An exhibition charting the importance of soldiers from India to the Allies’ efforts in the First World War is to be displayed at the Gunnersbury Park café from Friday 31 July.
More than a million Indian soldiers were deployed overseas in the Great War, sharing in the horrors of the trenches on the Western Front, and other theatres of war around the globe. They were the first to repel the Germans at Ypres in 1914 and, in the course of the four-year conflict, 74,000 gave their lives in service for king and country.
During the war, Indian troops earned 9,200 decorations including 11 Victoria Crosses – the highest honour that can be bestowed on a soldier serving with the British military reserved for those who display extreme bravery.
The exhibition, which will be on display at the café in Gunnersbury Park, in Gunnersbury Avenue, until Thursday 27 August, is on a whistle-stop tour of the UK from its base at the University of Kent in Canterbury as part of commemorations marking the centenary of the First World War. The café is hosting the exhibition while the Gunnersbury Park Museum is closed for the first phase of its £21million restoration.
Reproductions of 100-year-old photographs are being lent to the borough by Gateways to the First World War, a centre set up thanks to cash from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.
Councillor Ed Mayne, Hounslow Council’s Cabinet Member for Public Health and Leisure, said: “The Indian Army paid such a vital role in the First World War, but 100 years after the Guns of August rang out across Europe, their service to the nation seems to have been lost to the annals of time, which is terrible.
“We are very pleased to be hosting this exhibition and I hope many people will have the opportunity to see it. There are some fascinating snapshots of military life and what it must have been like for these soldiers to travel so far to fight in a conflict so far removed from their own experiences.”
Councillor Julian Bell, Leader of Ealing Council, said: “It is so important to remember that it was a world war and there were brave soldiers from across the globe without whose efforts and sacrifice the war may not have been won. We have many generations of people living in the borough with roots in the Indian subcontinent and so this exhibition may even tell the stories of some of their relatives.”
For further information visit www.gatewaysfww.org.uk or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The Gunnersbury Park café is open between 9am and 6pm, 7 days a week during the summer.
The photo shows a woman pinning a flower on a passing Indian soldier. More photos are available on request.
The five First World War engagement centres are working together this autumn to run three free and open events featuring speakers, workshops, stalls and networking opportunities.
8th September 2015 at the Imperial War Museum North, Manchester
9th September 2015 at the City Museum, Leeds
10th September 2015 at Newcastle University
How did the First World War affect your community? Do you know where the people named on your war memorial fought and died? What was life like for those who went away to fight? What happened to those who stayed at home? Did the First World War change things for women? Industry? Social welfare? What was its global impact and how did colonial troops experience it?
We invite you to explore your community’s connection with the First World War and meet up with others already doing so. These three events, in Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle, will bring together community groups and other organisations who are working on projects around the heritage of the First World War, or who are interested in developing such a project. There will be an opportunity to share experiences, explore possible sources of funding (especially the Heritage Lottery Fund), exchange ideas, and learn about free support and resources, including how and where you can showcase your findings online.
This roadshow is co-hosted by the five First World War engagement centres funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Each centre represents a network of academic support and has various areas of expertise regarding First World War research. You can access their support when developing you own projects.
At each event we will also be offering an opportunity to learn how to digitise, record and preserve your community’s stories and memorabilia. The availability of this opportunity will be based on demand, so if you are interested in taking part in this digitisation workshop, please register for this when booking the event. You will be asked to submit a short statement of what materials (photographs, letters, diaries etc.) you would like to have digitised and how it would benefit you and/or your community group.
In this post, New Generation Thinker Dr Sam Goodman (Bournemouth University) reflects on the role female nurses played in WW1, and on how the reality is embellished in historical dramas such as Downton Abbey.
In this time of renewed focus on the First World War, both in a commemorative and also a cultural sense, we are confronted regularly with the experience and imagery of suffering. Arguably, TV and film productions that dramatize the war have a responsibility to depict its various horrors, from the squalor of the dugouts through to the trauma of violent injury in battle, and very few shy away from doing so. Of equal importance as these male perspectives on war in the trenches though is the female experience of conflict. In many ways, the roles played by women in the First World War offer more varied accounts than their male counterparts, as they include the stories of those women in Britain either employed in industry or waiting for return of a loved one, or those overseas working in a range of capacities in support of the military. Of all of these roles, one of the most recurrent is that of the nurse. The nurse and her experiences are a staple of popular fiction, and have proved evident in recent televisual productions such as The Crimson Field and Downton Abbey, as well as the film adaptation of Vera Brittain’s memoir, Testament of Youth.
The representation of nursing in these productions typically follows a similar narrative pattern – a young and headstrong woman desires greatly to contribute to the war effort often in defiance of her parents’ wishes, her class status, or some other obstacle. She overcomes initial resistance and gets her wish but her ideals and illusions are shattered by the brutal reality of modern warfare, leaving her emotionally scarred but ultimately changed for the better as a result of her experiences. This is certainly the case with a character like Sybil Crawley from Downton Abbey, whose growing consciousness of the difference between her parents’ values and her own manifests itself successively in daring fashion choices, romance with the family chauffeur, and then a decision to join the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) in 1916. Sybil’s actions cause all manner of narrative tension but her compassion and dedication to helping others ultimately convinces her parents that nursing is a respectable occupation befitting her social standing. Sybil’s experience appears to deliberately echo Vera Brittain’s journey in Testament of Youth, though does not, as in Brittain’s case, result in a life-long support for pacifism.
Whilst Downton is entirely fictitious and some liberties are taken with the events in Brittain’s memoir in the adaptation, the image of the ‘daring’ or ‘rebellious’ nurse that these texts project is not one created with dramatic licence. The history of nursing had always owed a great deal to the efforts of driven and determined women. At the beginning of the First World War, a professional, organised nursing service was still a relatively recent development within the world of the armed forces, and had only just begun to gain the respectability it would later acquire. A generation earlier and a professional, trained nursing service was a novelty, and a near practical unknown. