Wednesday, December 21, 2011

At the Movies: War Horse

I am eagerly anticipating the premiere of War Horse!

Still from War Horse, 2011.

One of the highlights of my 2010 trip to England was watching the stage adaptation of Michael Morpurgo's beautiful 1982 novel. It was breathtaking to see the life-size horse puppets prance, rear up, and gallop around the stage during the production in the West End. I couldn't believe how much emotion they (and their amazing puppeteers) were able to draw out from the audience. It was one of the most vivid examples of the sort of investment--that feeling of being gathered into, enfolded within, drawn to grant one's care and attention to something--that great drama and great literature can inspire in us.

I will be waiting (patiently!) to see the film version when it debuts here in the U.S. Regardless of the film's living up to my high hopes, though, my encounter with War Horse on the page and on the stage has been a fascinating one and I highly recommend the book and the play. They both illuminate the role of animals who served in the Great War--a deeply important aspect of the history of this conflict and one to which I will return in later posts.

© Fiona Robinson

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Ghosts of Christmas 1914

A British officer's photo of soldiers meeting during the Christmas Truce of 1914. © IWM, Item Q 11718.

Greetings, readers. Happy Hanukkah to those of you celebrating the first day of the holiday! Today, I wanted to write about a singular event during World War One: the Christmas Truce of 1914. Though it was for a time regarded as a rumor or myth, this remarkable event really happened and is well-documented in written and visual records. On various stretches of the front lines, a truce in honor of the holiday was called, informally, between British and German soldiers. It lasted roughly from December 25, 1914 to January 3, 1915. What I find so compelling about it, as many others do, is that in the midst of a brutal combat, soldiers on opposing sides could choose to put down their weapons and interact in a spirit of brotherhood and goodwill. What an amazing thing that our ghosts of 1914 did during those several wintry days on the battlefield! 

Soldiers from the British and German armies gathered to play games, exchange various souvenirs, and, poignantly, to bury comrades fallen in previous days of fighting. There are some incredible photographs artifacts related to these events in the Imperial War Museum's (IWM's) collection:
British and German officers meeting during the Christmas Truce, 1914. ©IWM, Item Q 50721

German Bierstein given to Pte. Bill Tucker in honor of winning a Christmas football match. ©IWM, Item EPH 3147

For those of you wanting to research the Christmas Truce, the village of Kinnethmont website has a stellar description of the event, with artifacts. Wikipedia's "Christmas Truce" entry notes that a memorial to the truce was dedicated in 2008, with descendants of soldiers from both armies participating in its commemoration. The Guardian also has a nice, brief, selection of first-hand accounts of the truce. Use the keywords "Christmas Truce" to search the IWM collections database, and you'll discover many artifacts and manuscript items. The 2005 French film, Joyeux Noel, looks at the truce from the perspective of various soldiers.

The temporary embrace of peace was both miracle and tragedy--that it was possible, even for such a brief time, made it all the more heartbreaking that it was abandoned and combat resumed once again. However, that soldiers were able to set aside differences of all kinds and relate to one another as people did much to destabilize nationalistic sentiment on both sides. In fact, so potentially threatening to the war were these several days of peace that both sides' armies resolved that there would be no repetition of the Christmas Truce in subsequent years. War offices also worked to repress the truth about the truce, such that it was regarded as only the stuff of legend for some time afterward.

Until the next time we visit the Ghosts of 1914 and of Christmases past, I wish you all a very happy and peaceful holiday.

© Fiona Robinson

Thursday, December 8, 2011

What to Get for the Soldier on the Front

Christmastime is upon us, though we have not had any snow in the last month here in Connecticut and the weather is confusingly blithe. In spite of the friendly temperatures and distinct lack of a need for boots/gloves/hat/scarf at all times, I have begun my Christmas shopping and am doing a bit of holiday crafting each evening. It seems to be time to bring the Yuletide to "Ghosts of 1914," so I thought I would write a bit about the wartime gift meant for everyone in the British Army: The Princess Mary Christmas Gift Box.
The Princess Mary Christmas Gift Box, Village of Kinnethmont, Scotland, website.
James M. Grant's Village of Kinnethmont website has a lovely overview of the Christmas Gift Box's history and contents. According to Grant and other sources, Princess Mary, the daughter of King George V, established a Christmas Gift Fund for soldiers and sailors in November, 1914, to collect contributions towards a present for those on the front. Donations were plentiful, and it was decided that the best present for each soldier or sailor would be a metal box with thoughtful treats and other items. So thoughtful was the gift, in fact, that there was a version for smokers and for non-smokers!

