Illustration: F.S. Brereton, With our Russian Allies (1916)
This post was written for us by Karen Attar from Senate House Library Special Collections.
The conference “The Great War at Home” supplied an excellent opportunity for Senate House Library to provide a small complementary display. The only problem was how best to use a limited space. To the extent that we had a focus, that focus was publishing, and within the theme of publishing, Oxford University Press – especially timely in so far as a new History of Oxford University Press was published last year. In August 1914 seven members of the Modern History Faculty of the University of Oxford promptly set to and wrote Why We Are At War: Great Britain’s Case, in order to set forth the causes of war and the principles they believed to be at stake. This was the first of 87 OUP “pamphlets” about the War, although with 206 pages there was little of the pamphlet about it.
The Delegates of Oxford University Press approved the book’s publication on 16 October 1914, at their first meeting of the new academic year – by which time it was already in its third edition, the one displayed. The copy shown is from a collection of about 530 books and pamphlets pertaining to the War brought together by the pacifist historian Caroline Elizabeth Playne (1857-1948) in connection with the books she wrote about the conflict. The other OUP book shown is homage to Shakespeare for the tercentenary celebration of his birth: evidence of the continuation, albeit in severely limited form, of academic publishing during the war.
Children’s adventure stories set against the backdrop of the Great War and stereotypically full of valiant English youths and cowardly, underhand Germans, some of them spies, give insight into how in an unrealistic form the war pervaded children’s consciousness. An example of such literature was also displayed, With our Russian Allies by the extremely popular Frederick Sadleir Brereton.
All of these are examples of “The Great War in England”. We interpreted “home” more narrowly with Roll of War Service, 1914-1919, commemorating the losses in war of members of the University of London Officers Training Corps: seven officers and some 670 cadets.
In previous years Senate House Library’s contribution to the Anglo-American Conference of Historians has been purely to curate a display. This year the topic enabled the Library to give a conference paper, again seeing “home” as the host institution of the conference. Karen Attar, who had previously delved into the history of the Library during the Second World War, extended her researches backwards to the period 1914-1918 to talk about the University of London Library then. Documentary evidence is sparse compared with that for the Second World War, so that an initial fear was of not finding enough to say. There was no need to worry, and a twenty-minute talk expanded to fit forty minutes. Several interesting points emerged in the course of preliminary reading, such as better air raid precautions for the First World War than for the Second, and a suggestion that books would be safer on the central University’s premises in London than in Cambridge.
Kate Tiller, founding fellow of Kellogg College, University of Oxford and chair of the British Association for Local History
As the centenaries of 1914–18 finally come upon us, the challenges facing historians to research and interpret the impact of the First World War multiply. One is the need to investigate and understand the War more widely, recognising the importance of perspectives not previously considered significant, and turning attention to the Home Front; the wartime experiences of women and children; the economic, social, cultural and political consequences of the War; the Empire and dominion experience; and to military events beyond the Western Front.
Another challenge is to revisit and scrutinise deep-rooted, existing assumptions about the War. David Reynolds, in a recent, cogent dissection (The Long Shadow: The Great War and the Twentieth Century, 2013), characterises the British view of the First World War as particular. Centred on the trenches, on military events and heavily influenced by literature and poetry, it perpetuates a verdict that was influential at the time of the 50th anniversary. This sees the War in hindsight as a futile sacrifice, a bitter and costly conflict, which failed to end all wars and led to another, more clearly justifiable, World War only 21 years later.
A third challenge is that posed by the growing demand for a popular and public history of 1914–18, a history to be shared between generations and places, disseminated by broadcasters, heritage professionals and teachers, in classrooms and on field trips. Amidst the growing hype, threatening at times to tip into unreflective cliché or even centenary ‘celebration’, local history has a special and important part to play. As the challenges point First World War studies away from single-perspective, one-narrative accounts, local history offers a way to respond. Returning to the local experience and using and integrating the rich, direct contemporary evidence enables realities of wartime throughout British society to be rediscovered. We may unearth, preserve and record new evidence; generate fresh findings; pursue shared questions; encourage comparative thinking; and join up accounts of separate aspects of wartime and post-war experience within and between communities to move us on, as David Reynolds urges, to combine remembrance with greater historical understanding.
