© Horace Nicholls Estate. Reproduced with kind permission of the Horace Nicholls Estate.
Guest post by Colin Harding
As the first official photographer on the Home Front, Horace Nicholls documented the impact of total war on the British people during the First World War. After the war, Nicholls photographed the unveiling of the Cenotaph and the burial of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey. However, underlying these records of national mourning and collective remembrance there is also a story of personal loss. One hundred years ago, on 9 April, Easter Monday, 1917, Nicholls’ eldest son, George, was killed on the opening day of the Battle of Arras. He was just 22.
In 1914, George had been amongst the first to enlist, joining the Honourable Artillery Company as a private. By early 1917, he was serving as a second lieutenant with the 15th (Warwick) Brigade, Royal Horse Artillery. On 5 April he wrote home:
“Great news! I am going up to the guns tomorrow morning early. I feel so relieved, as life at wagon line is very tedious and uninteresting.”
Three days later, he wrote again:
“I am now with the Battery…I have no news for you except that I am well and very cheerful. My love to everyone. George.”
George was killed the next day.
John Siblon, ‘Between Hierarchy and Memory: Commemoration of African and Caribbean Servicemen after the First World War’. Photo: ©IWM
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.
Special guests at June’s conference: former POWs (from bottom right: George Reynolds, Tom Boardman and Bob Hucklesby); FEPOW widow (Merle Hesp); and former internees (from top left: internees Els and Connie Suverkropp, Romee Hindle, and Olga Henderson). Courtesy of LSTM/Brian Roberts.
2015 has been a poignant year. Seventy years after the end of the Second World War, veterans and their families came together throughout the summer to reflect, remember and renew their commitment to sharing the stories of wartime.
‘It took an army to make this exhibition’, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett told her audience and ‘having scholars in charge of each section had been the key to the Museum’s success’. In May I attended a conference seven months after the opening of the core exhibition of POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. At the conclusion of the eight- year project, those involved in the Museum’s creation were keen to open debate on what had worked well and what less so, and to identify the gaps in Polish Jewish history requiring further historical effort. The core exhibition offered a starting point for that discussion.
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’?
A cartoon from the First World War period by Frank Holland “An Object Lesson: This Little Pig stayed at Home” depicting a lazy conscientious objector who stayed at home while the rest of his family contributes to the war effort. Holland, an artist, worked as a cartoonist for Lord Harmsworth from the 1890s until the First World War. His work appeared in various magazines and newspapers, including the Daily Mail. © IWM (Q 103334).
Men took the stance of Conscientious Objector (CO) and refused to participate in the First World War for a myriad of reasons. Indeed, the highly personal nature of an individual’s ‘conscience’ meant that there were almost as many reasons for objecting as there were objectors. Many COs belonged to religious groups such as the Quakers who held a traditional commitment to peace whilst others objected on political grounds, primarily on the basis of socialist beliefs. Yet, the distinction between religious and political objectors was not necessarily clear cut as many COs based their objection on a combination of religious and political reasons whilst others objected for reasons that bore little relation to religion or politics, making the study of COs as a homogenous group problematic.
Men of the Australian and New Zealand Division on a transport ship to Gallipoli, 1915. © IWM Q 13798
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.
New Zealand troops, led by an army band, marching through a London street after the First World War.© Alexander Turnbull Library
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.
Avinoam Patt from the University of Hartford presenting his paper ‘ “Three lines in history”: writing about resistance in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust.’
On the third and last day of the conference the themes ranged from visual testimonies, and repatriation and resettlement, to the legacy of the euthanasia programmes and medical experiments, and the uses of the International Tracing Service (ITS) digital collection.
‘Beyond Camps and Forced Labour: Current International Research on Survivors of Nazi Persecution’
Imperial War Museum
7 – 9 January 2015
The second day of the conference promised, and gave, a very full programme of 32 papers across nine panels. Papers touched on repatriation and resettlement, children, compensation, early testimonies, remembrance, displaced persons and forced labour.