One 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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
The Centre for Hidden Histories and Voices of the First World War present a free discussion event.
2014 saw the beginning of the commemoration of the Great War. At the start of the year the contribution of soldiers from Asian countries was arguably not well known. Many projects that took place in 2014 helped to change this and to raise awareness of the significant Asian impact on the outcome of the war.
India had sent over 1 million soldiers to fight in the War, of whom nearly 8000 died, 16,400 were wounded and 840 went missing or were taken prisoner.
Meanwhile a contingent of over 140,000 Chinese workers came to France to help the Allied war effort. They completed arduous and dangerous tasks, including digging trenches and recovering corpses for burial from no man’s land. More than 2,000 gave their lives.
A discussion event at the Library of Birmingham, as part of the Voices of War & Peace and the University of Nottingham’s Hidden Histories WW1 Engagement Centres activities, will explore and reflect upon the Asian contribution to the war and look at ways of fostering greater interest in the subject.
During the event there will be a series of presentations and participants will have the opportunity to share their own work, meet others working on projects, and discuss with staff from the WW1 Engagement Centres how to develop or expand projects or research.
The event will take place at Heritage Learning Space, Library of Birmingham, between 1:30pm and 4:45pm on Saturday 21st February. It is free of charge but booking is essential. Please book via Eventbrite
The Centenary of the First World War provides an opportunity to build on the renewed popular interest in the war to collaborate and share expertise. Here are some of the initiatives that are offering such chances.
The Lives programme is the Imperial War Museum’s effort to build a permanent digital memorial to the Lives of the First World War. The site offers people the opportunity to work with the IWM to piece together more than 8 million life stories, share them, and enable IWM to save them for future generations.
Each individual whose contribution to the First World War is recorded in official documents will have a personal Life Story page. Information about each person and their wartime experiences can be connected to Life Stories by members of the public who access the site.
Link together evidence relating to the same person, using records from museums, libraries and archives across the world.
Add references to sources they have discovered elsewhere.
Upload digital images of their own precious family mementoes.
Include family stories and personal knowledge.
Group together individuals they are interested in by creating your own Community
As more and more people connect facts to Life Stories, the project can begin to piece together each individual’s life story.
Operation War Diary is an effort to tag, classify and understand original documents from the First World War.
It brings together original First World War documents from The National Archives, the historical expertise of IWM and the power of the Zooniverse community.Working together, they and their volunteers will make previously inaccessible information available to academics, researchers and family historians worldwide, leaving a lasting legacy for the centenary of the First World War.
Data gathered through Operation War Diary will be used for three main purposes:
to enrich The National Archives’ catalogue descriptions for the unit war diaries,
The British Library archives the whole of the UK web domain under the terms of the Non-Print Legal Deposit Regulations 2013. This is done in an automated way, typically once a year.
In addition, their Special Collections are groups of websites, usually more than fifty and less than four hundred, brought together on a particular theme. These have been especially compiled by curators and other subject specialist to make useful and interesting Special Collections.
The First World War Centenary 2014-18 is a Special Collection that gathers suitable websites from the centenary period.
The Special Collection is open to sites that are issued from a .uk or other UK geographic top-level domain or where part of the publishing process takes place in the UK.
Sites concerning film and recorded sound where the audio-visual content predominates (but, for example, web pages containing video clips alongside text or images are within scope), private intranets and emails and personal data will not be included.
Site owners can nominate their site for inclusion here
Here at the Centre for Hidden Histories we spend a lot of our time talking about the roles that different faiths, nationalities and groups played in the First World War. This, we believe, is a valuable endeavour, but it still doesn’t tell the whole story. Perhaps nothing ever will, but to even approach a comprehensive understanding of the war, there is another group to consider. The people of Germany.
For reasons too obvious to list, the relationship between Britain and Germany was forever changed by the war. This had an impact at the state, community and individual levels and traces of this impact can still be felt today.
On the 23rd March we will be hosting a discussion event to explore these issues and to develop project ideas to investigate them further. We invite community groups to share project ideas for investigating this relationship and the different meanings that the war had, and continues to have, in the two countries.
