BBC documentary on Ivor Gurney

Originally posted on War Poetry – the blog of Tim Kendall, Professor of English.

My documentary on Ivor Gurney, directed by Clive Flowers, will be broadcast this Sunday, 30 March, at 9pm on BBC4.

Several years ago, a number of scholars specialising in the First World War were invited to a jointly-organised AHRC/BBC event in London. We discussed our work, and gave our views on how the BBC might mark the forthcoming centenary. There I met an executive producer, Mike Poole, who, as luck would have it, had always wanted to commission a programme about Gurney. So he approached Clive, making him the gift of a rather startled academic with no previous TV experience as presenter.

The filming process, although exhausting, was an absolute joy. Locations included the Somme (where Gurney was shot), Passchendaele (gassed), the Royal College of Music, and some of the hills around Gloucester which inspired Gurney’s greatest poetry. Thanks to Ryan‘s stunning camerawork, it is easy to appreciate why Gurney loved these landscapes. We were also lucky to interview such eloquent experts, my biggest regret being that, for an hour-long documentary, so much superb material ended up on the cutting-room floor.

Lost in the no-place of the asylum for the last 15 years of his life, Gurney complained constantly that he had not received the ‘honour’ that was due to him. Wishing for death, he felt forgotten, betrayed, exiled from his native Gloucestershire and condemned to lingering torture. I thought about that a great deal as I was helping to make this documentary. The programme is intended as some small and belated recompense, a homage to an extraordinary genius who remains underappreciated even today.

Remembering the Home Front of the First World War

Originally posted on the Imperial and Global Forum – the blog of the Centre for Imperial and Global History at the History Department, University of Exeter.

Richard Batten

The commemoration of the Western Front should not wholly overshadow the wide-ranging activities of the men, women, and children of the British Home Front. Devon’s local tendency toward charity over service reflects the unusual autonomy of its citizens as they attempted to navigate the different challenges of the war.

The recent politicised controversies surrounding the centenary of the First World War reveal the strong emotions and the common misperceptions that the conflict continues to evoke. Presently, the deliberations about the commemoration of the Great War also remain primarily focused on how and why Britain went to war: who started what, the failings of military strategists, and the gruelling experience of British soldiers. This is reflected in the staggering amount of books about the Great War that have been published to coincide with and capitalise upon the conflict’s centenary. Yet Margaret Macmillan rightly points out that whilst the passions evoked in the debate on the First World War ‘may make for a good spectacle’, it does not do ‘what history should – and that is help us to understand the past in all its complexity’. Yet, amid these heated debates of how the First World War should be remembered in Britain, there has been little discussion and reflection of the complex wartime experiences of individuals that fell outside the requirements of military service: the women, children and men unable to serve in the military who instead participated in various forms of economic and social self-mobilisation.

According to John Horne, the mobilization of the European nations was essentially a ‘political and cultural process’.[1] These mobilization efforts to support the British war effort constituted a second front that supported the fighting front. This secondary British front became defined as the Home Front.[2] It seems that the word ‘Home Front’ first appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1917. Yet, despite the evocation of home as an emotional counterbalance to the military front, Susan R. Grayzel indicates that in Britain and France, whilst the First World War had created the concept of ‘Home Front’, the conflict ‘never stabilized the boundaries separating war from home’.[3]

Self-Mobilization: Devon as Microhistory

Histories of the British Home Front during the Great War have typically concentrated on the analytical framework of the nation state.[4] However, Keith Grieves suggests that the wartime experiences of the British Home Front were not so ‘complete and universal that one monolithic historical narrative can serve the nuances of differences, which inhabited contemporary “lived” representations of the nation at war’.[5] He also proposes that the local histories of the Home Front comprise a ‘new’ cultural history of the Great War in that it is informed from below by giving a greater ‘emphasis on the effects of war on local communities in their distinctive settings’.[6] A reflection of the British Home Front on both a local level and a national level reinforces the fact that Britain in 1914 was no monolithic structure.[7] Thus, the contributions that civilians made to the war effort in fact varied greatly across the British Isles. For this, the county of Devon proves particularly illustrative.[8]

