What is a Hidden History in relation to the First World War? A day conference, ‘First World War family history day’, convened by the Centre for Hidden Histories, and held on 21 July at the University of Nottingham, was distinctly ‘revealing’.
Hidden is, of course, a relative term. The IWM’s ‘Lives’ project is all about ‘finding’ the 8m or so men and women who were directly involved in the First World War. The records exist for many of these, but there has not been a previous attempt to bring the material together and to create individual profiles of each one, in a single place. The IWM’s project, ably discussed by Charlotte Cyzyzk, is an attempt to do just that, and to make sure that no one who played a substantive role, whether they were at the Western Front, whether they were killed, maimed, or escaped Scot free, is omitted. It is a vast undertaking, possible in practical terms only in the age of digital communication, but one which enables us to grasp the enormity of the war in terms of human cost.
Kurt Barling, who is Professor in Journalism at Middlesex University, introduced a rather different angle – the hidden family past of which he was unaware. Once he started to trace Barlings in the war graves of the Western Front his family history came to life. Kurt was a BBC journalist for many years, and made various films about his discoveries. Each one took him closer to individual Barlings, and each one helped him to rescue them from obscurity and to remember their past as part of his heritage. Such was his gathering interest, that Kurt even filmed (when he came across them unexpectedly) Commonwealth War Graves in Uganda. Even finding such gravestones in such an unexpected place (to us, not the Ugandans) was an enormous surprise.
The Social Sisters from the Ramgarhia Sikh temple in Leicester, brought a further dimension to the discussion. The Sikhs were a warlike society, and the first group to travel to Europe following the outbreak of the war reached Marseilles as early as 26 September 1914. How many of us remember, or are even aware, of the contribution of troops, of different religious backgrounds, to the western front effort by soldiers from the Empire? One of the Social Sisters still has her grandfather’s uniform, and the group is collectively preparing a multi-panelled tapestry (on similar lines to the Bayeux Tapestry) setting out the contribution of their Sikh forefathers to the Imperial war in Europe. They are determined that the modern Sikh community should not forget the efforts made by their forefathers on behalf of the country in which they now live.
The Centre for Hidden Histories is proud to present a public talk on the subject of British Public Parks and the First World War. Professor Paul Elliott, of the University of Derby, will give the talk at Derby Quad on Wednesday 27th May at 7pm. Here, Professor Elliott introduces some of the themes that he will cover in his talk.
On 16 December 1914 German shells thudded into Scarborough from the sea, aimed at a Naval Wireless Station at the top of Falsgrave Park. In all, the bombardment killed 17 people including a 14 month old child who had been in Westbourne Park. Apart from this highly unusual episode in the home front context, public parks were rarely, of course, the targets of German bombs, although perhaps they ought to have been, as they were playing their role in the war effort.
Public reaction to the conflict changed over the course of the war, with propaganda and rumour fostering patriotism and hatred of the enemy whilst the ethic of volunteerism and the rhetoric of sacrifice were prominent in debates over where the burdens of war should fall and documented in public discourse, as well as the influence of religious ideas. As the war drew to a climax, tensions about the distribution of sacrifices threatened to tear society apart, whilst victory and the processes of commemoration helped create a fiction of a society united in grief.
This talk will argue that public parks were caught up in some of these reactions and ambiguities, and were utilised both in support of the war effort in various ways and also sometimes as places where resistance to the war and its consequences occurred. The recruitment of hundreds of thousands of men for the armed forces, food shortages and rationing, the assumption of male work roles by numerous women, all impacted upon urban parks and green spaces. As we shall see, public parks in Derby and other places were requisitioned for various purposes including military (such as anti- Zeppelin and aircraft guns), defensive, governmental, medical and for food production, particularly after the Defence of the Realm Act or (DORA) was passed. They also played an important role in maintaining morale when some other forms of recreation were curtailed such as organised sports like football and rugby. At the same time, parks were places where civilian and military populations on leave or recuperating could temporarily escape from some of the demands of war and even resist authority. On occasion they served as venues for anti-war and pacifist meetings and demonstrations too.
The event is free but spaces are limited so if you are interested in attending, please let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
War has an understandably profound effect on our global economy and the fiscal and monetary effects of war are often far reaching, a fact that can be demonstrated when you look at the history of gold prices in conjunction with major events like a world war.
