Public Talk: British Public Parks and the First World War: Recovering a Hidden History of the Home Front

War graves and memorial in Nottingham Road Cemetery, Derby
War graves and memorial in Nottingham Road Cemetery, Derby

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.

Memorial tablet in Derby CathedralThis 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


Forgotten History: The Impact of the First World War in Africa

Boundaries in 1914 (image courtesy the Royal Geographical Society)
Boundaries in 1914 (image courtesy the Royal Geographical Society)

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.

International boundaries 1920 (image courtesy the Royal Geographical Society)
International boundaries 1920 (image courtesy the Royal Geographical Society)

You can find the project here.

Germany, Britain and the First World War Event

King George V and Kaiser Wilhelm II
King George V and Kaiser Wilhelm II

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.

British Anti-German poster c1919
British Anti-German poster c1919

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.

The sleeping quarters in the Great Hall at Alexandra Palace internment camp
The sleeping quarters in the Great Hall at Alexandra Palace internment camp

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.



Community Challenge Fund

IWM_ART_002344One of our main aims at the Centre for Hidden Histories is to support local groups and societies keen to commemorate the role of their communities in the First World War.

With that in mind,  we’re very pleased to invite applications to our Community Challenge Fund. This scheme offers grants of up to £500 for community group activities that investigate and commemorate the legacies of the years 1914-19.

We are particularly keen to offer support to projects that focus on histories that fall outside of the traditional image of the Western Front. These histories may include, but are not limited to, themes of migration and displacement, the experience of ‘others’ from countries and regions within Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas, and the impact and subsequent legacies of the war on diverse communities within Britain and the impact on remembrance and commemoration, identity and faith.

The funds will enable community groups to gain access to research and/or technical facilities and expertise in order to develop projects or to support an event or visit in support of their research.

Challenge Funds are not limited in any particular way, but applicants are encouraged to demonstrate the research they are aiming to achieve. Funded activities could include:

  • Support to undertake a specific piece of research, such as funding travel to an archive
  • Funding for training in research or presentation skills
  • Access to research facilities and research support


This is an open call and there is no formal closing date for applications. However, projects must be completed by 31st December 2016 to meet the terms of the grant.


To apply, please complete the online form

Joseph Zobel, the French Caribbean and WW1.

This is a guest post by Louise Hardwick of the University of Birmingham, who attended our recent event on the Black Community and the Great War. It originally appeared on her own blog.

In January 2015, I attended an event on Britain’s Black Community and the Great War, which was organised by colleages at Birmingham and Nottingham’s WW1 Engagement Centres (funded through the AHRC) for researchers and members of the wider community.

dscf3323The event was held at the Library of Birmingham (see photo), one of the city’s flagship buildings and a really important community space.

It was fantastic to meet a range of speakers from community groups in the Midlands area and to learn more about figures such as the footballer Walter Tull  who fought and died in the First World War. I discussed my work on Zobel, and the event has spurred me on to think about Joseph Zobel, the French Caribbean and WW1.

Zobel’s La Rue Cases-Nègres (Black Shack Alley) is about a young Martinican boy, José Hassam, a character who is modelled on Joseph Zobel himself. Early in the novel, José’s grandmother comments that she never met José’s father, as he left Martinique to fight in World War One:

I never set eyes on that man called Eugène who is your father and he never set eyes on you either. You weren’t born yet when he was caught to go and fight in France. Since the war is reported to be over, no Eugène. (p. 25)

J’ai jamais vu la tête de cet homme-là qui s’appelait Eugène et qui est ton père; et lui-même t’a jamais vu non plus. T’étais pas né qu’on l’a attrapé pour l’envoyer faire la guerre en France. Depuis le jour qu’on dit que la guerre est finie, point d’Eugène. (p. 44)

The grandmother’s perspective is interesting: she considers that Eugène was ‘caught’ and ‘sent’ to fight a long way away from his home and his new family in France. Military service had become obligatory for French Caribbean citizens in August 1913, and the news of World War One reached the islands a year later in August 1914. Joseph Zobel was born the following year, during WW1, in 1915.

The grandmother sounds resentful, which comes as little surprise, as Eugène’s departure left her own daughter a single mother. As a result, José is mainly raised by his grandmother, so that his mother can work to earn a living.

What is also interesting, is that the war is over, but Eugène has not returned. Was he killed, or has he chosen to stay on in Europe…? We never know… This is all we ever learn about José’s absent father. The novel nonetheless shows how José’s life was affected by the Great War, like thousands of other Caribbean children’s lives.

*   *   *

Almost 13,000 French Caribbean men were called up or volunteered to fight in World War One, and many died fighting at the fronts. Martinique and Guadeloupe also contribute to the national funds raised in order for France to fight.