An examination of the South Western county of Devon, the third largest county in England, provides an important reflection of the strengths and limitations of different forms of self-mobilisation. Like elsewhere, the Army worked closely with local elites in order to garner recruits.[9] Despite this, recruitment efforts in Devon during 1914 and 1915 did not produce the success that the Army recruiters and the county’s elite had hoped that Devon would achieve.[10] Instead, they encountered hesitation and indifference from some Devonians towards their exhortations that the county’s men should volunteer. Frustrated with recruiting efforts at the South Devon resort of Dawlish in the autumn of 1914, Army recruiter Major-General Laye observed that Devonians were ‘too content away from the war in the sunshine’.[11] And in December 1914, the recorder of Tiverton, Sir Trehawke Kekewich, put forward the accusation that recruitment was not a priority in Devon and instead the county had its eyes on another prize: ‘In Devonshire they had not done their duty; they beat Somerset at games but Somerset was beating them in the “war game.”’.[12] He went on to reference a legend within the county folklore of Devon in order to reinforce through this comparison the lacklustre response of Devon’s men: ‘an old tradition that when England was in difficulty or danger old Drake was heard beating his drum. He never was beating it so furiously as now; one could imagine him on the Hoe, calling the young men to come’.[13]

Local logic supported Devonian hesitancy. The Reverend Dr. John T. Trelawny-Ross, a former vicar of Paignton, proposed that a large number of Devon’s men were reluctant to volunteer until they were compelled because they thought that ‘sooner or later they will have to go’.[14] In other words, although some enlisted, more than a few Devonians did not believe the war to be a life or death struggle for Britain or the Empire, fostering a general feeling of unreality amongst the county’s men about the war’s significance.[15]

Humanitarianism, not Opposition

However, the hesitant response from Devon should not be interpreted as symptoms of anti-war sentiment or lack of patriotism. Rather, it stemmed from the fact that Devonians often developed their own rationalisations for abstaining from the behaviours that Devon’s elite prescribed for them. This was evident in February 1915 when an Army representative urged the men of the West Devon village of Bridestowe to join the army. The answer that he received to his appeals was: ‘“We’ve got no time for that rummage”’.[16] This is also noted in the responses from farmers’ sons’ in North Devon with their declaration that they were ‘going to stay home and look after the grub and the money’.[17]

The evidence from the archives and newspapers of Devon, alongside an examination of the wartime experiences of Devon’s elite, indicate that the participation of Devon’s population in the measures introduced in the name of the war effort was not perceived to be a straightforward choice. Instead, for some Devonians it was to focus on local and individual priorities because the preservation of their livelihoods in wartime took precedence over appeals to consider some ill-defined national interest. Rather, the involvement of Devonians with the war effort was informed by what was considered to be an appropriate contribution and a practical way to engage with the war effort.

Bedford Circus for Sale of War Bonds (December 1917)
A model Tank was used in a procession through the streets of Exeter in December 1917 which became the centrepiece in a campaign to encourage Devonians to buy War Bonds. The title for the card on the tank reads: ‘The Bonds Bought Here Buy Bombs & Guns & Build More Tanks To Beat The Huns’.

This was evident in the practical way that Devonians engaged with the war effort through purchasing War Loans and War Bonds. By 1918, Devon, which possessed 31 War Savings Associations, was listed as one of the ten counties in England and Wales with the largest number of War Savings Associations.[18] Adrian Gregory acknowledges that whilst the number of local WSA’s is a crude measure to indicate their popularity, ‘it does give some idea of the depth of involvement of local communities’.[19]Furthermore, Mr Lloyd Parry, the Town Clerk of Exeter, revealed that in respect to the War Saving’s Movement the city of ‘Exeter can claim to be well in the forefront, as not long after the close of the war, it was found that local subscriptions to War Savings Certificates were in comparison with the population – 75 per cent more than the average of the whole country’.[20] This meant that charitable forms of participation with the war effort were more successful than the recruitment efforts in Devon.

