Image of IWM logo with photographic background IWM Research Blog

During the First World War, the troops made an effort to mark Christmas, despite the obvious difficulties. Words, objects and images from Imperial War Museums’ collections and elsewhere reveal how the soldiers negotiated some space for family, sharing and festivity.

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Hawker Hunters of No. 111 Squadron’s display team the Black Arrows. Photograph by Mike Chase MM FRPS, 1957. © IWM RAF-T 240.

For over forty years the Royal Air Force was in the frontline of Britain’s Cold War defences. Recording the first half of this dynamic period were a small number of specialist aviation photographers from the Air Ministry’s (later Ministry of Defence’s) Photographic Reproduction Branch (PRB) who produced a unique collection of 10,000 colour images. PRB’s chief photographer for much of this period was Mike Chase MM, one of the country’s most experienced aviation photographers.

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1st Cameronians tea in trenches.

The 1st Cameronians at a frosty dawn in the trenches, making early morning tea. 18th November 1914. Houplines Sector, France. (c) IWM Q51531

On the first Remembrance Day of the Centenary, Isaac Rosenberg’s acclaimed poem ‘Break of Day in the Trenches’ is set alongside images of troops at dawn during the First World War. A moment of quiet and reflection, before the business of the day began, for troops from the fields of France to the deserts of Egypt and Palestine.

Isaac Rosenberg, from the impoverished East-End of London and of Lithuanian-Jewish descent, had gone to war as a private soldier primarily to provide his mother with the separation allowance – a payment given to soldiers’ families due to the loss of income of them going to war. Determined to continue with his poetry, with mentors and patrons including traditionalist Edward Marsh and modernist Ezra Pound, he wrote to Laurence Binyon in Autumn 1916,

‘I am determined that this war, with all its powers for devastation, shall not master my poeting; that is, if I am lucky enough to come through all right. . .’

Rosenberg was killed on patrol in the early hours of 1 April 1918. He was featured in IWM London’s exhibition In Memoriam, that ran for a year from September 2008. Information from the exhibition and much of Rosenberg’s poetry is held in the Museum’s collections.     

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Research Officer at the American Air Museum (AAM), Lucy May Maxwell, candidly discusses her experience of working on the team that created the American Air Museum’s new interactive archive of images and information. The American Air Museum is located within IWM Duxford.

The new American Air Museum Website launched at the beginning of October when the AAM team opened up our online archive to the public and invited them to ‘help us make these records better’. And so far they have done just that. Each day new people are registering on the site and editing the information on there about the American airmen who served in or flew from Britain during the Second World War.

A wide range of people have contributed, including veterans themselves, the families of American servicemen who survived the war and of those who did not, volunteers at other airfield museums and people with a personal interest in the topic.

Media Page on the AAM website. You can see how people are using the new website by browsing the Media section of the archive. New uploads, designated by the prefix ‘UPL’, and any IWM images, which have the prefix ‘FRE’, that have recently been edited, will appear at the top of the unrefined listing. © IWM 2014

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WWII Filming in Burma

Filmmaking in IWM’s collections: stripped to the waist, Sergeant Basil Wishart of No 9 Army Film and Photo Section films Indian troops crossing a river near Meiktila, Burma in 1945. © IWM SE5423

On a sunny Autumn afternoon, I moved through the crowds pouring into IWM London to attend a screening of this year’s Film Festival. Launched in 2001 as a student competition by Toby Haggith, the Founding Director, the film festival is back from a three year absence to mark the reopening of the Museum.

It has expanded since its early days to include amateur and professional filmmakers and from the large number of submissions thirty-five films made the cut. Inspired by IWM’s collections, and with a chance to experiment with its unique film archive, the films cover diverse topics including the Domez Camp for Syrian refugees, letters between two lovers during the Second World War and the imagining of First World War letters on Twitter.