Here, you can see a black-and-white photograph of Martinique’s ‘Monument to the Dead’ (Monument aux morts) which commemorates those who fell in the Great War:

A man from Guadeloupe, Captain Camille Mortenol (1959-1930), who was the son of former slaves, was one of the rare Caribbean officers in the French army during World War One. Mortenol had also been the first ‘homme de couleur’ (man of colour) to enter the French ‘Ecole Polytechnique’, the elite national military school which is the French equivalent of Sandhurst in the UK.

Mutinies and Death Sentences in the Foresters, 1914-18

The Sherwood Foresters, pictured here in 1916

Now this looks like an interesting project. The Nottingham Radical History Group have used their long-standing experience of investigating and remembering radical moments from history to examine the cases of the 103 Sherwood Foresters who were sentenced to death or sentenced on mutiny charges during the First World War.

The project was deliberately chosen because of the high profile nature of the centenary. The group’s researchers soon realised the scale of their task and that their investigations would require them to familiarise themselves with the often arcane legal and organisational landscape of the military.

They have documented their approach in a brilliantly detailed initial pamphlet, which covers their work and the pattern of their investigations. It’s a fascinating example of the historical process and is written in an engaging and, at times, necessarily angry manner with footnotes that are as lively as they are informative.

The second in the series of pamphlets is also available. This begins the case study approach that the group has selected and focuses on the story of Private W. Harvey, who was sentenced to death for desertion in February 2015 (a sentence later commuted to two years’ hard labour).

As with the best works of history, this core story expands to examine the situation and context that surrounds it. Consequently, the pamphlet includes material on the lives that the soldiers left behind when they went to war and the experiences that the regiment offered once they had done so.

More information, and copies of both pamphlets, can be found on the People’s Histreh site


So long, 2014, hello 2015

IWM_ART_002344It wasn’t over by Christmas. And neither were we. 2014 was a busy one for us, the year in which we launched our project and said hello to many new friends and partners who wished to join us in exploring what the First World War meant, and continues to mean, for people throughout the country and around the world. We have many exciting plans for 2015 and hope that you will join us in making it as big a success as possible and that we will all be able to discover more surprises about the war as the centenary enters its first full year.

Happy New Year from everyone at The Centre for Hidden Histories.




Hidden Voices

One of the unintended consequences of war is that it brings hitherto unconnected groups of people together, for good and for ill. During the First World War, the capture of prisoners of war enabled German anthropologists to study men from Britain, France and their empires. They made sound recordings to help them to understand language, recordings that now offer modern academics the opportunity to study language and dialect as it was a century ago. Natalie Braber looks at the legacy of these recordings.

Linguists Wilhelm Doegen (far right) and Alois Brandl (fourth from right) recording a POW, October 1916
Linguists Wilhelm Doegen (far right) and Alois Brandl (fourth from right) recording a POW, October 1916

The British Library holds recordings of many sound files and interviews. If you visit their ‘Sounds’ catalogues, you will see the different archives that you can access. Many of these archives and recordings I use every day for my work. One of the archives is from the Berliner Lautarchiv (the Berlin sound archives). They include recordings of interviews held with British prisoners-of-war in Germany during the years 1915-1918. The collection contains 162 dialect recordings of English speaking POWs from England, Ireland (from what are now Northern Ireland & the Republic of Ireland), Scotland, and Australia, as well as 63 recordings in Scots and one in Scottish Gaelic. Until recently these two collections of early sound recordings of British dialects were inaccessible to all but a handful of academics.

Those POWs recorded from England represent the English dialects and accents of roughly 20 English counties and regions covering the northern areas of Cumberland, Durham and Yorkshire, areas of central England such as Nottinghamshire and Staffordshire, as well as counties located further south including Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Kent.

Sound clip: Thomas Jackson (b. 1890, Carlisle)

 Sound clip: William Langridge (b. 1893, Sevenoaks)


The men are reading the ‘Parable of the Prodigal Son’ in their native dialect. This text was popular in linguistic surveys at the time and was used, for instance, in sound recordings made between 1913 and 1929 for Grierson’s Linguistic Survey of India. Its academic value derives from the fact it permits a comparative analysis of several grammatical features across a variety of speakers. These recordings of British POWs represent some of the earliest known recordings of ‘ordinary’ speakers. There are also recordings made with POWs of colonial troops: A number of different language speakers from what was then known as British India were also recorded: languages recorded from this region include Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu, Hindustani, Garwhali, Bengali, Khasi, Nepali and Pashto. These recordings tend to focus on folk songs, poems, stories and reciting the alphabet in the speaker’s first language.

Recordings of other indigenous languages were also made and include speakers of African languages such as Yoruba, Hausa, Swahili, Fula, Kikuyu, Anyi, Kanuri, Mali, Wandala and Igbo. Other languages recorded include Afrikaans; Sinhalese; Tamil; Samoan; Malay; and Native American languages such as Arapaho, Cheyenne, Sioux and Iowa.