The great popularity of charities and philanthropic activities in Devon related to the war effort reveals that voluntary aid found more resonance with the humanitarian sensibilities of the county’s population. This was evident with the Voluntary Aid Detachment in Devon which had grown in popularity since 1909 to the extent that Thekla Bowser suggests in terms of financial support that Devon was ‘one of the richest “veins” which existed in England before the war’.[21] This great financial success was also evident with the Devon branch of the British Red Cross when it had raised £6,300 15 s. 7 d. which exceeded ‘by over £900 the collection of any other County’.[22]In Lady Fortescue’s view, this was one of the ‘many proofs of Devon’s unbounded generosity’ during the First World War.[23]

These examples reaffirm the strength of the humanitarian nature of Devon’s patriotism and emphasize the accomplishments that Devon’s population had achieved in various philanthropic activities. Hence, whereas, throughout much of the British Home Front, local communities rallied around recruitment tables, many Devonians were instead more prepared to give to the war effort in the form of charitable efforts to claim their citizenship in the wartime community.[24] Their tendency toward charity over service reflects the unusual autonomy of Devon’s citizens as they attempted to navigate the different challenges of the war whilst they weighed-up the benefits and constraints of participating in different forms of mobilization against individual and local priorities.

Mayoress of Exeter Mothering (August 1915)
The Mayoress of Exeter, Mrs J. G. Owen, along with other prominent women of Exeter provided refreshments for the Army troops travelling between Exeter and Plymouth throughout the war.

The mobilization of Devon’s women into charitable efforts was significant because their engagement with charitable efforts provided a distinct ‘recognition of citizenship emerging from their patriotism’.[25] This was evident with the activity of knitting when during the first weeks of the war the women of Devon had made and donated to Lady Fortescue 5,000 pairs of socks and 1,500 body belts.[26] However, according to Lord Fortescue, despite the fact that the majority of the socks were badly made they were used to ‘put over the breech action of the rifles as [a] mud guard’.[27]

Children also became active participants in the ‘war effort, not only through education and the singing of patriotic songs in assembly but by the variety of relief efforts’.[28] For instance, the boys of the Holy Trinity School in Barnstaple in September 1914 collected ‘blackberries to make jam to send to the “Jam Committee” of their local Distress Fund’.[29] This was also true of girls who were encouraged to fulfil their wartime obligations through knitting. The children of Hunshaw Church of England National School in Barnstaple sent a parcel containing ‘“sixteen pairs of socks, five long mufflers and eight pairs of mittens together with cigarettes to the value of ten shillings” to the soldiers of the Devonshire Regiment, via the Mayoress of Exeter’.[30]These actions recognise the significant contribution made by Devon’s civilians throughout the war.

It is also important to acknowledge the uncertainty and difficulty of the civilian experience of the First World War wherein many of the measures introduced in the name of the war effort were not always easily acquired. There was a tension between individual priorities and national priorities that was apparent in the encounters between Devon’s elite as agents advocating the necessity of wartime mobilization and the county’s populace during the war. From these differences, fascinatingly, many of the men, women, and children of Devon crucially turned instead to humanitarian methods for supporting the Western Front. In the midst of our intellectual battle over the causes and conflict of the First World War, we would do well to remember the unique local contributions of the Home Front.

[1] John Horne, ‘Introduction: mobilizing for “total war”, 1914-1918’ in J. Horne ed., State, Society and Mobilization in Europe during the First World War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997) p. 1.