This is an ambitious agenda. Projects and publications are beginning to show how it can be fulfilled, and examples are reported here. More are promised, including events at Senate House and initiatives by the British Association for Local History (BALH), which aims to encourage and support the study of local history as an academic discipline and as a rewarding pursuit for grass roots historians, individuals and groups. The two organisations combined on 28 February for a joint Institute of Commonwealth Studies/BALH day on ‘Experiences of World War One: strangers, differences and locality’. Keynote speaker, Dr Catriona Pennell, emphasised that, although a national narrative of the War’s history had dominated earlier study, fuller understanding depends on adding local and international perspectives and being aware of the constant interconnectedness of all three elements – local, national and international.
This theme was played out during discussion of the interaction of local people in Britain with black and Indian troops from the Empire and Dominions. A mixture of newspapers, diaries, letters, recollections, photos and official records provided the evidence. Wartime connections came through local camps and hospitals. Racial stereotyping, mixed marriages and outbreaks of violence all figured, but meetings of cultures were not just made by war, with some networks of family links operating before 1914 and after 1918. Nor were all ex-servicemen white, UK residents, as demonstrated by several case studies of West Indian veterans returning to their homes in the Caribbean. There, November rituals of remembrance were kept at local war memorials, while island economies struggled, not least because of continuing debt burdens linked to their support for the mother country’s war effort. The local, national and international did indeed interact to form these experiences of the War.
Elsewhere, increasing publication of Home Front studies is bringing the non-military experience in the UK to the fore. From 1914, every kind of neighbourhood, village, town and region was touched, not only by the deaths and injuries of those going away to fight but also by the immediate demands and lasting changes felt by those who were ‘left behind’, and were willingly or unwillingly directly affected by war. The whole economy was mobilised, while massive volunteer effort was forthcoming. Local histories of this experience are showing the illuminating balance to be struck between detail and generalisation, and the potential for both comparison and understanding the particular. The latest Victoria County History Essex volume (XI, on Clacton, Walton and Frinton: North-East Essex Seaside Resorts, 2012) brings home, in its chapter on the War, the threat of invasion, air raids and the black-out, and the loss of holiday business that made for a very specific East Coast, seaside experience of 1914–18.
Another recent publication (Local Aspects of the Great War: Coventry and Warwickshire 1914–1919,2012) reflects a more general range of Home Front research topics in ten related studies. The canvas chosen is one county (for these purposes Coventry and Warwickshire, but not Birmingham). As the editor, local historian Chris Holland, argues this scale of study allows a balance between detail and generalisation and the possibility of challenging commonly held views. It is an aim impressively achieved through examinations of an area including large and small towns, major industries, artisan and labouring families and rural, agricultural communities. The topics covered represent an agenda that will be useful to others looking to undertake local studies spanning the war years. The themes are the outbreak of war, Belgian refugees, recruitment, billeting, caring for the wounded, wartime industrial production, food, local tribunals for exemptions from military service, the ‘Spanish’ flu epidemic of 1918–19 and responses to the Armistice.
These are discussed with a telling and humane attention to the stories of individuals and families, while reminding the reader of how these experiences were a direct part of wider determinants and trends, from DORA (the Defence of the Realm Acts), to the formation of the Women’s Land Army, to the rise in the cost of living by nearly 50 per cent between 1914–16, to the addition of 3 million acres of land under cultivation. Alongside this are some equally striking local facts and figures. Kenilworth found land for, and established, 104 new allotments in one month. In Coventry, White and Poppe, a light engineering company employing 350 people in 1914, rapidly became one of the largest munitions factories in the country, having employed 30,000 by the end of the conflict. Its workers, including many women, filled 30 million fuses and 31 million detonators, while the firm also produced War Office vehicle engines. The whole operation included housing and hostels, canteens, allotments, a swimming pool, library and cinema. By 1917, VADs (Voluntary Aid Detachment) were running 17 hospitals in Warwickshire, that in rural Kineton growing to provide 82 beds.
The work of the eight contributors highlights many realities, including the degree of pre-war preparation carried out by military and civil organisations, and the enormous practical complexity of coping with war conditions, from transport, to telegrams and post, to civilian medical services with large numbers of doctors and nurses on war service, to labour in shops, factories and fields. The role of women, revealing some resistance to their growing employment, is observed along with the degree of class tensions, from a strike at White and Poppe to apparently seamless assumptions of local leadership by traditional elites. A legion of committees and activities was organised, with an outpouring of voluntary effort aimed at ‘doing our bit’. How this was turned to effective action, and how far controlled locally or subsumed in centrally directed government initiatives is another recurrent theme.
Local studies also allow us to look afresh at the familiar. The main war memorial at Colchester, unveiled in 1923, is one of tens of thousands of local memorials in the British Isles. They are telling subjects for local research into the relationship between remembrance and community, as each place made its own decisions on how to commemorate their dead. Most war memorials took the form of permanent monuments, sometimes collective, sometimes to groups or individuals. Some favoured practical projects and buildings looking to the better future secured by the sacrifice of the dead. Although the creation of fitting tributes was a near universal response, the memorials themselves are far from uniform. Many record the names of individual combatants (presented in a significant variety of ways), but they also reflect the circumstances, attitudes, funds, tastes and sometimes disagreements of families and comrades, of influential local individuals and institutions, and of others in the wider circles of connection and remembrance which influenced the making of each structure.
The main First World War memorial in Colchester is just one of some forty in the town, a vivid reflection of the many community activities – school, work, church, sport, voluntary organisation – the dead of 1914–18 might have been part of. The collective and apparently democratic nature of the process of making Colchester’s main memorial is reflected in the 40 different groups, from the Scouts, to ‘Married Women’, to religious denominations, political parties, Freemasons, friendly societies, secondary schools, local employers and utility companies represented on the War Memorial Selection Committee. Formed as early as January 1919, it energetically debated six alternative forms of commemoration – public baths, school of art, purchasing Colchester castle, a memorial hall, a hospital wing and a monument. It was the last which won out, and the committee minutes detail the deliberations, fundraising, the purchase and gift of the site, choice and commissioning of the memorial with its statues of Victory, Peace and St George, the composition of the wording (referring to both the military dead and the other men and women ‘who stood for King and country & bearing arms or by their work helped to win the war’), and finally the elaborate unveiling ceremony.
The memorial became the focus of regular remembrance, those public rituals intended to ensure that the dead and what they died for remain in local consciousness. This too is rich ground for research. In November 1938 the mayor of Colchester, speaking at the war memorial, ‘invited his listeners to ask themselves whether or not the concept of remembrance had become meaningless and sentimental, and whether the sacrifices of the Fallen had been in vain’. Plaques have now been added to the monument to commemorate the dead of the (in a curiously understated phrase) ‘further war’ of 1939–45, and – in this army town – to soldiers killed since 1945 while on service or through terrorist acts.
Through its publications, BALH hopes to develop ideas and methods for local studies of wartime experience. These include a guide to researching local memorials and their significance (Remembrance andCommunity: War Memorials and Local History by Kate Tiller, 2013). Its quarterly newsletter Local History News is carrying a series of short articles on different themes, which can be read on www.balh.co.uk. Other publications are:
Memorials of war (Gill Draper) LHN103, spring 2012
Community responses to the outbreak of war, August 1914 (Catriona Pennell), LHN 104, summer 2012
The agricultural community at war, 1914–1918 (Bonnie White), LHN 105, autumn 2012
Soldiers’ letters and the First World War (Rachel Duffett), LHN 106, winter 2013
Women and work in the First World War (Deborah Thom), LHN 107, Spring 2013
Schools in the First World War (Tim Lomas), LHN 108, Summer 2013
The railwaymen who went to war: stories held at the National Railway Museum(Alison Kay), LHN 109, Autumn 2013
Service and sources: compiling local narratives of WW1 military history (Richard S. Grayson), LHN 110, Winter 2014
War resisters in Britain during the First World War: an opportunity for new research(Cyril Pearce), LHN 111, Spring 2014 (forthcoming)
Impact of the War on country estates (Allen Warren), LHN 112, Summer 2014 (forthcoming)
Impact of the War on London’s minorities (Jerry White), Autumn 2014 (forthcoming)
Local responses to food shortages (Karen Hunt), Winter 2015 (forthcoming)
Children’s experience of the FWW (Rosie Kennedy), Spring 2015 (forthcoming)
A flagship event will be this year’s Anglo-American Conference for Historians, ‘The Great War at home’, to be held at the IHR on 3–4 July. It will be jointly presented by IHR, BALH, the American Association of State and Local History (AASLH) and the VCH (see anglo-american.history.ac.uk/). The theme is the impact of the War on the locality and local institutions, the family and social life, and the memorialisation of war in the built environment and in private life. It aims to gather together local and community historians, academics and graduate students to present and exchange their findings and ideas on all aspects of the impact of the War, in the UK and worldwide.
