions of action, however, the day-to-day experience of living in the trenches, the ordinary routines of life, are sometimes overlooked. How did men keep themselves clean, for example? In the muddy quagmire of battle trenches, did the usual routines of washing and grooming still apply? I thought it might be interesting to look at one aspect of this – shaving –to see what the sources might reveal.

Until 1916, it was a statutory requirement for all members of the British Army to wear a moustache. Uniform regulation command number 1695 stipulated “the hair of the head will be kept short. The chin and the under-lip will be shaved, but not the upper lip…”. It is not clear how far this order was rigidly enforced but until General Sir Nevill Macready, who apparently hated moustaches, repealed the order in October 1916 British soldiers were moustachioed! Nonetheless, shaving was still required; to appear stubbly was still effectively a breach of regulation. What, then, did soldiers in the field actually do?

military-moustaches

Firstly it is clear that many soldiers, at least initially, carried razors as part of their kit. Some also took tins of shaving cream and lathering brushes – officers, especially, had toilette kits to help them keep up appearances.

As the war drew on, however, it seems that razors became harder to come by. In the wet, muddy conditions metal objects, like razors, quickly became rusty. Over time, and with use, they blunted and resharpening them only possible with a stone or strop. By 1915 they were starting to become scarce. In October 1915, as winter approached, many regiments were starting to run out of basic necessities. Funds, such as the Christmas Comforts Fund in Manchester, called for people to donate everything from envelopes and pencils, to chocolate and razors. The 2nd Battalion South Lancashire regiment asked specifically for mirrors, shaving soap and razor strops amongst their ‘wish list’.

The 2nd Battalion Cheshire regiment asked for the same in a long list that included everything from chocolate, coffee and cakes to musical instruments. Such items were small comfort in cold winter months, which the Manchester Guardian described: “The wet mud, the ice-cold water beyond their knees in the communication trenches, the wind that lashed them like sharp whips, the ooze and slime in the dugouts, the waterspouts through the roofs of broken barns…Must our men” the paper argued “suffer all that again?” Indeed they must.

zonnebeke_trenches

In the dirty environment of the trenches, without access to running water, basins, towels and even privacy, how did men even manage to shave? In some regiments, rules were relaxed in times of action meaning that stubble was permitted, although soldiers were expected to take the first opportunity to attend to their beards in calmer conditions. In the field, though, even obtaining clean water to shave was no easy matter. Complete washing was an irregular occurrence. According to one account, a single tub of water served for the whole company. Instead, soldiers might get a cursory wash of face and hands at best. In such circumstances ingenuity was required. Some soldiers took to using cold tea as shaving water – better than drawing water from a muddy puddle although even this likely sufficed in an emergency

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Whilst such a mundane, prosaic activity such as shaving might not seem important in the broader discussions about the First World War, it is also something that brings us closer to the lived experiences of trench warfare and the daily lives of ordinary men. Requests for razors and strops, along with other basic items, remind us of the comfort that even these basics could bring. Even in the heat of battle, men tried to maintain some semblance of normality, no doubt finding comfort in routine. I would argue that these small glimpses, such as Thomas Mcindoe’s account, are vitally important in any study of the Great War.

One of the best narratives we have of the practicalities of shaving comes from the records of a British soldier on the Western Front. In 1914, Private Thomas Mcindoe was entrenched with his regiment, the 12th battalion Middlesex. In 1975 Thomas recalled how, in a lull in fighting, he decided to remove his several days’ worth of beard. Setting up in an abandoned sniper post Thomas described how be filled his mess tin with water and stuck a mirror into the earth and carefully shaved himself. Emerging from the post he encountered an officer who exclaimed “Oh, what a lovely clean boy!”. The officer was impressed by Thomas’s new-fangled safety razor, as opposed to the usual cut-throat models, and asked the young Private to shave him – a task that was undertaken outside on a chair next to the sniper’s position

4701As Thomas himself pointed out, cutthroat razors were lethally sharp and dangerous in battle. Shaving oneself, especially around the neck and throat, required precision and a steady hand. Many soldiers of what Thomas described as the “nervous type” had faces full of nicks and cuts since their hands shook so much from the experience of battle. In fact, shaving comrades was a common occurrence. It was perhaps easier to do this than rely on a broken shard of mirror and attempt to do the job yourself.

Whilst such a mundane, prosaic activity such as shaving might not seem important in the broader discussions about the First World War, it is also something that brings us closer to the lived experiences of trench warfare and the daily lives of ordinary men. Requests for razors and strops, along with other basic items, remind us of the comfort that even these basics could bring. Even in the heat of battle, men tried to maintain some semblance of normality, no doubt finding comfort in routine. I would argue that these small glimpses, such as Thomas Mcindoe’s account, are vitally important in any study of the Great War.

Jessica Meyer’s Letter to an Unknown Soldier

14-18 NOW are asking members of the public to write a letter to an unknown soldier. In this guest post, marking the British declaration of war on 4th August 1914, Dr Jessica Meyer of the University of Leeds addresses herself to the unknown soldier in the statue at London Paddington, and to the many others who lost their lives in the conflict.

Dear Bill, or is it David?

It could be either, couldn’t it: ol’ Bill, still and stoical in his endurance of all the laughable horrors that war throws at him; young David, so beautiful in his youth and ‘all the glory of his joy’ and sacrifice. You might be either, or indeed both.