[2] Gerard J. DeGroot, Blighty: British Society in the Era of the Great War(Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 1996), Jay Winter and Jean-Louis Robert eds., Capital Cities at War: Paris, London, Berlin, 1914-1919(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), George Robb, British Culture and the First World War (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2002), Jay Winter and Jean-Louis Robert eds., Capital Cities at War: Paris, London, Berlin, 1914-1919Volume 2: A Cultural History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), Adrian Gregory, The Last Great War: British Society and the First World War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008),Tammy M. Proctor, Civilians in a World at War, 1914-1918 (New York: New York University Press, 2010), Adrian Gregory, ‘Britain and Ireland’ in J. Horne ed., A Companion to World War I (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012) pp. 403-417.

[3] Susan R. Grayzel, Women’s Identities at War: Gender, Motherhood, and Politics in Britain and France during the First World War (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1999) p. 7.

[4] John Williams, The Home Fronts: Britain, France and Germany, 1914-1918 (London: Constable, 1972), Trevor Wilson, The Myriad Faces of War: Britain and the Great War, 1914-1918 (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1986), Arthur Marwick, The Deluge: British Society and the First World War, 2nd edn (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006).

[5] Keith Grieves, ‘The quiet of the country and the restless excitement of the towns: rural perspectives on the home front, 1914-1918’ in M. Tebbutt ed., Rural and Urban Encounters in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries: Regional Perspectives (Manchester: Conference of Regional and Local Historians, 2004), p. 94.

[6] Ibid., p. 80.

[7] Gerald Gliddon ed., Norfolk & Suffolk in the Great War (Norwich: Gliddon Books, 1988), Keith Grieves, Sussex in the First World War(Lewes: Sussex Record Office, 2004), David Parker, Hertfordshire Children in War and Peace, 1914-1939 (Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire Press, 2007). Paul Rusiecki, The Impact of Catastrophe: The people of Essex and the First World War (1914-1918) (Chelmsford: Essex Record Office, 2008).

[8] Pierre Purseigle, ‘Beyond and Below the Nations: Towards a Comparative History of Local Communities at War’ in J. Macleod and P. Purseigle eds., Uncovered Fields: Perspectives in First World War Studies (Leiden: Brill, 2004) pp. 95-123, Helen B. McCartney, Citizen Soldiers: The Liverpool Territorial’s in the First World War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), Helen Townsley, ‘The First World War and Voluntary Recruitment: A forum for regional identity? An analysis of the nature, expression and significance of regional identity in Hull, 1900 -1916’, University of Sussex, PhD thesis, 2008, Paul Rusiecki, The Impact of Catastrophe: The people of Essex and the First World War (1914-1918) (Chelmsford: Essex Record Office, 2008).

[9] Keith Grieves, ‘“Lowther’s Lambs”: Rural Paternalism and Voluntary Recruitment in the First World War’, Rural History Vol. 4, 1 (1993) pp. 55-75.

[10] ‘Devonshire and the War’ in R. Pearse Chope ed., Devonian Year Book 1915 (London: The London Devonian Association, 1915) p. 41,Western Times, 24 November 1914, p. 5, Devon and Exeter Gazette, 10 December 1914, p. 2.

[11] Major General Laye, ‘The Nation’s Call’, Dawlish Gazette, 15 September 1914.

[12] Western Times, 8 December 1914, p. 3.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Plymouth and West Devon Record Office: 1305/10, ‘Local Patriotism and Organisation in 1803 (By Dr. Trelawny-Ross)’, 1914, p. 8, Western Morning News, 15 December 1914, p. 4.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Devon and Exeter Gazette, 20 February 1915, p. 3.

[17] Western Morning News, 18 February 1915, p. 3.

[18] Gregory, The Last Great War, p. 221.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Devon Heritage Centre: FB 12/6/1, Documents of Town Clerk, 1919, p. 2.

[21] Thekla Bowser, The Story of V.A.D. work in the Great War, (London: Imperial War Museum, 2003) p. 94.

[22] Emily Fortescue, ‘Devon and the Red Cross’, Devon and Exeter Gazette, 8 November 1918, p. 5.