The conference will reflect the momentum and direction of work already underway. It will also point ahead, as a joint session, bringing together local historians from BALH, the Family and Community Historical Research Society and the AASLH, will explore shared interests and possibilities for an online network of local groups to research themes in Home Front studies. This will be another step towards realising the potential of local studies to respond to the challenges faced by historians of the First World War and its impact.
Preparations for the IHR’s 83rd annual Anglo-American Conference are in full swing now, with the conference just one week away.
This year’s Anglo-American Conference, The Great War at Home, will explore the impact of the First World War on home fronts across the spectrum of participants in the conflict – including those of Britain’s empire, her allies, and other combatant nations.
We have organised a formidable line-up of international scholars, with plenary lecturers including Jay Winter (Yale), Bill Nasson (Stellenbosch University), John Horne (Trinity College Dublin) and Christine Hallett (Manchester).
The socio-economic fabrics of contemporary societies were profoundly affected and altered by the conflict, with few neighbourhoods, towns or regions emerging untouched. A plethora of the challenges and changes faced on home fronts across the globe – from recycling to food politics; the role of women to transport and technology – will be explored amongst the 27 panel sessions, 8 research showcase sessions, 3 roundtable sessions, policy forum, and archive film presentation which comprise this year’s Conference.
The IHR library has an outstanding collection of university and school records. Following on the theme of this year’s Anglo-American conference, we’ve been looking at what they contain about the First World War. School registers often have lists of teachers and former pupils who served or were killed in the war. School histories and journals include more descriptive accounts, and there are some vivid records, sometimes poignant, but mostly emphasising how schools attempted to continue as usual.
Several describe how school playing fields were ploughed up to be used as allotments worked on by the pupils: at St Peter’s School in York a ‘vegetable committee’ was formed (Raine, A., History of St Peter’s School, York, p.189). In A History of Kibworth Beauchamp Grammar School, we read how the congested state of the railways made it difficult to get equipment and books (p. 69). Availability of food is often an issue – Records (1909-1992) of the Ramsgate County School for Boys gives praise to Mrs Read: “the fact that we were able to have.. any dinners at all was largely due to the way she managed to secure food-stuffs in unorthodox ways” (p. 115).
The stress caused by the threat of air raids is a recurrent theme. Air raid shelters were created in cellars and cloakrooms and under school lawns. History of St Peter’s School tells of Zeppelin attacks in York and a boy being injured by shrapnel (p.189). At Ramsgate County School for Boys, a bomb fell on the tennis court, demolishing a summer house and breaking windows (p.100). In general people coped, and school life continued, though classes started a little late the morning after a raid (p.113).
The Book of the Blackheath High School gives two first-hand accounts by former pupils. The war affected not only the girls’ daily life at school but also their attitudes to the role of women in the future. At a school speech day, the Bishop of Woolwich said “Now.. is women’s chance to use wisely and well the great force and power of work of which this War has shewn them to be possessed” (p.170).
The girls were keen to help with war work. A former sixth former describes how “It was difficult to read for the University when one was consumed by a desire to go out and do something of immediate use..”, but “well-equipped women would be needed in the post-war future, so we stayed on” (p.171). One girl was called up for service in France and “was seen off by an admiring and envious crowd of seniors who could have given all they possessed to have been going too” (p. 172).
