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‘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.

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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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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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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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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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To mark the publication of his new book, ‘Black Poppies’, Stephen Bourne reflects on researching Britain’s black community and the First World War. 

Black Poppies Cover

The cover of Stephen Bourne’s new book, ‘Black Poppies’.

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].

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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.

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The British team in Italy

The British team at a football match between British and Italian Armies. © IWM (Q 26569)

During this World Cup year, it is worth reflecting on the role of football and sport in general during the First World War. Local football teams volunteered as pals’ battalions, most famously the 17th Service Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment, also known as the Football Battalion. Walter Tull was both the first black professional footballer and the first black officer in the British Army.

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Image of German troops advancing on the Russian army. Image courtesy of Fremantle Media.

Our guest blogger Taylor Downing is a historian and writer whose best selling books include works on the Second World War as well as other popular histories. Taylor also writes on the history of film and television. Recent publications include The World At War (BFI Palgrave Macmillan 2012) an account of the making of the landmark documentary series, and a number of publications on the Second World War including Night Raid (Little, Brown 2013), Spies in the Sky (Little, Brown 2011) and Churchill’s War Lab (Little, Brown 2010). Taylor is currently writing the history of a series of change making scientists from the First World War, to be published in 2014.

The World at War is forty years old! It was first shown to immense acclaim on ITV from October 1973 and it has never been off television screens somewhere in the world since. It is as popular with viewers today as it was when first shown, making it the most successful history series ever produced by British television. The title music by Carl Davis, the graphics with the flames and faces of war, the heavyweight commentary by Laurence Olivier, the stunning archive material and the brilliant interviews with those who took part in and witnessed events are as dynamic and compelling a combination today as they were forty years ago. The Imperial War Museum (IWM)World  played an important role in making the series with the then director, Dr Noble Frankland acting as historical consultant. IWM staff viewed and commented on copies of the programmes as they were being made so it is entirely fitting that the IWM should mark the anniversary. Behind the entire project was Jeremy Isaacs (today Sir Jeremy Isaacs). It was his vision that imagined the series in the first place and as producer he oversaw every step of the production process, but he is the first to admit that the series would not have been as successful without the team of fifty talented people who worked on it over a period of three years. It was a young team and many of those who made the series gathered at the IWM to mark the birthday. For nearly all of them, working on the series was the most important creative experience of their lives.

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Anthony Delahoy, one of the British Second World War veterans interviewed by Greg Tinker as part of his PhD research project. Photograph courtesy of Greg Tinker.

Our guest blogger, Greg Tinker, conducted his doctoral research on cultural memory and the Second World War. Studying for his PhD at the University of Reading, he explored the relationship between British veterans and remembrance. Here he describes some of the findings of his thesis.

I joined the University of Reading’s Languages at War team to research and write my doctoral thesis on British Second World War veterans’ remembrance activities. Languages at War was an AHRC-funded research project that aimed to provide new insights into the policies and practices of language contacts in conflict. The research documented veterans’ ‘Heroes Return’ visits to former sites of battle, embarked on as part of the government’s Veterans Reunited national remembrance programme, mounted to mark the sixtieth anniversary of D-Day and the end of the Second World War in Europe in 2004-5.

The IWM contributed to the programme with Their Past Your Future (TPYF), an education project that grew out of a youth remembrance scheme created by the UK government’s cross-departmental Veterans Task Force. The Task Force had been set up by the Prime Minister in 2001 to promote wider public recognition of the achievements of British armed forces veterans and service personnel.

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