Is that too simplistic, asking you to stand for two figures emblematic in their own right? How can we ask you to embody the experiences of 5 million men, the rich and the poor, the educated and the ignorant, those who served on the front lines and those who worked behind them, those who survived and those who didn’t? As has been pointed out to me, and as I fully acknowledge, speaking of the men of this war only in terms of unity can never be a full reflection of the huge variety of the experiences encompassed by so many men over four and more years of a world war.

And yet… And yet, after a decade and a half reading the words you wrote, in letters, in diaries, in memoirs, some intended for public consumption but most written only for the loving, private eyes of friends and family, your voice speaks to me in tones at once both varied and familiar. Each fragile sheet, telling its unique story, does so in a voice so completely of its time that I could not mistake it for anything else, that I recognise it the moment I see it, scribbled in indelible pencil, poorly typed on flimsy forms, etched in elegant ink penmanship. Its tones, by turns mundane, flippant, horror and grief struck, or simply relieved, groping for words to describe the previously indescribable or relishing the simple pleasures of life as only young men can, has invaded my own, shaping my thinking and my writing as surely as the images described have shaped my understanding of war and how it was experienced.

I do not always like you. You are, inevitably, of your time, with all the attitudes towards women, class, empire that this implies. But for every statement of belief in a eugenicist solution to a predicted post-war crisis or casual patronising of those not of your class, there have been twice as many to remind me of your common humanity, your youth, your idealism, your sensitivities to sight and smell and taste, your artistic impulses, your lust for adventure, for experience, for life. You have made me laugh and made me cry, yes, even in the public space of the archive. You have moved me beyond measure and you continue to do so.

I would like to believe that, after all this time, these 15 years in which you have become my profession as well as my obsession, that I know you. Or at least that I know you better than most. I have read the counter-examples to the clichés, can cite the exceptions to any generalisation about you or your experience, even as I try to pin you down by making generalisations of my own.

Yet that sense of knowledge is as much a myth as any, isn’t it? I can never know you any more than you would understand me and my interest in your story. You remain standing there, aloof and ultimately impenetrable, leaving me, as always, with more questions than answers.

And still I long to know. Who were you? What was it like? How did war shape you and through you the society you left behind or, for the majority of you, in which you had to carry on living? These are the questions that define me as a historian, and my search for the answers, hidden in your millions of words, in those stories that made it home to the attic and the archive, waiting to be uncovered, has helped define me as a person, too. I have been shaped and changed by all that I have read and heard, by all that I now think I know. I hope it is for the better; I believe it cannot be for the worse than I might have become in other circumstances. I may not know you, but you have made me and will continue to do so until the day I stop asking questions. And for that knowledge, for all that you have done for me and continue to do, for all the inspiration you have granted me, the tears you have provoked, the insight into men and mankind that you have provided, for all the lessons you have taught me, I thank you.

Yours, with affection and gratitude,

Jessica Meyer

This post first appeared on 22nd July 2014 on Jessica Meyer’s blog, Arms and the Medical Man. Image by Cnbrb (CC BY SA 3.0)

Everyday Lives in War launches

There was a strong community focus to the launch event of the Everyday Lives in War centre last week at the University of Hertfordshire. The last – but certainly not the least – of the AHRC-funded World War One Engagement Centres to launch, the event attracted a wide range of community groups to talk about their work and their collaborations, and to find out about how they could get involved in the work of the centre.

Three-minute talks from organisations as diverse as the Herts at War project, the Luton Museum and the University of Reading’s Huntley and Palmer Archive began the day. David Souden from the Historic Palaces spoke about a project to lay red ceramic roses, one for each of the 888,000 British and Colonial soldiers killed in the First World War, in the dry moat around the Tower of London. He and Alastair Massie from the National Army Museum reminded us all of the strong national as well as local links being forged by the Engagement Centres.

A panel session followed, which examined objects and artefacts brought in by members of the public. Fascinating insights followed from members of the panel, such as Alan Wakefield from the Imperial War Museum, Dan Hill from the Herts at War project, Gareth Hughes of the Western Front Association, Mike Roper, Jim Hughes and Rachel Duffett of the Everyday Lives centre, and others. Objects discussed included a Princess Mary box – given to every soldier who fought for the British during the War, including, we heard, soldiers from the Empire – photos, medals and even fragments of a shot-down zeppelin.

Dan Hill from the Herts at War project speaking at the panel session
Dan Hill from the Herts at War project speaking at the panel session

The themes covered by the centre will include food and farming, conscientious objection and military tribunals, supernatural beliefs and theatre and entertainment. To emphasise the last of these themes, those attending were treated to a performance of JM Barrie’s A Well Remembered Voice of 1918.

All in all, the launch was a memorable event with a strong focus on community and public interest in the First World War commemoration, which augurs well for the coming months and years. Good luck Everyday Lives in War

For further information, please go to the AHRC website.

The significance of the centenary

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What does the nature of a centenary commemoration tell us about collective memory and current social attitudes? How have commemorations changed over time? What are the most appropriate ways to handle the remembrance of traumatic or politically sensitive events?

These are just some of the questions explored by ‘The Significance of the Centenary’, an AHRC-funded research network. Find out more in a feature article just published on the AHRC website.

The network is led by the University of Birmingham in collaboration with the Universities of Cardiff and Sheffield, the National Library of Wales, and Historic Royal Palaces, an independent charity looking after sites such as the Tower of London and Hampton Court.