Christmas Box and contents for smokers, © IWM, EPH 1992.

Writing Stationery from a non-smoker's Christmas Box, ©IWM, EPH 2073.
Beyond the differences for smokers and non-smokers, the boxes contained different assortments of items, depending on their recipients. Mr. Dick Elliot, of writes about the Gift Box that:
Officers and men on active service afloat or at the front received a box containing a combination of pipe, lighter, 1 oz of tobacco and 20 cigarettes in distinctive yellow monogrammed wrappers. Non-smokers and boys received a sterling silver bullet pencil in a .303 cartridge and a pack of sweets instead. Indian troops often got sweets and spices. Nurses were treated to chocolate. Contrary to opinion, they did not contain cigars. Many of these items were distributed separately from the tins themselves, as once the issue of tobacco and cigarettes was placed in the tin there was little room for much else apart from the greeting card.     
--Dick Elliot, "The Princess Mary Tin"  
In addition to the soldiers and nurses who received the boxes, the families of those who had been killed prior to Christmas, 1914, were also entitled to a tin. Though not every soldier received a box  that year, due to the hazards and complications of delivery during combat, it is a testament to the tins' wide distribution and their sentimental value that the IWM features several (kept by veterans and/or their families and donated to the museum) in their permanent WWI galleries, as I observed when there in June, 2010. The museum's "Women, War, and Society" database also includes many documents relevant to the history of Princess Mary's Fund and the Christmas tins.

The BBC Schools WWI website has an intriguing little interactive feature that includes a Christmas Gift Box among other artifacts that a typical British soldier would have amassed during his service.

Well, we'll close the lid on this little Christmas Box post for now, but we will continue the holiday-themed entries at "Ghosts of 1914." In light of the time of year and perhaps in honor of the ghosts of 1914-1918, I hope that you will consider a holiday contribution of some kind for veterans or soldiers serving today. Until next time, may your days be merry and bright.

© Fiona Robinson

Thursday, December 1, 2011

What to Wear to War II: Footwear on the Front

As I was walking home from campus the other day, I noticed a woman wearing flip-flops. Despite the late November date and our location in New England, it was technically warm enough for such a choice. As a matter of fact, she was not the only person with such footwear that day. I myself was wearing tall brown boots, but it amused me to think that the rather unseasonably temperate weather we've been having this autumn permitted both options--the summery sandal and the sturdy boot--to be appropriate. One perhaps best reflected the weather and the other the season.

As often happens as I make my way on foot from here to there and notice such things, I began to wonder what this particular aspect of life was like for our Great War counterparts. What sort of footwear did the average soldier and officer wear on the front? 

I have discovered that the average soldier in the British Army would have worn "ammunition boots," so called because of their procurement via the Royal Artillery headquarters rather than that of the British Army. They looked like this pair, in the IWM collection:
British boots, WWI era. ©IWM, Item UNI 12346.
A contemporary version of the boots, sold at "Beckett's Adventure," a European Army/Navy surplus store, is fairly faithful to the original.
Modern "Ammo Boots."
As you can see from the above photo, the soles of Ammunition Boots had metal studs or spikes to help them grip. One can imagine the peculiar crunching sound that they would have made as soldiers marched along. While soldier's boots were issued by the British Army, officers would have purchased their own uniforms and boots. They had more leeway with color and style. A typical officer's boot is represented by this pair, also at the IWM:
British Army Officer's Field Boots, WWI. © IWM, Item 12635.
Boot-making employed many women during the war (and, no doubt, in peacetime as well). The need was enormous and, in many industries, women staffed factory positions that enlisted men had left vacant. A young lady, who may or may not be a war worker, assembles a pair in the below photograph:
G.P. Lewis photo of a woman in a boot factory. Imperial War Museum. © IWM (Q 28105)
If boot-making was not her occupation before or after the war, is it too fanciful to imagine that, amongst the heaps of boots that passed through her hands, this woman might have helped make a pair for the soldier who had stood working, in peacetime, at this very machine? Or, did her thoughts turn to loved ones on the front as she stitched, wondering if the boots she made that day would help someone she knew?

Trench boots were devised to help protect soldiers from the painful and dangerous "Trench Foot." The cold and wet of the trenches, combined with a soldier's usual inability to remove his boots and change to dry ones, or even to dry socks, put many men at risk. These tall rubber waders were the sort of footwear issued to try and prevent some of the ills associated with such rough conditions:
British Army issued Trench Waders, Imperial War Museum. ©IWM, Item EQU 3888.
There you have an initial glimpse at what you might have seen on the feet of fellow soldiers or officers in the British Army, had you been on the front. Stay tuned for more on Great War apparel, uniforms, and equipment next time we consider "What to Wear to War" at "Ghosts of 1914."