Discussion topics are likely to include:
The impact of war on German communities in Britain
The history of prisoner of war camps
Attitudes to memorialisation in Britain and Germany
This is not an exhaustive list and we’d be delighted to consider any topic that falls within our theme of the relationship between British and German people during and since the First World War.
The event is free, but places are limited. Tickets can be booked here.
Britain, Germany and the First World War Discussion Event
Movie portrayals of warfare can be very powerful, even when the war is not the central focus. Michael looks at an example from the 1990s
William Boyd’s 1999 film The Trench depicts a fusilier section during the 48 hours leading to the start of the Battle of the Somme.
The soldiers’ accents suggest a group drawn from different parts of the country, apparently in pairs with shared peacetime backgrounds. The putative lead, the Lancastrian Private Billy MacFarlane (Paul Nicholls) is partnered with his brother Eddie (Tam Williams) while a private dispute emerges on the part of the two Glaswegian soldiers over the issue of one’s clandestine engagement to a girl of their shared acquaintance. Lance Corporal Victor Dell (Danny Dyer) is a Cockney and Privates Ambrose (Ciaran McMenamin) and Rookwood (Cillian Murphy) Irishmen. Fusilier Colin Daventry (James D’Arcy) is evidently of a higher social class than his comrades and the likely beneficiary of a grammar school education (he has at least a smattering of German and has to pointedly moderate his latinate vocabulary to make himself understood even by his fellow Anglophones). He is, nevertheless socially inferior to the naive section commander, Second Lieutenant Ellis Harte (Julian Rhind-Tutt) who numbs his sense of being out of his depth with repeated slugs of whisky and private deferrals to his Sergeant, Telford Winter (Daniel Craig), the sole professional soldier in the unit.
The film’s action is almost entirely contained within the titular trench, creating an intentionally claustrophobic atmosphere that recalls a stage production. The young cast, mostly drawn from recent graduates of drama school is a reminder that the men who populated the trenches would, in other circumstances, be regarded as boys, a point emphasised by their scripted eagerness to participate in demonstrations of petty bravado, earning one lad a ‘blighty’ or in acts of barrack-room possessiveness over contraband photographs of nude girls.
Indeed, it is this matey comradeship (that includes minor rivalries) that is most impressive about this film. Take away the scenery and the uniforms and these lads could really be anywhere. Anywhere that raising your head too high might get you shot, that is. The effect of the scripting and the, let’s be honest, less than perfect nature of the performances (the young leads have all developed their acting skills since this film was made), lends The Trench a human quality that reminds us that the young men who fought in the real trenches were young, inexperience, scared and human.
Chilwell resident Michael Noble looks at a dark event from the district’s wartime past…
It wasn’t over by Christmas. The extended duration of the war wasn’t entirely unexpected (eagle-eyed members of Kitchener’s New Army will have spotted that they’d signed up for ‘three years or until the war was over’) but it wasn’t necessarily planned for either. Several months of heavy shelling, with hungry guns well-supplied by rail, led to the rapid depletion of high explosive shells by early 1915. The resultant ‘shell crisis’ was a notable scandal in many combatant countries and in Britain led to political turmoil that saw the creation of a coalition government and the founding of a Ministry for Munitions, led by David Lloyd George.
Existing arms factories were brought under tighter official control and several new installations were created, among them No. 6 Filling Factory at Chilwell in Nottinghamshire. The dangerous duty of the filling factories was to take the explosive chemical compounds and add them to the empty shells that had been made for the purpose. The Chilwell factory, like many such places, was staffed largely by women, nicknamed ‘munitionettes’ or ‘canaries’, owing to their yellow complexions, caused by their absorption of poisonous chemicals.
The Chilwell factory was efficient (evidence suggests that Chetwynd was a hard taskmaster) and filled over nineteen million shells during the war. It was, nevertheless, dangerous work. Factory staff wore rubber boots in an effort to avoid making sparks that could set off a deadly conflagration. Rings and shoelaces were banned. You can never be too careful. Sadly, you can still never be careful enough. On the 1st July 1918 a massive explosion occurred, destroying much of the installation, killing 134 people and injuring 250 more.