Girls at the school helped out in their own time by working in allotments, canteens, and factories, packing parcels, and doing Red Cross work. Sixth formers knitted under the table to be “safe from the eyes of the Head and the Staff, who discouraged that mixture of fervid patriotism and intermittent reading which is apt to result in a low place on university scholarship lists” (p.172). Again, the “unchanged and steady way in which the life of the school went on” is emphasised. A younger pupil described school life as a relief from the troubles of the outside world (p. 176-7).
Other school histories recount the departure of male teachers to serve in the war and the arrival of female replacements, the activities of the officer training corps, war savings work, and the planning of memorials for former pupils and masters.
The material can be found in the Biographical section of the British collection. School records are also located in the record society series within the Scottish, Welsh and English local history sections.
This is part of a series of blog posts highlighting some of the sources we have in the IHR library on the subject of this year’s Anglo-American conference, The Great War at Home. We have a range of sources covering all aspects of the war on the home front from letters, diaries and memoirs, newspapers accounts, business, estate and administration records. Here we focus on the parliamentary records.
The Home Front features heavily across all the parliamentary sources, including the journals and debates, petitions, reports of committees and commissions and Acts of Parliament. The parliamentary debates as recorded in Hansard, are an especially rich source for daily life during the war because MPs often raised concerns on behalf of their constituents or with their experiences in mind.
Provision of food… and drink
Food shortages, food prices and rationing were a source of anxiety and there is much discussion of the issues around agriculture, transportation, import restrictions and food availability.
Some discussions were more concerned with the effects of alcohol. From 1915 the Defence of the Realm (Liquor Control) regulations allowed local authorities to prohibit people from buying drinks for others. In October Basil Peto, Conservative MP for Devizes, urged the government to extend the “no treating” rule across the UK. Hansard reported his Commons speech: “the injury to the health and efficiency of the men of His Majesty’s land and sea forces when on furlough.. [is] directly attributable to the hospitable instincts of their friends” (House of Commons Hansard, Fifth Series, Volume 74, 14th October, 1915 column 1464).
Steps were taken to ensure that households could continue to support themselves. There were protests over tenants being threatened with eviction due to rent increases, particularly those families with soldiers at the front. Discussions can be found in Hansard. In 1915 an Act was passed to restrict “in connection with the present War, the Increase of the Rent of Small Dwelling-houses”.
James Thomas, Labour MP for Derby took up the case of railway workers who needed temporary lodgings as they were moved around the country. In July 1917 he asked the President of the Board of Trade if he was aware that
“railway locomotive men and guards throughout the country, and particularly on the Great Western system, are experiencing hardship when booked off duty away from home, owing to the difficulty under prevailing conditions of obtaining lodgings and food; that a number of Great Western goods guards, after on several occasions walking about for hours at night seeking lodgings and food in vain, and in one case having to proceed to the workhouse for accommodation, are now refusing to be booked off for rest away from home when unprovided with food, and in consequence are being punished by the railway company, which action threatens to bring the whole system into a state of revolt; and whether, therefore, he will at once consult with the Railway Executive Committee and endeavour to find a remedy, either by placing the responsibility of providing food and lodgings in all such cases upon the railway companies or by such other means as may be found practicable?”. (House of Commons Hansard, Fifth Series, Volume 96, Written answers (Commons) 19th July, 1917, column 607)
A pressing need in 1919 was to find housing for demobilized soldiers. Frederick Macquisten, Conservative MP for Glasgow Springburn, questioned: “the number of military and munition camps with comfortable and roomy hutments provided with electric lighting, gas and heating, water and drainage, play centres, and halls.. and the number of returned soldiers who have no houses for themselves and their families and would gladly now reside in these camps in preference to having the prospect of residing in subvented houses which will take long to materialise”. (House of Commons Hansard, Fifth Series, Volume 121, 11th November, 1919)
German Nationals resident in the UK
The parliamentary records reveal a lot about both official and private attitudes to Germans and other foreigners living in Britain. Thousands of people signed petitions asking for Enemy Aliens to be interned, at the same time that MPs were hearing about the poor provision of food for foreign nationals already interned in Alexandra Palace. In November 1915 the Home Secretary intervened to prevent one particular German woman from being repatriated:
“Miss Groschel is a lady of forty-three, who has lived in this country since she was nineteen, is devotedly attached to England, and has no friends to whom she could go or means of livelihood in Germany. To deport such a woman to a country where she would be friendless and penniless and exposed to suspicion and insult on account of her affection for England, would be an act of extreme harshness”. (House of Commons Hansard, Fifth Series, Volume 75, 3rd November, 1915)
Send women workers home!