© Fiona Robinson

Monday, November 28, 2011

India in Flanders Field II: Gandhi and The Great War

I have been considering a number of topics for my second post on the Indian homefront during the Great War. Not knowing a lot about this aspect of First World War history, I thought it would be good to continue with broad areas of inquiry. I've been wondering what Indian sentiment about the war was like. How much conflict did the idea of serving in the British Army create? Coming at a pivotal time during the Indian independence movement, how did the war affect Indian civilians and those who served? 

Within the topic of the Great War in India, one of the first names that appears amid the researcher's retrievals is, unsurprisingly, that of Mohandas K. Gandhi. 

Gandhi, 1918.

With his early career prior to the war currently the subject of an acclaimed production at the Metropolitan Opera, Gandhi remains a figure of fascination and admiration around the world. He is remembered for being an advocate of peaceful resistance during his leadership of the Indian Independence Movement. 

By 1914, Gandhi, who trained as a lawyer in London, had galvanized the Indian civil rights movement in South Africa. It was during this time that he developed and promoted the idea of satyagraha, or peaceful civil resistance. The concept of satyagraha has many inflections: Gandhi wrote extensively about it, describing its meaning as a composite of the values of steadfastness, truth, love, and nonviolence.

Around the start of the First World War, Gandhi traveled to England. Having organized Indian volunteers as ambulance drivers during the Boer War, Gandhi again urged Indians to serve in these noncombatant positions. He returned to India in 1915 and his role as a leader of the independence movement began to coalesce around this time. The war years were extremely active ones for Gandhi: in Champaran and Kheda, he led resistance movements among peasants and farmers who struggled with hunger, unsafe and unhealthy living and work conditions, oppressive and unfair treatment by employers, and poverty further exacerbated by excessive taxation. Gandhi's Satyagraha revolutions, as these movements were called, achieved resolution between the British government and citizens, ending the crippling taxation and allowing for recovery from the famine created by the dire straits into which the farmers had been thrown, having had to grow crops for trade rather than the food they needed. The success of the Champaran and Kheda Satyagraha brought Gandhi to national and worldwide prominence.

It would be in April of 1918, when Gandhi attended a War Conference organized by the Indian Viceroy, that he made a striking departure from his earlier advocacy for noncombatant service. Vowing that he would work towards Indian combatant recruitment, Gandhi issued an appeal for service in the British Army. Though it would create controversy because of its contradiction of the nonviolence for which he had become renowned, the push for Indian recruitment was connected deeply with the Home Rule movement. It was hoped, perhaps paradoxically, that, by helping the British Army, India could delineate its own identity as a powerful and independent nation--more like an ally for England rather than some subordinate entity. There was also hope that Britain would extend independence to India in gratitude for this military service.

Gandhi's 1918 call for recruitment would remain one of his most controversial choices. It is perhaps easy, in hindsight, to question his decision to support Indian  combatant service in the British Army.  This moment of conflict within a conflict reflects what was an enormously volatile moment for Britain and India--one nation's appropriation of the other's people, resources, and government began to fade as the other progressed towards full independence. The course to independence was not smooth, and Gandhi's vacillations on combatant service reflect various approaches to the question of how India could re-identify itself as a nation of its own. The war seemed, for a while, to be a catalyst for that reinvention--for an unprecedented assertion of the very independence India sought through chosen service.

© Fiona Robinson

Sources and Further Reading:

Metropolitan Opera information on 2011 production of Philip Glass's Satyagraha:

Wikipedia: "Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi"

image of Gandhi in 1918:

Wikipedia: "Champaran and Kheda Satyagraha" "Mohandas Gandhi--Biography"

Gandhi Book Centre: 

***more to follow***

Friday, November 18, 2011

Queen Mary's Needlework Guild Badge

As those of my readers who are fellow graduate students might know, we are subject to the vicissitudes of dissertation research--the "dissertissitudes," if you will, of writing, research, and editing--and whole weeks are known to pass whilst emails go unanswered and blogs go un-updated, among other things, when the tide turns suddenly and the dissertation takes control of one's life. This past week I have been refining a chapter about the New Biographers, adding details about our friend Geoffrey Malins and his amazing memoir (truly, one of the most fascinating ones I've read) and making other changes. It is a slow battle but I feel confident that the victory flag will be raised (hopefully later today!) and the chapter will be done! Until it must be revised again, that is.

