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 Over the weekend of 18-20 March an international conference took place in Leeds, focusing on resistance to the First World War. The conference, which I helped to organise, brought together academics, community groups, poets and storytellers from across the globe, including delegates who had travelled from Australia and the USA. The conference was envisaged following the suggestion that the prominent narratives during the First World War Centenary were limited to stories of those who had actively participated in the war effort. Stories of resistance to the war were missing from dominant narratives of remembrance and the conference sought to question what war resistance was, how acts of resistance were undertaken, and the significance of war resistance today. The presence of both academic and community focused research on resistance worked particularly well in addressing the many different facets of resistance; including the theoretical underpinnings of pacifism, international and transnational movements for peace, individual acts of conscious and unconscious resistance as well as national and local networks of resistance.

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East German construction workers, supervised by border guards, building the Berlin Wall, 1961. © IWM HU 73012.

The official history of the Cold War holds that the military and political divide between Eastern and Western blocs was cemented in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War as allied relationships cooled.

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C Eliot Hodgkin, ‘The Haberdashers’ Hall, 8th May 1945’, tempera on panel, © IWM, Art.IWM ART LD 5311.

June is the month when rosebay willow herb comes into flower, growing from derelict buildings, on wasteland and railway embankments across the UK. During the Second World War and in the following years, its spires of magenta flowers were common to see amidst the ruins and cleared bomb sites, hence the name it was given at the time – fireweed.

Yet to flower in this painting of May 1945, the fireweed is depicted at the very forefront of the remains of Haberdashers’ Hall, Staining Lane, which was destroyed during one of the worst night raids of the Blitz on the 28/29 December 1940.

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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.

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During the Second World War the German Army established a number of POW facilities in the artillery forts in the old Hanseatic city of Thorn (Toruń ) in northern Poland. The camp bore number Stammlager  (Stalag) XXA and held Allied prisoners of various nationalities.

Bridge linking courtyard and entrance gate to Fort XI of Stalag XXA. © IWM DC 552.

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One of IWM’s recently-acquired garments, displayed for the first time in Fashion on the Ration. This mustard wool Utility coat made by Alexon is an example of wartime design at its best, featuring simple lines and minimal trimmings. © IWM UNI 14387.

IWM London’s headline exhibition for the spring and summer, Fashion on the Ration: 1940s Street Style, explores how the war impacted upon an intensely personal aspect of life on the home front during the Second World War.  What did people wear and how did this shape their sense of identity? How was fashion constrained by war? How did men, women and children cope with the demands and deprivations of shortages and austerity?

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Anzac troops on transport ship

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.

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The Official War Artist, John Keane, using a video camera to film British self-propelled artillery in training prior to the Ground Assault. © Ken Lennox/Mirrorpix (IWM GLF 1321).

A little known piece of the museum’s history is that the art collection was the principal reason cited in the House of Lords to acquire the Bethlem Hospital building in Lambeth, which is now the IWM London site.

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This white poppy (or ‘peace poppy’) was issued pre-1939 by the Peace Pledge Union and belonged to Ms A E Wood who was a conscientious objector. Her Conscientious Objector’s tribunal statement and registration card are held in the Department of Documents.© IWM (EPH 2284)

Sabine Grimshaw, a Collaborative Doctoral Award Student at IWM and the University of Leeds, discusses her research into female war resisters during the First World War.

Recently I had the opportunity to take part in a conference organised for International Women’s Day at Liverpool Hope University on the topic, ‘Women in Peace and Conflict.’ Embracing the theme ‘Make it Happen’, the conference offered a fascinating insight into the myriad ways women have participated in warfare, peace activism, conflict resolution and post-war state building in twentieth century conflicts.

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New Zealand troops in London

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. 

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