An essential part of the war effort was that women filled many jobs vacated by men who were called up for military service, often in occupations which had traditionally been closed to females. There is much discussion with Trade Unions about ensuring that men’s employment rights were retained. After the war there were conflicting messages about whether women might continue to hold these jobs. In 1919 one Act (Sex Disqualification Removal Act) appeared to allow it, at least in certain circumstances—no person should be “disqualified by sex or marriage” from any civil or judicial office or post or any civil profession or vocation—while another (Act to make provision with respect to the restoration after the war of certain trade practices) restored pre-war restrictions.
Parliamentary petitions can show the strength of local feeling over particular issues in wartime. In June 1917 some 300 people requested an inquiry into the case of Frank Bimson, held under guard at Chester Castle after being taken “by the military authorities for service which he cannot conscientiously perform”. The petition explained how Frank had been “wholly devoted to religious work in the township of Newton in Makerfield for over five years”. (Reports of the Select Committee of the House of Commons on Public Petitions, Session 1917-18, Second Report on Public Petitions, 29 March – 23 July, 1917)
It’s an exciting month at the IHR: a long, sunny Easter break with be followed by two high-profile and much-anticipated conferences. BBC2: Origins; Influence; Audiences: A 50th Anniversary Conference will take place 25-26 April at the Science Museum, London. The conference will explore the origins, history and influences of BBC2, as well as the ever-changing viewer experience and the advent of multi-channels. Take a look at the conference website for the full programme on the conference website at http://bbctwo50th.wordpress.com/.
Eric Hobsbawm presenting a paper at the 1993 Creighton lecture at Senate House, London
History after Hobsbawm is being co-hosted with Birkbeck College, London, one of our more common collaborative associations. This will be a 3-day conference, interspersed with a piano recital by an IHR visiting fellow – Professor Peter Bailey – and parallel and plenary sessions. Lots of high-profile speakers will be in attendance such as former Anglo-American conference plenary speakers Professor Sanjay Subrahmanyam (from 2011’s Health in history conference), and Professor Harriet Ritvo (2010’s conference on Environments). The conference will draw inspiration from the capacious legacy of the late Eric Hobsbawm, but is not a memorial event as such. The conference aims to bring together discussion about what we are currently doing as socially-committed historians, where we are headed, and what it means to be an historian in the twenty-first century. Do visit the conference website at http://www.bbk.ac.uk/history/about-us/events/history-after-hobsbawm.
Stay tuned for details of the IHR’s annual flagship conference on The Great War at Home, taking place this summer at Senate House…
Three of this year’s Junior Research Fellows at the IHR – Dhwani Patel (KCL, Thornley Fellow), Wendy Sepponen (University of Michigan, Mellon Fellow) and Jo Edge (RHUL, Scouloudi Fellow) – have come together to organise a conference on the links between art and ritual in the medieval and early modern periods. After meeting at the introductory party for JRFs at the start of the year, we realised that while we all work on diverse topics – Wendy works on Renaissance sculpture, Dhwani late medieval ceremonial in Rome, and Jo medieval divinatory diagrams – that there was a real opportunity to organise a conference on this little-explored area. The IHR, Royal Holloway and King’s College London have all generously pledged financial support for what promises to be a most engaging day.
We’re aiming to bring focus to how material culture and art (broadly defined) negotiates with and shapes ritual. We have identified three principal thematic strands. The first is art that influenced ritual, for example space and site specificity, or the importance and history of a particular place, site or space in connection with ritual. The second is art that reflected ritual, for example representations of processions. The final strand concerns objects and images that functioned as an integral part of ritual, for example relics and magical diagrams.