I wanted to post briefly today to add a little to my earlier post about knitting in the Great War. I have recently acquired a darling badge that once belonged to an official in the Queen Mary's Needlework Guild. It looks like this one at the Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museum:

Queen Mary's Needlework Guild Badge, 1914. Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museum.

As an avid needlewoman, currently engaged in one of the biggest knitting projects I've ever done, it makes me happy to own a little piece of history that signified another woman's pride and sense of purpose in her needlework and service. I don't have, currently, any details about the original owner of my badge, but I will try to do a bit of research and will share what I gather.

I do know that the badge is one that would have been purchased and worn by an official in the Guild. Regular members could purchase and wear a simpler but still elegant badge. So the woman who first wore the badge I now own would have been a leader of some sort in her community. She would have likely organized other members and solicited contributions from knitters and sewers in the area. No doubt, the beautiful little badge was pinned proudly on her coat or dress, and transformed her outfit into a sort of civilian's uniform. 

The badges were still in use through the 1950s, as far as I've been able to find out. The design changed slightly (the "M.R." initials were altered into an intertwining arrangement) sometime after the Great War, but the Guild's mission remained the same. Today, it is known as the Queen Mother's Clothing Guild.

Well, that is all for this morning. Happy knitting or sewing to my fellow needlepeople and happy writing to my fellow graduate students. Join us again at "Ghosts of 1914," where I shall be posting soon about the Indian homefront in the Great War.

©Fiona Robinson


Sources and Further Reading:

Monday, November 7, 2011

Poppies on November 11th

In honor of the upcoming Remembrance Day (or Veterans Day, as it is known here in the U.S.), the poppies of Maurice Kirth:

Maurice Kirth. Wear a Flanders Poppy. Poster, ca. 1918-1938.

In Flanders Fields, the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row...
--Lines from John McRae's "In Flanders Fields"

It was John McRae's eerie poem, "In Flanders Fields," first published in Punch in 1915, that inspired American YMCA worker Moina Michael, herself a poet, to begin the tradition of wearing a red poppy to honor the dead of the First World War. Michael initiated the poppy's symbolic appearance on lapels in 1918.

I will be attending Yale's Veterans Day service this week. I hope that you will also honor the fallen in some way and, importantly, the living who have served in the military or who serve today. May we all, even though we may have different feelings about war, be thankful for the contributions of veterans and welcome them to a place of health, happiness, belonging, and opportunity in our society.

© Fiona Robinson

Sources and further reading:

Wikipedia: "Moina Michael":

Wikipedia: "Remembrance Poppy":

Wikipedia: "John McRae":

"In Flanders Fields" reprinted in Poems from Punch, 1909-1920. Macmillan, 1922.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Great War Yarnworks: Knit Your Bit

"Our Boys Need Sox." American Red Cross Poster, 1914-1918. Library of Congress.

I like to knit. As winter draws near, I find it comforting to gather up my yarn and needles and work on something that will create warmth. Naturally, I can't help but wonder about knitting in the Great War.

For we can knit socks for our soldier boys and keep the fires burning at home...
--Lines from "Here's to the Boys of the 1-6-0," Canadian war song
Knitting was an important--nay, essential--craft during the Great War. No mere hobby, the need for knitted items on the front sounded a call to duty for those at home. Take a look, for instance, at the American poster above. While it hails from across the pond, it makes clear the necessity for crafting on the home front, regardless of location. Knitting was also a frequent motif in propaganda, songs, and other aspects of popular culture. Socks, in particular, for soldiers were a noble project for crafters to undertake--they could help keep a soldier's feet warmer and drier in the trenches, where the dreaded "Trench Foot," a condition caused by prolonged exposure to the mud, water, and cold of the trenches was striking many and even leading to amputations in dire cases. 

W.T. Benda. "You can help." Color Lithograph, 1918, Library of Congress.

A knitted garment of one kind or another takes on and transfers a certain energy from its maker to its wearer, I believe, and there's something incredibly moving about the sort of touch that a homemade sweater or pair of socks permitted. From the hands of a wife, mother, grandmother, sweetheart, sister, or benevolent stranger to the body of a soldier, knitwear crossed the divide between home and battlefield.