[23] Ibid.

[24] John Morton, The Voluntary Recruiting Movement in Britain, 1914-1916 (New York: Garland Publishing, 1982), Peter Simkins, Kitchener’s Army: The raising of the new armies, 1914-1916 (Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military, 2007).

[25] Paul Ward, ‘“Women of Britain Say Go!”: Women’s patriotism in the First World War’, Twentieth Century British History, Vol. 12, 1 (2001) p. 38.

[26] DHC: 1262M/FH42, Typescript memoirs for the war years, 1919, p. 17.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Catriona Pennell, A Kingdom United: Popular Responses to the Outbreak of the First World War in Britain and Ireland (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012) p. 75.

[29] North Devon Record Office: 1903C/EEL, Holy Trinity Boys’ School, Barnstaple, School Log Book, 4 September 1914 as cited in Pennell, A Kingdom United, p. 75.

[30] NDRO: 3073CEEL, Huntshaw C. E. National School, Barnstaple, School Log Book, 1893-1915, 15 December 1914 as cited in Pennell, A Kingdom United, p. 75.

Rupert Brooke, Julian Grenfell, and Homer

Originally posted on ‘War Poetry‘ – the blog of Tim Kendall, Professor of English at the University of Exeter.

I have blogged separately about Rupert Brooke and Julian Grenfell. They were the earliest fatalities of all the War’s significant poets, and despite the immense popularity of their work for many decades, in recent times their reputations have suffered because they discomfort us with truths about war which we would rather not acknowledge. Brooke, in particular, has become a byword for naivety, his example counterblasted by Owen’s and Sassoon’s bitter voices of experience. If Brooke had lived longer, the argument goes, he would have learnt better. The recent anthologist who condemns Brooke’s ‘life-diminishing ideas’ and ‘sick philosophy’ articulates opinions which are regularly heard in schoolrooms and beyond.

