I was invited to speak at a workshop on 15 October at the Imperial War Museum, London, on black people’s involvement in the First World War. I was honoured to be part of a panel where the work of each speaker complemented one another. I was asked to present my findings on research into the commemoration of African and Caribbean servicemen after the war ended. I was also asked to give my thoughts, along with the panellist Anna Maguire, one of IWM’s PhD students, on photos from the IWM’s collection on soldiers from the British West Indies Regiment, the South African Native Labour Corps, and the Nigeria Regiment, and finally a session with questions to the panel.Read More
A song sheet in the form of a scarf: “It’s a long way to Tipperary” © IWM (Q 70101)
Alexander MacGregor, a British officer who served with the Indian army, wrote about an interesting musical performance in his diary:
27 January 1915: Some time ago there was a big sing song at Fort Tanskyne, and one of the men brought down the house completely by getting up and singing in a regular shrill native chant “Tipperary” in Hindustani. But I am afraid “Bwa-kutcha Tipperary ko-hai” will not catch on at home as much as one might wish.
A humorous aside, but the anecdote reveals the cultural encounters brought about by empire’s mobilisation in the war. Why were colonial troops singing the British standard ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’?Read More
In his memoir, Over There with the Australians (1918), R. Hugh Knyvett, an Australian officer, pondered on the preoccupation with the Anzac experience at Gallipoli:
Australia and New Zealand’s part does not, in actual accomplishment or in personal daring and endurance, outclass the doings of these others, the larger half of the army. But there is a romance and a glow about the Anzac exploits that (rail at the injustice of it as you may) makes a human interest story that will elbow out of the mind of the ‘man in the street’ what other troops did. In fact, every second man one meets has the idea that the Australians and New Zealanders were the only men there.
The Anzac troops weren’t the only men who fought during the Gallipoli campaign though the landing has become synonymous with the exploits of the dominion men. Alongside them were troops from India, Ireland, France, Britain and other empire and Allied forces, with whom they interacted both in the battlefield and at camp.Read More
Anna Maguire reflects on the activities of New Zealand troops in the capital and the London and the First World War Conference, organised by IWM and the Centre for Metropolitan History (IHR).
London, the imperial metropolis and ‘mother country’, had great significance for the visiting colonial troops during the war. The capital had much to offer the visiting soldier and official guidebooks aimed to direct their tourist gaze and help them do proper justice to the opportunity, quite possibly the only visit to the capital they would ever make.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
To mark the publication of his new book, ‘Black Poppies’, Stephen Bourne reflects on researching Britain’s black community and the First World War.
He felt British. He was descended from slaves taken from West Africa but English was his first language. His schoolbooks were written by British people; he lived under British law; he was brought up to admire British poets and British musicians and British scientists and British politicians and British nobility. His allegiance was to King George V, to his Mother Country and to British people all over the world. When Britain declared war on Germany he felt included.
Jackie Turpin, writing about his father Lionel, a Guyanese Merchant Seaman in Battling Jack: You Gotta Fight Back [Mainstream Publishing, 2005].Read More
To mark the publication of IWM’s guide to Researching the British Empire in the First World War, Anna Maguire reflects on the challenges of remembering war and empire.
On 12 June 2014, I attended a workshop on war, citizenship and public memory. Convened by Vron Ware and hosted by Autograph, the arts organisation based in Rivington Place, Hoxton, a number of historians, curators, campaigners and educators took part in discussions about the process of remembering war, public memory and commemoration. The discussions centred around the contribution of soldiers from empires in both world wars, and during other twentieth and twenty first century conflicts.
The session began with everyone sharing an image to represent their area of interest. These were fantastically stimulating, ranging from Ministry of Information photographs of colonial troops during the First World War, to book covers such as that researched by Stephen Bourne for his new book Black Poppies to images of current recruits from the Commonwealth in the British Army chosen by Les Back. These were then displayed on the wall as a visible reminder of our own individual perspectives and stories, but also of the collective desire to learn and teach and share more about colonial and postcolonial experiences.Read More
One of IWM’s new Collaborative Doctoral Award Students, Anna Maguire, describes an inspiring recent conference on the global impact of the First World War.
At the end of October, Hannover played host to the symposium ‘The World During the First World War’. This was my first academic conference as one of the IWM’s new Collaborative Doctoral Award students of 2013. My PhD is one of three which have started this autumn under the Collaborative Doctoral Partnership which IWM has with the AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council) whereby students are embedded in national museums, libraries and archives while at the same time belonging to a university. My focus is ‘Cultural Encounters and Cultures of the First World War’ and my study will seek to address the experience of colonial troops, on which IWM has very rich archival sources. It complements a major new project London funded by HERA (Humanities in the European Research Area), led by Kings College, in which IWM is an Associate Partner, and also builds on work carried out by IWM’s AHRC-funded project Whose Remembrance?, led last year by my IWM co-supervisor, Suzanne Bardgett.
Held at the beautiful Herrenhausen Gardens and hosted by the Volkswagen Foundation, the conference provided auspicious surroundings in which to begin thinking and talking about my research. It was organised by the Foundation, the University of Hanover, Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin (the Centre for Modern Oriental Studies) and the German Historical Institute, London. With views from Latin America to the Middle East, via Africa and South Asia, papers were diverse and truly international. Talks from Babacar Fall about forced labour in French West Africa, from Joan Beaumont on Gallipoli, national consciousness and memory in Australia and from Samiksha Sehrawat addressing Indian voluntary aid all provoked lively questioning and debate. There were introductions to new resources for historians, including 1914-1918 Online.Read More
The website Caribbean aircrew in the RAF during WW2 draws attention to the 1953 feature film Appointment in London, a story about Bomber Command starring Dirk Bogarde, and in particular to a scene showing Bogarde mixing with his peers: among the officers is one of Caribbean origin. There is no plot point hanging on this fact – it is simply a tacit recognition of the contribution made in the RAF, as in so many other ways, to the Allied effort in both world wars by people of the Empire. What is sadly remarkable about it, however, is how rare it is to see black troops represented in this way.
One area that the Whose Remembrance? Project set out to explore was the extent to which the wartime role of the peoples of Britain’s colonies has been reflected in the popular media. My contribution was to produce a database of relevant films, tv and radio.
A good start for my search was the Colonial Films Database the result of an earlier AHRC-funded project in which IWM was a partner. As well as providing essays about contemporary films like With the Indian Troops at the Front (1916) and West Africa Was There (1945), this huge database also offers several dozen titles online. Trawls of various websites made it possible to add a number of retrospective documentaries, such as the 2009 Soldiers of Empire episode from Channel 4’s Not Forgotten Series, or Scottish Television’s 2004 programme Treefellers about the work in Scotland during the Second World War of lumberjacks from British Honduras. Drama series which came immediately to mind included Granada’s 1984 adaptation of Paul Scott’s ‘Raj Quartet’ as The Jewel in the Crown, and BBC2’s 1992 Black Poppies.Read More