Of course, one can usually count on Siegfried Sassoon for a grimmer meditation:
O German mother dreaming by the fire
When you are knitting socks to send your son
His face is trodden deeper in the mud
Lines from Sassoon's "The Glory of Women," 1918.
In a way, the devastation of Sassoon's image of a mother knitting for a son she doesn't realize is dead, takes its force in part from knitting's own powerful tactility--the way it seemed to facilitate the comfort of touch and warmth akin to that of actual physical contact. That this German mother will not share the warmth of home with her son, and that her crafting thus has, as Sassoon paints it, no purpose, is tragic and upsetting.
"How Women Can Help," Daily Mail, August 1914
I appeal to the Presidents of all the needlework guilds throughout the British Isles to organize a large collection of articles for those who suffer on account of the war...
 ---"Her Majesty's Appeal," published in The Times, 10 August, 1914.
Knitting and purpose were strongly bound together for women at home during the Great War. The craft was taken very seriously from the earliest days of battle. In 1914 just after the outbreak of fighting, the London Needlework Guild was christened "Queen Mary's Needlework Guild" when it gained the patronage of the Queen. Through the efforts of the guild, thousands of garments were sewn and knitted and sent to soldiers, refugees, hospital patients, prisoners, and others in need. Lord Kitchener even "knit [his] bit" during the war, devising a smooth seaming technique for the toes of soldier's socks that, to this day, still bears his name

The Red Cross in Britain and America were, of course, major forces in knitting on the homefront. Below, a page from an instruction manual from the British Red Cross, meant to guide volunteers in making the most essential items for soldiers.

A page from a British Red Cross Needlework and Knitting Instructions Book for Volunteers, ca 1914-1918.

I will "cast off," to use knitter's parlance, for now, but it is certainly fascinating to spin the history of knitting in the Great War. Even from this initial look, knitting's material and symbolic impact during the war are clear. In the Great War, crafting took on a patriotic cast, and offered one way for those at home to feel that they were closer, one stitch at a time, to those on the front.

 © Fiona Robinson

Sources and further reading:

U.S. Library of Congress Posters Record for "Our Boys Need Sox":

Library of Congress record for "You Can Help":

Sheet Music at Bruce County Military Museum:

McMaster University "War Songs" Exhibition, with war song lyrics:

Wikipedia: "Trench Foot":

Wikipedia: "Siegfried Sassoon":

Wikipedia: "Lord Kitchener":

Kitchener Stitch Tutorial:

Sassoon's "The Glory of Women" from Counter-Attack, 1918:

Queen Mary's Needlework Guild history:

Red Cross Museum, Britain:

American Red Cross Museum:

British Red Cross Needlework and Knitting Instructions for Volunteers:

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Getting Ready for War: Training in the British Army

"This Space Reserved for a Fit Man." British War Poster, color lithograph, 1915. Library of Congress.
As an avid runner and swimmer, I have been wondering lately what the typical physical training experience was for the British soldier. How fit was the average recruit? What was "boot camp" like for newly fledged members of the British Army? I write with some initial findings from the fascinating world of physical training during the Great War.

When the British Army authorities, needing every available man, examined the young men of England, they found that four out of five of them had something wrong...that was worthy of note.
--Good Housekeeping, 1920 article: "The League for Longer Life."
The above remark from a 1920 Good Housekeeping article on physical health in the post-war period refers to the Report Upon the Physical Examination of Men of Military Age that was conducted by the British Ministry of National Service in 1917-18 and published in 1920. Apparently, the examination revealed that British men were not quite in ideal shape during the war. It is perhaps unsurprising that the millions of recruits who had never been in the military prior to the war were not physically prepared for battle, however. Britain's Army was relatively small prior to the outbreak of the Great War, so the physical preparedness and experience that would have accompanied service were not necessarily typical. 

If your men are raw, you will have to go slow just at first till they all know what is expected of them.

Training--physical and mental--sought to remedy the greenness of recruits. According to Chris Baker's excellent website, The Long, Long, Trail:
Training for ordinary tommies began with basic training for physical fitness, drill, march discipline, essential field craft, and so on. Later, as the soldier specialised (in the infantry, for example, as a rifleman, machine gunner, rifle grenadier, signaller or bomber) he would receive courses of instruction relevant to his role. Especially as he was approaching being warned for the active fronts, he would receive basic training in first aid, gas defence, wiring and other aspects. This training continued when he was on active service.

It is unclear what combat scenario, as reflected in the following image of "telegraphists leap-frog[ging] over each other in a training exercise," is being anticipated! I jest, of course--as the telegraphists are going through mandatory physical exercises that would have been de rigueur for everyone joining the Army.  

New realities of combat, like trench warfare, were the impetus for development of new training methods. Edward Kirkpatrick's 1914 book, The Training of an Infantry Company mentions rifle and bayonet skills, and various drill orders as the components of soldiers' initial education. Learning to operate as a united body was essential for recruits, both for safety and for discipline on the battlefield. Addressing the officers who would conduct exercises, Kirkpatrick remarks
[K]eep up the same smartness, and quick obedience to orders, which are exacted in close order drills, in order that the men may become truly disciplined, and not merely so in appearance...(10)
Andrew Carrick Gow. Volunteers Drilling in the Courtyard at Burlington House, 1915.
Imperial War Museum. © IWM (Art.IWM ART 5217)

Importantly, Kirkpatrick notes the problem of adequate training space, which, due to the huge numbers of recruits (and later, conscripts) to the Army, was difficult to find. Contemporary photographs taken at recruitment offices show vast crowds of willing and eager young men who rushed to "join up" in the war's early days.

To deal with the overwhelming number of men and the problem of where they were to live and train, Baker writes, "[a]t first, large public buildings such as church and local halls, schools and warehouses were taken over - in many cases offered up by the local authority, church wardens etc - for both purposes. Thousands of men were also billeted in private home[s]." Training exercises were thus carried out all over the homefront, and there are some fascinating images of soldiers marching alongside curious civilians in locations like London's Regent's Park.

Over the course of the war, however, training camps were constructed both at home in England and on the front.

The grimmer aspects of the report on the physical condition of British soldiers did not reflect the willingness and courage of recruits. Furthermore, I cannot recall how many memoirs and other personal accounts of the war have made me marvel at their details of hardship and sacrifice. How anyone survived even a day on the front and lived to tell the tale is beyond me. One post on a vast topic like military training hardly suffices, so it will be drill time at "Ghosts of 1914" again soon.

© Fiona Robinson

Sources and further reading:

Wikipedia: "Regent's Park":

    Monday, October 31, 2011

    Haunted Homefront: A Seance with the Spiritualists (Part I)

    As it is Halloween today, I wanted to offer a couple of images that, for a few years now, have been deeply important to my dissertation. Be forewarned: they are odd and perhaps alarming, but nonetheless vital documents in the history of the British Great War experience. They are spirit photographs, taken by the medium Ada Emma Deane. Deane set up her camera and took the photographs during the two minutes of silence observed on Armistice Day in London. When the photographs came to light, they created a sensation, for they appeared to depict ghostly fallen soldiers hovering over the crowd standing solemnly by the Whitehall Cenotaph. The images elicited both gratitude and outrage among the British populace. Although her work instigated invasive press inquiries and exposés, Deane  never disclosed her methods of creating the images and maintained that they were real. She continued to take spirit photos on Armistice Day throughout the 1920s and into the 1930s. To this day, she remains a figure of controversy in British photography, spirituality, and cultural history.

    Ada Emma Deane. Armistice Day Spirit Photograph, 1922. Barlow Collection, British Library.

    Ada Emma Deane. Armistice Day Spirit Photograph, 1923. Barlow Collection, British Library.

    While we in academic circles don't typically wade too deep into the world of the occult, or at least talk about our private excursions therein, I have made it my project to bring the work of Ada Emma Deane, Sir Oliver Lodge, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, among others, into dialog with their modernist counterparts. My wish is not to dull the edges of the Spiritualists' very provocative images and texts by dragging them through the sands of scholarly criticism. Rather, I believe that in order to understand any work of literature or art, we must plunge ourselves fully and enthusiastically--might I even add, recklessly?--into the world in which that work first lived. And, lucky for me, given my proclivity for wholehearted intellectual plunges, the world of Great War-era Britain happens to include the amazing Spiritualists.

    Today I place Ada Deane's incredible spirit photos of the Armistice Day observances in the little virtual scrapbook that is "Ghosts of 1914." There is much more to say about these haunting and haunted images and related artifacts from literature and art (and I will do so). Deane's photos did not and do not affect everyone in the same way--what some perceived as a welcome and moving message from the dead was for others a scandalous and offensive trick. Here, I'd simply like to grant them space and recognition as artifacts of the immensely multifaceted experiences of the British populace during and after the war, and as examples of the equally multitudinous artistic response to the war.

    © Fiona Robinson

    Sources and further reading:

    Deane images at "Spiritualism Link":

    "The Mediumship of Ada Emma Deane"

    Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan. The Case for Spirit Photography. London: Hutchinson, 1920.

    Jolly, Martyn. Faces of the Living Dead: The Belief in Spirit Photography. London: Mark Batty, 2006.