Financial markets are always going to be susceptible to bad news and concerns but it is interesting to note that war tends to lead to a specific type of inflation which is caused by expectation rather than actual changes.
This type of inflationary pressure occurs when prices begin to rise not because of physical changes in the level of supply and demand but are more driven by the fear of the changes that might happen as a result of a traumatic event like a world war.
The start of World War 1 also marked the end of the gold standard, which is a major part of economic history in general and a fundamental part of how we view gold and its value to us and the economy in general.
The Gold Standard
Some financial analysts are of the opinion that the world gold standard of the late 19th century was as close to a perfect monetary system as you are likely to ever see.
Running from about 1870 through to 1914, this period of time in our economic history was considered to be the best period for the gold standard since its introduction in 1819. The gold standard was the term used to describe a commitment by participating countries to set the prices of their domestic currencies in comparison to a specific amount of gold.
It was Sir Isaac Newton, who was the master of the mint in 1717, who overvalued the guinea in terms of silver and this led to a de facto gold standard being adopted in England. It wasn’t until 1819 that England then chose to formally adopt the gold standard, and the United States, which was already operating a formal bimetallic standard (gold and silver) by then, switched to a gold de facto agreement until Congress passed the Gold Standard Act in 1834.
When the gold standard was formally introduced into legislation, the price of gold was fixed at $20.67 per ounce, which is the price it remained at until 1933.
Other major developed countries subsequently adopted the gold standard in the 1870’s and this period in economic history between 1880 to the start of World War 1, is generally known as the classical gold standard.
This period of time witnessed unprecedented economic growth and an explosion in free trade in goods, labor and capital and to a large extent, most of the participating countries adhered to the gold standard during this time.
How the gold standard was used
The gold standard was utilised as a domestic standard to regulate the quantity and growth rate of each country’s money supply.
It worked on the basis that any new production of gold would add only a small amount to a country’s accumulated stock and due to the fact that the authorities agreed to guarantee the option to convert gold into non-gold money free of charge, this allowed the gold standard to help ensure that money supply and prices would not suffer from much volatility as a result of this agreement.
The idea worked in principle, but sudden surges in the level of world gold stocks caused by events such as major gold discoveries in Australia and California in the 1850’s, had a destabilising effect on price levels in the short term.
The gold standard also played a pivotal role in serving as an international standard to determine the value of a country’s currency in relation to the currencies of other countries.
This worked because the participating countries who adhered to the gold standard agreed to maintain a fixed price for gold, allowing rates of exchange to be fixed accordingly. As a result of this agreement to fix exchange rates, the gold standard had the effect of causing price levels around the world to move together.
In order for the gold standard to work in the way it was intended, it relied on the participating countries honoring the equivalent of a gentleman’s agreement and to abide by the rules of the game.This mean that if a country was running a balance-of-payments deficit, it was obliged to permit an outflow of gold until parity to the agreed par exchange rate had been restored.
The demise of the gold standard
The gold standard is no longer used by any government, although some financial experts consider that the appeal of the system is still very strong, despite some of the limitations and lack of flexibility that it offers in certain conditions.
Britain abandoned the gold standard completely in 1931 and the U.S followed suit in 1971. The replacement for the gold standard is fiat money, which is the term used to describe currency used as a result of a government order.
The price of gold today is determined solely by the demand for the metal but despite the fact that it is no longer operating as an international standard, it still has an important role to play in world economics.
Gold is utilised as a major financial asset for not just countries but central banks too. It also used by banks as a method of hedging against loans made to their government.
The effect of war on gold prices
It is interesting to note that the UK economy actually grew by about 7% between 1914 to 1918 despite World War 1 and the fact that so many men were absent and serving their country. The German economy actually shrank by 27% in the same period and the war saw an understandable decline in civilian consumption.
By the time we reached 1916, Britain was taking responsibility for funding not just their own war expenditure, but they were also meeting all of Italy’s costs plus two thirds of the war costs incurred by France and Russia.
As a result of this, gold reserves as well as overseas investments and the flow of private credit all just ran out, forcing Britain to go cap in hand to America and borrow $4 billion from the U.S Treasury.
This is a guest blog from Alternative Investment Headquarters. You can read more here
John Beckett recounts the story of Thomas Porteous Black, the Registrar of University College Nottingham, who fought at Gallipoli.
The commemoration on 25 April 2015 of the centenary of Gallipoli, reminds us that white British casualties were found in places other than the trenches of the Western Front. The conflict itself is often viewed as being about the Australian and New Zealand troops, who went into action in Europe for the first time. ‘The ordeal of courageous Anzac troops under the command of bungling British generals has become the stuff of legend’ according to The Times (25 April 2015). By contrast, Britain has not made a great deal of the campaign, which was seen as botched, primarily by Winston Churchill, who had seen it as a way of opening a new front in the Eastern Mediterranean. Britain sent a 75,000 strong Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, which included British, Irish, French, Australian, New Zealand and Indian troops. By August 1915 the situation was dire, with troops pinned down in a bloody stalemate, having failed to move further than three or four miles inland.
Among the casualties was Thomas Porteous Black. A native of Aberdeen, but brought up in Darlington, Black was killed at Suvla Bay on 9 August 1915, as the 9th Sherwood Foresters were ordered forward against Turkish lines near Hetman Char in the Dardanelles.
Black’s death had a particular impact on Nottingham University College because he held the position of Registrar, at that time the senior administrator of the institution. He had joined the College as a lecturer in Physics, and had been appointed Registrar in 1911. As an officer in the OTC (Officer Training Corps), he quickly became involved in the war effort, and when the war started he joined up as a Sherwood Forester. As with all of the young men who died, and who had some form of association with the College, his loss was reported to both Senate and Council and, as ever, letters of condolence were sent to his family. He is also named on the university’s war memorial in the Trent Building.
In Black’s case the College decided to go further and to create a scholarship fund ‘to be awarded for research and to bear his name’.A circular letter dated 20 November 1915 and signed by the College vice principal Frank Granger and by E Lawrence Manning, described as honorary secretaries and treasurers for the Black memorial award, recalled how, as registrar, he had ‘carried out duties of special responsibility with an energy, foresight and tact, which was of great value to the numerous students who entered the College during his term of office.’
The letter continued: ‘It is hoped to raise a sum of £300 with a view to establishing a scholarship to be awarded for research and to bear his name.’ More than £50 had already been donated, including £10 10s from Principal Heaton, and £5 5s from his wife.A concert was held on 25 March 1916 to raise money towards the Black Memorial Fund.
By that time the ill-fated campaign in the Dardanelles was over. The Commander-in-Chief, General Ian Hamilton was recalled in October, and an evacuation began in December, which ended on 9 January 1916.
Like many people, I first heard And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda, from the mouth of Shane MacGowan as the final track on the Pogues’ 1985 album Rum, Sodomy and the Lash. It was a moving closer and a perfect fit for a record chock-full of classic folk songs both old and new. The only thing that struck me as odd about the song was the sheer volume of Australian references coming from an Anglo-Irish band. Of course, And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda wasn’t originally a Pogues song anyway. But nor was it written by an Australian.
Eric Bogle was born in Peebles, in the Scottish Borders, in 1944. He began writing and performing folk songs while living in Scotland and continued to do so after emigrating to Australia in 1969 where he earned a living as an accountant.
In 1971 Bogle saw an Anzac march for the first time, an event that, according to the singer ‘was not as well attended or accepted as it is now’. Back then, veterans of the Gallipoli campaign were still alive to participate in the parade but Bogle’s mind was drawn to the then-current conflict in Vietnam. Motivated to write an anti-war song, Bogle nevertheless chose to portray the events of 1915 as they loomed larger in the Australian mind. Besides, as Bogle points out, ‘it doesn’t matter what war you’re writing about – the end result is exactly the bloody same: lots of dead young blokes.’
Bogle’s song, a first person biographical narrative that takes its character from living ‘the free life of a rover’ to the bloodstained sand and water of Gallipoli then back to Australia, maimed and forgotten, is a deliberate riposte to the romanticising of warfare. The protagonist is a young man who gets old very quickly and who ultimately cannot work out what the April crowds are marching for and who describes his fellow veterans as ‘the forgotten heroes of a forgotten war’.