Far from being a foolish innocent, Brooke in 1914 knew more about war than almost any of his contemporaries. Granted a commission in the Royal Naval Division—a new amphibious unit of Winston Churchill’s devising—he had been helpless at the siege and fall of Antwerp as what he later called ‘one of the greatest crimes in history’ played out: ‘Hundreds of thousands of refugees, their goods on barrows and hand-carts and perambulators and wagons… the old men mostly weeping, the women with hard drawn faces… That’s what Belgium is now: the country where three civilians have been killed to every one soldier.’ Brooke understood the  nature of modern conflict, foreseeing the ‘incessant mechanical slaughter’. Nevertheless, appalling as it was, the sacrifice must be made, not only to protect England from a similar fate, but for compelling humanitarian reasons: ‘I’ve seen the half million refugees in the night’.
Back in England, Brooke wrote the five sonnets of ‘1914’ as a ‘rallying cry’ to a nation which didn’t yet realise what ‘sacrifices — active or passive’ would be required of its citizens. The Dean of St Paul’s read the last of these (‘The Soldier’) from the pulpit on Easter Sunday, 4 April 1915. Less than three weeks later, on St. George’s Day, Brooke was dead, having succumbed to septicaemia following a mosquito bite. Winston Churchill, in his obituary for Brooke published on 26 April, celebrated a man who ‘was all that one could wish England’s noblest sons to be in days when no sacrifice but the most precious is acceptable’. The apotheosis was complete: tens of thousands of copies of Brooke’s poetry were sold every year until well into the 1960s, and every subsequent soldier-poet was obliged to wrestle with Brooke’s legacy.
The first to do so was Julian Grenfell. Grenfell was Eton and Oxford, Brooke Rugby and Cambridge; Grenfell was a hearty in extremis (boxing, hunting), Brooke an aesthete. Yet the two men had friends in common, such as Patrick Shaw Stewart, and Grenfell would soon have known Brooke’s fate. On 29 April 1915, six days after Brooke’s death, Grenfell wrote his most famous poem, ‘Into Battle’. Its opening stanza makes extraordinary claims:
The naked earth is warm with spring,
And with green grass and bursting trees
Leans to the sun’s kiss glorying,
And quivers in the loving breeze;
And Life is Colour and Warmth and Light,
And a striving evermore for these;
And he is dead who will not fight;
And who dies fighting has increase.
What starts like a gorgeous invocation of spring’s renewal becomes suddenly strange and disturbing. Readers carried along by rhyme and anaphora (‘And… And… And… And… And…’) will find themselves assenting to statements which are, at best, controversial: ‘And he is dead who will not fight; / And who dies fighting has increase.’ Elizabeth Vandiver, the poem’s most perceptive critic, points out that Grenfell’s debt is not to Christian but to classical tradition, especially to Homer’s Iliad with its belief that the reputational glory gained through a brave death in battle provides ‘increase’. As a demonstration, Vandiver quotes Sarpedon’s speech to Glaucus inIliad 12: ‘My dear friend, if the two of us could flee this war and be forever ageless and immortal, I would not fight on among the foremost warriors nor would I send you into the battle that brings a man glory. But as it is, since thousands of death spirits crowd upon us, which no mortal can flee nor ward off, let us go; either we will yield glory to another, or someone will yield it to us.’
Without challenging Vandiver’s belief in the poem’s Homeric perspective, it is possible to see that, in the days after Brooke’s death, Grenfell was also influenced by something closer to hand: Brooke’s ‘1914’. The line ‘And he is dead who will not fight’ — a concise expression of the paradox that we are only truly alive when we dare to risk our lives — comes close to Brooke’s opening sonnet,‘Peace’, with its dismissal of those who will not fight as ‘sick hearts that honour could not move, / And half-men’. As for Sarpedon’s speech, it is mediated through the octave of Brooke’s third sonnet, ‘The Dead’:
Blow out, you bugles, over the rich Dead!
There’s none of these so lonely and poor of old,
But, dying, had made us rarer gifts than gold.
These laid the world away; poured out the red
Sweet wine of youth; gave up the years to be
Of work and joy, and that unhoped serene,
That men call age; and those who would have been,
Their sons, they gave, their immortality.
Sarpedon tells Glaucus that they may as well sacrifice themselves, as one day they will die anyway; if they could achieve immortality by fleeing the battle, they should do so. Brooke makes the sacrifice of the War’s early victims more complete. These men outdo even Homeric heroes. In Grenfell’s terms, they ‘ha[ve] increase’, being ‘rich’. At the same time, they (unlike Sarpedon) have been prepared to sacrifice their ‘immortality’; that is, they give those never-to-be-conceived ‘sons’ when they give themselves. This is the ultimate sacrifice, all the richer for losing far more than mere life.

Poetry of the First World War: An Anthology

Originally posted on ‘War Poetry‘ – the blog of Tim Kendall, Professor of English at the University of Exeter.

Poetry of the First World War is published today by Oxford University Press. It comes to 312 pages, plus an introduction and editorial notes. Dates of composition range from September 1914 (Binyon’s ‘For the Fallen’ and Kipling’s ‘For All We Have and Are’) to September 1966 (Blunden’s ‘Ancre Sunshine’). I have also included several poems by Ivor Gurney which have never previously been published.

Any anthologist of First World War poetry needs to tackle one question. Hasn’t it been done before? The answer, of course, is: yes, many times. A war poetry anthology appeared in 1914, and the first soldier-poet anthology two years later. Frederic Brereton’s An Anthology of War Poems (1930), accompanied by an introduction from Edmund Blunden, already contained many of the poets whom we would now consider canonical. The 1960s saw a new wave of anthologies, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the outbreak of War. Yet by that stage their editorial biases were beginning to look exposed. Brian Gardner’s Up the Line to Death (1964), which continues to be used as a teaching text even today, fails to find room for a single woman amongst its 72 civilian- and soldier-poets.