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“11.30pm HE bomb exploded Walcot Square. Serious damage to property. Known casualties. 1 killed.” Civil Defence incident report from Post 9, 195 Kennington Road, 17 September 1940

Take a stroll around the side of IWM London and onto the Kennington Road. Walk south for a few minutes until on your left you see Walcot Square. Turn into this street and walk up towards the Square itself. https://goo.gl/maps/pbiFH Turn around and look back. Notice the lampost on the right and the tree to the side of the built out bay window on the house on Kennington Road. Notice the shapes of the houses backing onto Walcot Square. All looks settled, peaceful, normal.

Now look at this photograph.

Walcot Square 1940. Press & Censorship Bureau Photograph Library. © IWM

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“It is difficult enough to justify your action to higher authority and it is made no easier when you fail to obey orders issued for the comfort of your troops and in addition fail to ack[nowledge] or reply to my messages.”

Major General W D A Lentaigne to Brigadier J M Calvert DSO, 9 July 1944.

Brigadier Mike Calvert (left) gives orders to Lieutenant-Colonel Shaw, while Major James Lumley stands with M1 carbine under his arm,after the capture of Mogaung in Burma during the second
Chindit expedition, June 1944. IWM MH7287.

The large and important collection of papers kept by Brigadier J M Calvert DSO* (1913-1998) during his long career have now been catalogued, making them much more accessible to researchers who are interested in Special Forces, notably the exploits and development of the Chindits (AKA “Wingate’s ‘Ghost Army’” or “Wingate’s Raiders”) [1] and the Special Air Service Regiment (SAS) who operated behind enemy lines during and after the Second World War.  Calvert’s own papers and extensive correspondence with many leading military figures provide a unique insight into the British Army. They are particularly of interest in examining the development of its use of special operations, which have been the subject of much debate and research.

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Collaborative Doctoral Award student, Rebecca Coll, writes about the IWM’s historic commitment to progressive methods of research and collecting.

“…a remarkable thing about the war museum is that, despite the nineteenth century type name…right from the beginnings, which were at the end of the First World War, they collected material relating to say women and empire people and so on. Not just the male white generals that you might expect that, that kind of place might do, they, they always wanted to show how the war affected everybody.”

Margaret Brooks, Research Assistant 1973-1983, IWM and Keeper of the Department of Sound Records 1983-2010, IWM (Interview with Margaret Brooks by Robert Wilkinson, February-September 2013, Oral history of oral history in the UK, track 01, Sound & Moving Image catalogue (http://sami.bl.uk/uhtbin/cgisirsi/x/x/0/49/) reference C1149/30, © The British Library). 

With the recent opening of the new First World War galleries at IWM London, it is important to recognise the museum’s past and present commitment to new and progressive forms of research. The 1960s and 1970s are considered to have been a period of reinvention for the IWM, and the development of the Department of Sound Records was a prime example of this.

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Queues outside the Imperial War Museum, July 2014. Photo: © Imperial War Museum

When IWM London’s First World War Galleries re-opened on 19th July 2014, the queues extended past the big naval guns and out of the gates to the north of the building. On the first day, over 8,000 people came to visit the museum and 60,134 people had come to visit within the first week. Timed entry was also allocated to visitors to prevent overcrowding within the new exhibition.

Photographs from 40 years ago show almost identical queues. However, these were for the Radio Times Colditz Escape Exhibition.

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IWM’s Parveen Sodhi investigates the reports of the Indian Soldiers’ Fund to find a new point of access for the history of Indian troops during the First World War. 

‘Very many thanks for the many comforts you have sent for this Company… the men were very pleased at being remembered by anyone connected with India…’ From an Indian Labour Company, France, 18th January 1918.

Lord Roberts initiated the supply of home comforts and gifts in kind by the Indian Soldiers’ Fund as early as 1914. Roberts – who served in India for over forty years and who was the last Commander in Chief of the Forces – took the greatest personal interest for the provision of the Indian soldiers ‘whom he loved so well’, who had been hospitalised in France during the course of the First World War.

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