This may have seemed likely in the early 1970s but in the decades that followed, Anzac Day, like its counterpart memorials in the UK, has grown in popular resonance. Now, in the centenary period, the Australian government will spend A$145m on commemorating the Australian involvement in the war. This weekend, 50,000 people are expected to attend the Dawn Service at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra while a service at Gallipoli itself will involve 10,500 people. In addition, a commemorative Red Poppy A$2 coin has been issued by the national mint. As with any aspect of the centenary, criticism and controversy are also in attendance, with some commentators complaining of ‘Anzac fatigue’ and others critical of attempts to commercialise the event.
Whatever your opinion of Anzac Day in 2015 -or any other year- what is certain is that it will not pass forgotten. Whether you intend to participate in a mass memorial event or just quietly consider the events of a century ago, you might find time to listen to the story of a fictional combatant performed in a song that also persists in the memory.
Recent years have seen a revolution in family history and amateur genealogy. The possibilities created by broadband internet, the digitisation of official and parish records and the advent of crowdsourcing have created an unprecedented boom in the pursuit of private histories. The popularity of programmes such as Who Do You Think You Are? testifies to the the mainstream success of this once esoteric hobby. It has given more people a basic grounding in historical enquiry, and has encouraged the development of skills such as research, paleography and metadata tagging. It also has led to the creation of mini-archives, comprising collections of documents, photographs, artefacts and secondary material such as family trees and published (traditionally and online) material.
The Centenary of the First World War is the first major test of this ‘New Genealogy’. There are several reasons why. The war was such a landmark event, both in terms of national and international histories and for people’s family and personal lives. Generally people retain items that reflect landmark events in their lives –weddings, births of children and so on. The war was one such landmark event that happened to occur to millions of people at the same time.
In addition, the organisational demands of the two world wars form key nodes in personal history searches. Regimental records, war graves and the like provide ‘informational landmarks’ that amateur researchers use to navigate their way through the past. The mass mobilisation meant that for many people, lives that had hitherto been almost anonymous appear in aggregated records. Records that are often now accessible from the amateur researcher’s own home.
The centenary of the First World War is therefore operating as a ‘meta-informational landmark’. The enhanced focus that the centenary provides will create new interest and new opportunities. Projects such as the Imperial War Museum’s Lives of the First World War and the National Archives/IWM Operation: War Diary are not only giving people a chance to get involved in genealogical activities, they’re using some of the very techniques that have been developed during this revolution. The question remains, how can we make the revolution useful?
During the course of our project we have encountered people who have undertaken such research and who have gathered documents, photographs and other artefacts. They are often older members of the household who have embarked on their project in retirement and have been motivated to do so because they have a personal memory of some of the individuals concerned, assuming a combatant birth year range of c1868-1902. As this generation ages, we will encounter a ‘succession problem’ of what to do with such collections that are too small and/or esoteric to be absorbed into mainstream collections. A related issue is the atomised nature of these items. They reside in spare rooms, on living room walls and in attics and could be hiding information useful to professional historians. These archives, a combination of documentary information and material artefacts are of intense personal value to the people who have carefully curated them. But they have other value too. They are of use to professional historians who can use them in aggregate to build a picture of the social past.
Our aim is to develop activities that make use of the grassroots knowledge of community groups and individuals and the context-placing ability of professionals. For the amateur curators, the advantage would be in seeing their cherished material placed in its proper context. For the professionals, it would be access to the material that has been gathered. Furthermore, we work in partnership with local archives and record offices and national projects, such as the ones already named, to ensure that the material is also made available to the wider public.
We will shortly be launching our Family History Event, with the aim of seeking answers to some of these questions. Watch this space for details.
The African Heritage and Educational Centre is an organisation dedicated to the promotion of a positive image and understanding of African culture and traditions. One of the methods that it uses is to help people to learn about African heritage. The occasion of the centenary of the First World War has provided an opportunity for the centre to focus on the impact of that conflict on the continent and to create resources that will help people to find out some of the ways that this ‘European War’ was felt far from European shores.
With the help of funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the AHEC has collected a series of maps that show the shifting boundaries in African territories as snapshots from before, during and after the war. The maps are presented with information that helps the reader to understand the context and history operating behind these changes.
There are seven sections which focus on different areas of Africa. Each section includes background information which provides an overview of the African territories that were controlled by the European nations and include discussion questions.
The material, which can be downloaded for use in the classroom, is grouped under several headings. The first section focuses on two political maps of Africa, the first map in 1914 and the second map in 1920 giving an overview of the changes following Germany’s defeat in the First World War. The other sections focus on the impact of the First World War on territories that were controlled by Germany in more detail.