An anthology like Gardner’s, so egregious in its prejudices, demonstrates why each generation feels the need to revisit, challenge and revise the canon. There can be no definitive version, no last word. It is also true to say that contemporary editors have a considerable advantage over Gardner and his peers. Ian Parsons wrote in his introduction to Men Who March Away (1965) that ‘To ascertain the precise date of composition of more than a hundred poems, many of which were written in the trenches and not published until long afterwards, was clearly impossible.’ No doubt this explained why the first poem in his anthology (Edward Thomas’s ‘The Trumpet’) was written after the last (Thomas Hardy’s ‘In Time of “The Breaking of Nations”‘). But it did also allow Parsons to create what has now become an all-too-familiar trajectory from idealism to bitterness, in ignorance or wilful defiance of historical chronology.

Today we have no such excuse. We know so much more than our predecessors, and are able to use authoritative editions (by, for example, Jon Stallworthy on Wilfred Owen, Vivien Noakes on Isaac Rosenberg, and Edna Longley on Edward Thomas) to pinpoint the order of composition and—as far as possible—establish accurate texts. My anthology annotates every poem with a date of composition as well as detailed textual and explanatory notes. It has proven a Herculean task, made possible only by the brilliant scholarship of previous editors. I am not so dry-as-dust to maintain that the notes are more important than the poems, but stubborn facts do provide a corrective to our natural tendency to mythologise the War according to our own preoccupations and agendas. More than that, the notes should help to make the overly familiar strange, or at least allow it to be viewed from different perspectives: the fact that Winston Churchill (no less), as a young war reporter, was using the phrase dulce et decorum est pro patria mori ironically in his newspaper account of the Soudan campaign (1898) ought to give pause to those who believe that Owen’s famous poem does something original and revolutionary.

Here are the poets I have included in the anthology:

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)
A. E. Housman (1859-1936)
May Sinclair (1863-1946)
W. B. Yeats (1865-1939)
Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)
Laurence Binyon (1869-1943)
Charlotte Mew (1869-1928)
Robert Service (1874-1958)
Edward Thomas (1878-1917)
Wilfrid Wilson Gibson (1878-1962)
Mary Borden (1886-1968)
Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967)
Rupert Brooke (1887-1915)
Julian Grenfell (1888-1915)
T. P. Cameron Wilson (1888-1918)
Patrick Shaw Stewart (1888-1917)
Ivor Gurney (1890-1937)
Isaac Rosenberg (1890-1918)
Arthur Graeme West (1891-1917)
Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)
Margaret Postgate Cole (1893-1980)
May Wedderburn Cannan (1893-1973)
Charles Sorley (1895-1915)
Robert Graves (1895-1985)
David Jones (1895-1974)
Edmund Blunden (1896-1974)
Edgell Rickword (1898-1982)
Music Hall and Trench Songs

The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum for historians

This post was originally posted on the blog for the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, University of Exeter.

Emily Vine

I’m currently researching items in the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum collection which could be of particular use to historians. I’ve come across a wide range of material which extends far beyond what you might expect to find in a museum of cinema, and have tried to identify how such items could be relevant to a broader range of historical themes and approaches than may be immediately obvious.

I began by looking at the collection of stereoscope cards; cards with two slightly different photographs printed next to each other, which when viewed through a stereoscope create a 3D image. Although they are held in the museum for their association with the development of the moving image, the pictures themselves comprise a wide range of subjects and have historical value beyond cinema or cultural history. I’ve been particularly focusing on a set of stereo cards depicting colonial life in India in the early 1900s, and also several sets which depict scenes from the First World War. The images of India are interesting because they were produced by a British company to demonstrate the ‘positive’ impact of colonial rule, and portray an extremely generalised and condescending view of Indian people. The images of the First World War were also intended to be viewed by the British public and consequently present a nationalistic view of the achievements of the British army; glorifying the events of the trenches and emphasising the bravery and camaraderie of the soldiers.