The disaster had an understandable impact on those who survived it. It did not, however, break their spirit or commitment and the factory continued to produce shells, achieving its highest weekly output within a month of the explosion. The event was subjected to a thorough investigation and, while Chetwynd suspected sabotage, this could not be proven.
Of course, the factory did eventually cease production several months later when the Armistice was declared. The site is now owned by the Ministry of Defence and is home to the Chetwynd Barracks. a memorial to those who died in the explosion was erected in the grounds and still stands today. A plaque offers some details of the events of wartime, but like the factory staff themselves, remains focused on the output of shells:
Erected to the memory of those men and women who lost their lives by explosions at the National Shell Filling Factory Chilwell 1916 – 1918
Principal historical facts of the factory
First sod turned 13th September 1915
First shell filled 8th January 1916
Number of shells filled within one year of cutting the first sod 1,260,000
Total shells filled 19,359,000 representing 50.8% of the total output of high explosive shell both lyddite and amatol 60pd to 15inch produced in Great Britain during the war
Total tonnage of explosive used 121,360 tons
Total weight of filled shell 1,100,000 tons
It 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.
The Christmas Truces are among the most celebrated events of the First World War. But what did they mean to the men who observed them?
As we have discussed before, the question of the Christmas Truces on the Western Front in 1914 is a vexed one. Although truces and ‘fraternisation’ are a matter of historical fact, they have been mythologised and turned intro material for ceremony, advertising and jokes. It’s easy to see why. The truces, symbolic of common humanity amid chaos and destruction, make for stories that are at once heartwarming and heartbreaking. But can they be more than that? It is to be hoped that they can and that this compelling phenomenon might prompt people to question the nature of war in general and this war in particular.
The truces certainly prompted questions back in 1914 and gave its participants cause to question what they were doing in the trenches, what their opposite numbers were doing and what they had both been told.
One of the highlights of the BBC’s Great War interviews, conducted in the early 1960s in advance of the half-centenary, is the series of anecdotes by Henry Williamson, who was in 1914, serving at the rank of Private in the London Regiment. At Christmastime 1914, he and his comrades were sent into no man’s land to hammer in some stakes to secure a key position. They were fifty yards from the German lines and, fearful of machine gun fire, began their sortie by crawling across the frozen ground. As time went on, they noticed that no gun fire came and they could walk freely on two legs, laughing and talking. ‘And then’, according to Henry ‘about eleven o’clock, I saw a Christmas tree going up on the German trenches. And there was a light’.
The British soldiers approached the barbed wire which had been strung with empty bully beef tins so that it would rattle if a man drew near. Very soon they were exchanging gifts with the Germans. Smoking, talking and shaking hands, they swapped addresses so that we could write to one another after the war. And then they stopped to bury their dead.
The Germans used ration box wood to create makeshift memorials for their fallen comrades and offered a few words. ‘Für das Vaterland und Freiheit’, [For the Fatherland and freedom]. Williamson stopped him there. ‘How can you be fighting for freedom?’ he asked. ‘You started the war and we are fighting for freedom’.
‘Excuse me, English comrade’, replied the German. ‘But we are fighting for freedom’.
‘And here, you’ve put “Hier ruht in Gott” [Here rest in God]. ‘Yes,’ said the German,’ God in on our side’
‘But he is on our side’ replied Williamson.
That was, according to Williamson, a tremendous shock. ‘Here were these chaps, who were like ourselves, whom we liked and who felt about the war as we did, who said would be over soon because they [the Germans] would win in Russia and we said no, the Russian steamroller is going to win in Russia’
‘Well, English comrade’, replied the German ‘do not let us quarrel on Christmas Day.’
And quarrel they did not. Very soon, of course, both sides received stern orders to cease their fraternising and get back to their own trenches. But when the German machine guns resumed their fusillade, they were fired deliberately high and the British were advised to keep under cover in case ‘regrettable accidents’ happened. The truce, however, was over.
Henry William Williamson 1st December 1895-13th August 1977