Last week, the Centre held a discussion event about the relationship between Britain and Germany during and since the First World War. With the help of several invited speakers, we discussed the impact of war on the German community in Britain, the realities of internment and the changing patterns of Germanophobia and Germanophilia in the twentieth century.
Professor Panikos Panayi of De Montfort University presented some fascinating material on the changing attitudes to Germany on the part of the British people, including examples and commentary on phenomena such as the proliferation of anti-German invasion literature such as the Invasion of 1910 by William Le Quex, the use of stereotypes in propaganda as well as broadly positive stereotypes of Germans, such as a tendency to efficiency and skill in engineering.
Penny Walker from the Highfields Association of Residents and Tenants in Leicester, discussed her project How Saxby Street Got Its Name, which tells the story of how German-sounding streets in Leicester, including Hanover Street, Saxe-Coburg Street and Gotha Street were Anglicised during the war and are still known as Andover Street, Saxby Street and Gotham Street.
Louise Page, a playwright from Derbyshire, discussed her extensive interest in the topic, including her plans for projects that examine how the spread of anti-German feeling was experienced by members of the German diaspora in Britain. Her focus in on the personal, such as the sensitivity that people felt about their German names, and on the continuity of such attitudes towards other people today.
Dr Maggie Butt, of Middlesex University, gave a presentation of her work on the internment camp at Alexandra Palace. From 1915 to 1919 it was used as a camp for civilian internees, who were billeted according to class. Her project includes retellings of the first-hand stories of several specific internees, including the Old Harrovian R.H. Sauter and the anarchist intellectual Rudolf Rocker.
Andy Barrett of Excavate Community Theatre was accompanied by Heinke and Joyce from the Lutheran congregation in Aspley. They have access to a community of elders from the German community who have many stories to tell. They would like to record these stories and present them in a performative way.
Dr Claudia Sternberg from the University of Leeds told the story of Sophie Hellweg and Frank West, a British-German couple whose lives embodied some of the pressure that was felt by the people in mixed marriages during and after wartime.
Following these excellent presentations, we held a discussion about the topics and themes that had been raised. This included the relative strangeness of the British experience, with largely fixed borders, as compared to the more fluid nation-states of continental Europe, including Germany. This has contributed to a particular sense of the meaning of the First and Second World Wars that is not necessarily shared on the continent and which is having an impact on the progress of the Centenary of World War One. There is a great desire on the part of the public to learn more about the relationship between Britain and Germany (and between British and German people) that is shared by professional researchers. It is not necessarily shared by official bodies and some delegates reported difficulties in getting public authorities to support their work.
Nevertheless, we finished the discussions resolved to do more to explore this fascinating area of history. The event provided an excellent opportunity for delegates to share contact details and to make plans for collaboration. We are now planning to develop a pattern of projects that will explore and share these histories and ensure that the Centenary does not pass without addressing them.
If you’re interesting in developing a project about the German-British experience, or have a story to share, please get in touch.
One hundred years ago, undivided India provided Britain with a massive volunteer army in its hour of need. From 1914-1918 close to 1.5 million Indians served, fighting in all the major theatres of war from Flanders Fields in Belgium to the Mesopotamian oil fields of present day Iraq. One in six of the service personnel under British command was from the Indian subcontinent. Because of this there are many connections to be made between Britain’s South Asian communities and this landmark conflict.
Talk: Indian soldiers, the British Army and the First World War
Wednesday 15 April 2015, 12.00-13.00, Heritage Learning Space, Floor 4
William Spencer – Principal Military Specialist, The National Archives
Jahan Mahmood – Independent military historian.
What was the contribution of Indian soldiers to the British Army in the First World War?
Drop-in session: your heritage, your history with The National Archives
Wednesday 15 April 2015, 13.00-16.00, Book Rotunda
Do you have family stories about India and the First World War that you would like to share? Would you like to find out how to research your own family or community’s First World War stories? This informal drop in session is designed to offer something for everyone who has an interest in the First World War from a South Asian perspective. Bring your photographs, medals, documents or just your questions to us so we can all help tell the story of this amazing contribution. Come along and meet the team from The National Archives and Asian community groups who can help you to explore your First World War heritage.