Why ‘Boche’?

It has been estimated that by late 1914 fifty-five different nationalities were represented at the Western Front, creating a melting pot of identity, experience and language. The Centre for Hidden Histories’ resident linguist Dr Natalie Braber examines some of the inventive terms that the soldiers used to describe their comrades and enemies.

Proudly in khaki, the 33rd Punjabi Army, illustrated by A C Lovett

As a result of World War One, people came into contact with one another more than they otherwise would have and one of the effects of such contact is a change in language. This can be due to ‘invention’ of new words, or ‘borrowings’ from other languages. A very fruitful field for linguistic study is to examine how soldiers from countries are referred to. British soldiers were often referred to as ‘Tommy’ from Tommy Atkins, the name for the typical English soldier. This term dates back to 1815 and became immortalised in the Rudyard Kipling poem ‘Barrack Room Ballads’ published in 1892. This term was used throughout WW1 by both sides.

There were also names given to soldiers of other nationalities: Italians were referred to as ‘Macaroni’, Portuguese as ‘Pork and Cheese’, ‘Pork and Beans’ or ‘Tony’, Austrians as ‘Fritz’ and Turkish soldiers as ‘Jacko, Johnny Turk or Abdul’.

There are many different terms used for German soldiers. Reports of the ruthlessness of the German army in China in 1900 refer to the use of ‘Hun’ by the German emperor as a symbolic ideal of military force and so this name came to be applied in 1914, in particular when discussing atrocities. The terms ‘Hun’ and ‘Boche’ were also in use throughout the war. Boche is said to have derived from a slang French word ‘caboche’ meaning ‘rascal’. Other suggest the term ‘cabochon’ relates to ‘head’ and especially a big thick, head. It seems to have been used in the Paris underworld from about 1860, with the meaning of a disagreeable, troublesome fellow. By 1916 the term ‘Jerry’ was in general use. The first time it was used in the Daily Express it was explained ‘The ‘official’ Irish designation of the enemy’. This term seems to carry more connotations of weariness and familiarity than hate.

'The Hun', as used in a British propaganda poster
‘The Hun’, as used in a British propaganda poster

As well as names for other soldiers, the men on the front were inventing new words due to contact with other soldiers from other nationalities as well as other parts of the United Kingdom. ‘Clink’, originally a London word for prison became widely adopted by men from around the country. A writer to The Times in January 1915 proposed that ‘the majority of colloquialisms used by soldiers have a Cockney origin’. Given the number of British personnel stationed on French territory it is unsurprising that many French terms were picked up and adapted. The increased use of ‘souvenir’ in place of ‘keepsake’, and ‘morale’ in place of ‘moral’ can be dated to this period. Perhaps the term most widely-used by British soldiers was ‘narpoo’, used to mean ‘finished’, ‘lost’ or ‘broken’, deriving from the French il n’y a plus meaning ‘all gone’. Terms were adopted and adapted from almost all languages that were in use in the combat zones. From Hindi came ‘blighty’ (meaning ‘foreign’ so applied to British soldiers, and thus signifying ‘Britain’) and ‘khaki’ from an Urdu word for ‘dust’. From Russian came ‘spassiba’ (thanks), from Arabic came ‘buckshee’ (free), and from German achtung came ‘ack-dum’ (look out).


Then & Now -an interactive journey

Modern tools can help to illuminate the impact of the war to twenty-first century eyes. Michael Noble is impressed by the latest effort

The raid on Scarborough was used for recruitment and propaganda purposes

Here’s a rather beautiful thing. Housing website Rightmove have created ‘Then & Now – An interactive journey around World War 1 Britain’
Blending archive photos with images fro m Google Street View, the site lets users merge the past with the present and examine how our streets have evolved from the days of the Great War.

Users simply use their mouse to “swipe” across the chosen Street View and reveal an insight into the past, as provided by the Imperial War Museum and other image resources. Clicking on the information icon reveals more about where and when the photo was taken.

In total, 13 photos from the duration of the conflict are used to help tell the story of the First World War on the home front.

Images include a house on Lonsdale Road in Scarborough, severely damaged by German naval shelling in December 1914 and a line of recruits outside Deptford town hall, who fade in and out of historu with a simple swipe of your mouse.

There’s a real sense of the uncanny in the images, they seem to make the war years at once distant and familiar. It’s also interesting to note how effective the repair work was on the shelled buildings. A 21st century pedestrian walking along these streets could be forgiven for his ignorance of the damgage that had been wrought in days gone by.

Then & Now can be found on the Rightmove website. It’s well worth a visit.

The Deptford recruits
The Deptford recruits