This conference will have a broad chronological, disciplinary and geographic scope, drawing from art historians, historians, and archaeologists from the late antique to early modern periods. Speakers including Achim Timmermann (University of Michigan), Sophie Page (UCL), Zoe Opacic (Birkbeck), Tom Nickson (The Courtauld Institute), Natalia Petrovskaia (University of Cambridge), Marianne Gilly-Argoud (Universite Pierre-Mendes-France) and Andy Murray (UCL) are already confirmed to speak.
The conference will take place on Saturday 17 May, in the Senate Room, Senate House, London
Registration is now open. The cost for attendance on the day, including lunch and refreshments, is £10 (£5 students/unwaged/retired/disabled). Please email email@example.com to reserve your space.
A less well-known, but integral part of the Institute of Historical Research is its Friends programme. Founded to support the aims of the Institute, the Friends bring together individuals from the academic community and beyond to foster the growth and development of the study of history in Britain.
As a Friends Bursary holder in 2012-2013, the award proved invaluable to my studies. It allowed me to access the resources at the IHR and the National Archives which resulted in the production of a chapter in my thesis. I was also able to take part in many seminars conducted at the IHR while undertaking research in London. Attendance at the seminars allowed me to learn about and engage with historians carrying out research
In learning about the Friends organisation and coming to understand the important role it plays in supporting the activities of the IHR, I became a member of the group in the summer of 2013, and was asked to join its committee in the Autumn of that year. As the newest member on the IHR Friends Committee, I am continually learning about the valuable work the group undertakes to assist with activities at the institute. Through annual membership fees and fund raising, the Friends group supports the IHR in a number of ways, including funding seminars, giving money to purchase books for the library, and underwriting conferences and workshops. Among this year’s contributions, the Friends organisation donated money to help with the refurbishment of the institute, and offered financial assistance to the Women’s History seminar to help defray the costs of running the meetings.
Members of the organisation engage in a number of exciting activities throughout the year, participating in special events such as the annual summer outing to a place of historical note. Last summer’s excursion took Friends to the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow, where we were treated to a guided tour of the newly renovated gallery, and had refreshments in the tea room. The Friends also host film evenings at which historians present and discuss cinematic portrayals of historic events. Most recently, Professor Penelope Corfield hosted a screening of The Dutchess for the Friends group at which the audience busily searched for anachronisms in the film. Lively debates about the social, cultural and political representations of Georgian England followed.
William Morris Gallery
This summer’s reopening of the IHR in the North Block of Senate House promises to offer the Friends group new opportunities to contribute to the Institute and the historical community. Plans are underway to expand the Friends’ calendar to include more film evenings and other stimulating events throughout the year.
Dr James Baker of the British Library spoke about digital research on 18 March.
Senate House Library and the Institute of Historical Research Library hosted a well-attended and interesting event aimed at postgraduate students, independent and early career researchers last Tuesday, 18 March. The first morning sessions introduced attendees to archival and library networks and the concepts behind the organisation of collections and information. The later morning sessions covered new skills such as digital research and digital imaging; more established technologies like reference management software and electronic research resources; and always-important topics like training and giving presentations. The afternoon gave attendees the opportunity to directly engage with information professionals from twenty-three libraries, archives and professional information organisations.
History Lab and History Lab Plus helped out on the day and recruited new members.
Dr Elizabeth Williams talked to students about presentation skills during an afternoon clinic.
If you could not attend, the story of the day is available for you to browse, and Dr James Baker of the British Library posted his notes online. The Institute of Historical Research Library and Senate House Library hope to build on the initial success of this first year and potentially hold History Day annually, reaching out to more students and researchers of history, as well as more repositories. We would like to thank event sponsors, Brepols, Cambridge University Press, Maney Publishing, Polity and Yale University Press, as well as the members of the Committee of London Research Libraries in History, and we hope to see you next time.
In a previous post I mentioned an article which analysed the newspaper reporting of the beginning of the First World War. By happenstance I had begun to read the autobiography of the prolific writer Ursula Bloom – Youth at the Gate – which documents the beginning of the war. The author lived in genteel poverty in St Albans (her mother having left her clergyman father) with her mother and younger brother.
The family were Daily Mail readers and her opening chapters are smattered with references to that newspaper and the developing international crisis. The first sign of the war, “… was recorded in the Daily Mail of June 29th, 1914, when it gave details of the assassination … we received the news fairly calmly … a passing shock was overcome by the comforting reassuring, ‘Thank God that sort of thing couldn’t happen here.’” Her family continued their plans for a holiday: the Isle of Wight or Great Yarmouth? The latter was chosen as they were Norfolk people, and it was far cheaper. She charts the rising international tensions through her observations and the Daily Mail. Reading her observations there seems to be a generational split: the older people are concerned and shocked, the younger excited, “If something happened, then it happened, and it would be fun to get us all out of our rut”.
Holiday preparations continued with the packing of trunks. The British fleet left Portland and her mother blamed that, “… awful Mr. Winston Churchill … Somebody ought to stop that silly young man …” Bloom notes the invasion of Luxemburg but is more interested in the advertisements in the Daily Mail for 1st and 2nd August (hotels in Brighton, and the Papier Poudré beauty item).
She worked as a cinema pianist in Harpenden for 30/- a week (3d off for the insurance stamp). Her working hours were 5.30 to 10.30 and 2.30 to 10.30 on matinees. On bank holidays she began work at 11am. And so it was, in the last few days of peace, she found herself working on the August bank holiday playing any patriotic tune to applause and whistling. Her work in the cinema shows another developing medium, the use of the newsfilm and the use of slides to convey war news. To keep the patrons of the cinema informed about the latest developments and retain the audience, “On the lamp blacked slides latest news was scratched with one of my hairpins, and it was increasingly exciting”. She also relates the newsfilm Pathe Gazette being shown – with pictures of the reserves being called up and a destroyer putting out to see from Harwich – all accompanied by “violent applause from the twopennies”. Later another slide was scratched and displayed saying that Germany still had not replied to the British ultimatum to which the twopennies booed. Goodness knows what the censors would have said if Bloom had continued imparting war news in this manner.
Bloom also recounts how she scratched slides for the siege and fall of Liege (just like the breaking and rolling news of today). Although the cinema owner did not allow the playing of hymns, considering it sacrilege, she played “Through the night of doubt and sorrow” when the slide announcing the city’s fall was shown. Her decision to play the hymn was right as she earned herself a big box of chocolates.
“We were thrilled with the news that HMS Amphion had sunk the German minelayer Königen Luise in British waters. In wild elation I scratched it on the slide, and rushed to the piano, grabbing the keyboard from Mother waiting to greet the announcement with ‘Rule Britannia’. This was the way to win a war! The scanty house rose and cheered to a man!”
The other action that Bloom recorded on the slides was the naval engagement between HMS Amphion and the Königen Luise. The initial slide recorded the sinking of the German ship and then the next day she had to record the loss of Amphion on “my beastly little slides”, as the ship had struck a mine.
Within days of war being declared her fiancé and brother had joined up. Her fiancé then broke off the engagement. The cinema projectionist also enlisted and the commissioner was called up as he was a reservist. Prices shot up and food was hoarded. Her work at the cinema became harder as she had to manage the venue as well as play the piano, all this within the first few weeks of the war. For the rest of the war Bloom fared just as badly. She was accused of being a spy, her mother died of cancer, she witnessed airship raids, and the arrival of casualties. She did marry and had a son. Her army husband survived the war but not the influenza and so, as the war ended, she was left a widow.
Recent articles mirror some of Bloom’s observations about the war. In History Today there is a piece, The Daily Mail and the First World War, by Adrian Bingham. As well as avid readers of the newspapers, the Bloom family bought the Daily Mail war map for 6d. and pinned it on their wall, though her mother, “… was in a continual dither not knowing where to put the next flag.” Catriona Pennell has also written an article, Believing the Unbelievable: The Myth of the Russians with ‘Snow on Their Boots’ in the United Kingdom, 1914. Bloom narrates, “Lots of talk going around”, including the rumour of the Cossacks passing though Harpenden station on darkened trains that had been recognized by, “their fur caps and some had the snow of Siberia still on them!”
And finally, the IHR’s Anglo-American conference for 2014 is entitled The Great War at Home which also covers some of the issues raised by Bloom.