    Kaplan, Louis. The Strange Case of William Mumler, Spirit Photographer. U of MN Press: 2008.

    Wikipedia: "Armistice Day":

    Wikipedia: "The Cenotaph, Whitehall":

    Wikipedia: "Oliver Lodge":

    Wikipedia: "Arthur Conan Doyle: Spiritualism":

    Sunday, October 30, 2011

    India in Flanders Field: Colonial Experience in WWI (Part I)

    My last post about tea, which concluded with a promise for more about tea, war, and empire, got me  thinking about Indian colonial subjects whose labor would have supplied the tea served on the front and also about the Indian soldiers in the British Army who served in France, Belgium, and in other fronts during World War One. India's contribution to the Great War, though not insignificant by any measure, does not receive the attention that it ought. While it would be beyond presumptuous for me to attempt to redress this situation in a single post, I can and will cover manageable snippets of the history of India and the Great War as a regular feature of this blog.

    Where to begin? Perhaps some basics, to start. The Britain of the Great War era had a massive imperial presence in the world. India was a nation under British imperial rule at this time, as it had been since the nineteenth century (in part as a result of the presence and operations, since the eighteenth century, of the British East India Company).
    Indian Troops in Marseilles. Postcard, ca. 1914.
    When war broke out in 1914, the British Indian Army had been in existence for several decades, though it had been through a few major transformations. It was formalized as a military body just before turn of the twentieth century. There were British-born and Indian-born troops in the army. When Lord Kitchener became Commander-in-Chief, India, in 1902, he instituted reforms, creating hierarchies and categorizations to organize the forces. The "Army of India" created by Kitchener was thus made up of the "British Army in India" (British troops posted temporarily to India) and the "Indian Army" (Indian-born troops recruited by the British and British officers permanently stationed in India).

    Douglas Fox-Pitt. Indian Army Wounded in Hospital in the Dome, Brighton. © IWM (Art.IWM ART 323)

    India sent 140,000 troops to the Western battle fronts during the Great War. Troops in the Indian Corps would also be moved to and serve in the Middle East, beginning in 1915. By Armistice Day, there were over 47,000 Indian Army members dead or missing, and over 65,000 injured.

    So there you have some introductory factoids about India's presence on the battlefronts of the Great War. By no means is this a small or simple history to relate, but I will be posting more about its particular aspects in future. As the posters that I feature here suggest, there was, clearly, a British Indian homefront (which will be the subject of my next India post) in the Great War. Its identity, resources, and agency were essential to colonial rule, and, more specifically, to British victory in this conflict. How that homefront was defined and how it fit into the larger scheme of the British experience of war will be fascinating to investigate next time at "Ghosts of 1914."

    © Fiona Robinson


    Sources and further reading:

    Lord Kitchener biography:

    "For the King-Emperor: The Indian Army During the Edwardian and Georgian Eras, 1901-47"

    "Participants from the Indian Subcontinent in the First World War"

    British Empire and Commonwealth Museum and their related Images of Empire site:

    Wikipedia: British Indian Army

    Wikipedia: British East India Company

    Thursday, October 27, 2011

    Teatime in the Trenches

    Nestle's Milk Poster, 1918. Brown University Collections.
    It occurred to me, as I was reading Geoffrey Malins's memoir of filming the Great War, that he mentions  teatime quite often. How on earth, I've been wondering, did anyone in the British Army have tea under the conditions of trench warfare? And, more specifically, the avowed milk-taker in me has to ask: did they have milk to put in it?

    Tea is a frequent motif for Malins--it is both a comforting brew and a regularizing feature of the military routine. At one moment, he recounts dodging shellfire and mustard gas,  getting "back to H.Q. [headquarters]...just in time for tea" (132), as though settling comfortably into an armchair and accepting a steaming china cup after a busy day at the office. Another time, however, he escapes a bombardment by diving into a dug-out, in his rush "upset[ting] a canteen of tea over a bucket-fire which one of our lads was preparing to drink" (147). Minutes later, after another shelling that has sent "dirt and rubble pour[ing]" over him as he lay flat in the trench, Malins sees that the men "for the loss of whose tea I was responsible" have been killed (147). Tea never to be drunk creates a terrible pathos in this scene, but Malins cannot linger before it and must move to a safer location.
    "Tea Tabloids," Burroughs and Wellcome Co., ca. 1900. The Wellcome Library, London.
    Back to the more practical side of tea history. Tea was definitely an essential on the front, and soldiers did drink lots of it. Above, I place an image of "tea tabloids," which were small compressed tablets of tea that could be placed in boiling water. A tin of such pellets, whatever their failings, (one can only imagine that their flavor and strength left much to be desired) was compact, could be kept dry, and was easily shipped and carried in a soldier's pack. And soldiers had regular packets of tea too, much like we still use today. For the creative anachronists out there, I might add, Tommy's Pack Fillers offers amazingly convincing reproductions of everything for a Great War soldier's pack, including tea!