I then moved on to look through a large number of nineteenth century guidebooks, social histories and periodicals which provide invaluable insights into Victorian life. They are part of the collection because they make reference to popular culture through the mention of cinemas, music halls or peep shows, but they contain a wealth of other information which would be very useful primary source material for social historians. Henry Mayhew’s four volume work London Labour and the London Poor proved to be an extremely valuable source of both statistical and anecdotal information about the lives of the working classes, with particular emphasis upon the ‘underworld’: the criminals, prostitutes, and street beggars upon which much of our conceptions of the ‘bleak’ Victorian age are based. The collection of London guidebooks proved to be equally as informative; providing a wealth of information about popular tourist sites, admission prices, public transport, popular recreation and leisure activities, and important public buildings and institutions, as well as maps of London as it once looked.

Those unfamiliar with the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum may be surprised at the extensive amount of pre-cinema material within the collection. Amongst much else there are numerous maps of Exeter and London from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, satirical / political cartoons, ephemera relating to panoramas, and a large number of eighteenth century prints, including my personal favourite, a print of a Hogarth engraving of Southwark fair.

The appeal of these items extends far beyond their original association with the development of the moving image; they are artefacts which would be of great interest to social, cultural, political and even military historians.
Film magazines such as The Pictures and The Picturegoer are extremely useful for providing an insight into popular culture, leisure activities and social aspiration in the twentieth century. They demonstrate what a key role film played in the lives of ordinary people; both how film reflected social concerns and current affairs, and also how people reacted to film and aspired to have or be what was depicted on the big screen. They are invaluable resources for social or cultural historians, and those looking at concepts of gender, class, consumerism and leisure. The adverts in these magazines are particularly interesting; they are often targeted at particular ideals of masculinity and femininity which tells us much about societal norms. From a modern perspective it’s interesting to note how little celebrity magazines have progressed in a hundred years; when looking through the oldest film magazines of 1911 you can still recognise the early obsession with the beauty of film stars, and tips on how readers can look or behave like their idols.

Other interesting periodicals in the collection include Cassell’s Popular Educator and Living London. Cassell’s Popular Educator is a periodical containing miscellaneous articles of general knowledge; it was created in 1852 to allow the working classes, and those with limited access to formal education, to instruct themselves on a range of subjects, and consequently better themselves. It contains articles on English, History, Philosophy, Languages, Business and Commerce, Art, Music, Science, Mathematics, and was called by one commentator “a school, a library and a university.” Living London is an illustrated periodical with miscellaneous articles and stories about life in London at the turn of the century; giving an invaluable insight into a diverse range of social and cultural practices.
I found it interesting looking through the large collection of publicity programmes for documentary film showings and lantern slide lectures. They demonstrate how cinema and the moving image were used to inform as well as entertain, particularly by presenting to the audience images of a place or event they would otherwise never have access to. The subject matters of these documentary films and lantern slide lectures vary greatly, but they are often concerned with ‘exotic’ countries, far corners of the British Empire, the royal family or the First World War. The way in which these subjects were presented to the British public, or were considered worthy of widespread public attention, tells us much about conceptions of national identity, and attitudes towards racial or cultural difference.

This project has emphasised that the usefulness and interest of the collection extends far beyond its primary purpose as a centre for the history of cinema. My research has focused upon items which would be particularly useful to history students, but the artefacts in the collection are relevant to a wide range of subjects and approaches. As part of this project I’ve updated many descriptions in the museum’s online catalogue at , so that many items should be more easily searchable through the use of broader keywords such as “British Empire” or “First World War”. The full list of items I’ve identified and made notes on should be distributed around the history department, and also be made accessible to history students via ELE. This list includes items which are directly relevant to a number of undergraduate history modules, as well as items which could be valuable primary sources for research projects such as Doing History or dissertations. I hope that this will make more students aware of the wide range of resources available to them at the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum and also make it easier for them to search and access the collection.