    She never carried any of the laden trays herself, but she saw to it that no man missed his mug of steaming tea...
     --E.M. Delafield, The War Workers, 1918.

    Clare Atwood. Christmas Day in the London Bridge YMCA Canteen, 1920. © IWM (Art.IWM ART 3062)

    On the homefront, tea was also an essential comfort and tradition. Women war workers ran Red Cross canteens at which vast amounts of tea were served to soldiers on leave. Clare Atwood's painting, above, gives you an idea of the hustle-bustle of a YMCA canteen, where tea was brewed in massive quantities for tired soldiers.

    To my relief, the answer to the question of whether there was milk for tea in the trenches is "yes." Condensed milk, evaporated milk, and milk tabloids made it possible for soldiers to have milky tea or cocoa if they could boil water. While it was not always top of mind amid the devastation of the battlefield, tea was a small beacon of comfort, sustenance, warmth, and normalcy for many. That it is mentioned so frequently in Malins's account, for example, indicates its importance as a drink and an institution on the front.

    Not to be overlooked is tea's imperial nature and the complications that are created by the fact of its being gathered and processed in the hands of colonial subjects in India to fuel tired British bodies on the front and to sustain a British populace at home. More on tea, war, and empire to come.

    I love tea and its history, so you may rest assured that it will be teatime at "Ghosts of 1914" again soon. Until then, I raise a "cuppa" to you and wish you good cheer.

    © Fiona Robinson


    Sources and further reading:

    Malins, Geoffrey. How I Filmed the War. London: Imperial War Museum Department of Printed Books, 1993 (orig. 1920).

    Tommy's Pack Fillers: British Great War Period Reproductions
    Tea Tabloids, Burroughs and Wellcome Co., ca 1900. Wellcome Library, London.
    Delafield, E.M. The War Workers. New York: Knopf, 1918.

    Wednesday, October 26, 2011

    For the Creative Anachronist: What to Wear to War (Part I)

    In honor of Halloween's approach, I thought I would write a bit about the look of a Great War soldier or woman volunteer. The possibilities for such a look are almost impossible to contain--there were simply multitudes of uniforms for men and women in the First World War, depending on gender, role, location, peacetime occupation, service corps or military regiment, and rank. I must be brief, however, so I will touch lightly today on a few instances of Great War dress, although I may return to the topic later.

    First, some resources. This seems like a useful place to start:

    The many regiments within the British Army had their own particular uniforms and identifying marks. For instance, consider the uniform of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders vs. that of the Royal Field Artillery:
    Thomas Curr. Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 1914. Poster, IWM. ©IWM, Item Art.IWM PST 12148.
    Gunner John Phelps Williams.B Battery, 108 Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, 1916. IWM, Item HU 93576.

    High ranking British Army Officers were a dashing silver-templed lot:

    John Singer Sargent. General Officers of World War I. 1922. National Portrait Gallery, London.

    The above is a stunning piece that hangs on its very own wall at the NPG in London. A fact, over which I still cannot get, is that it is a composite image (another of my favorite things, to be dealt with later). There was no one occasion on which all of these officers stood before Sargent as they appear in the portrait, but there they are, captured for posterity as though a collective body symbolized visually by the broad line of khaki that stretches from one end of this massive painting to the other.

    Now, for a glimpse of women's service uniforms, there is this lovely painting at the Imperial War Museum:
    Edmund Dulac. The Sisters, 1917. ©IWM, Item Art.IWM ART 2509.
    The three women in Dulac's work represent, according to the IWM's information, a Land Army servicewoman, a nurse, and a munitions worker. Three roles in which women served during the war, whether on the homefront or abroad. These, of course, are not the only womens' jobs and uniforms that existed, nor are all details captured. For example, a nurse's uniform had many specific elements and was quite different depending on her role within the hospital.

    This is just a brief dip into the wide pool of possibility for Great War uniforms. Consider it a tiny, manageable, snippet of the broad and sometimes intimidating swath of war-era British sartorial history. There will be other snippets, more bits and bobs, to add to this one, but until then, I bid you happy costuming and a happy Halloween.

    © Fiona Robinson


    Sources and Further Reading:

    At the National Portrait Gallery: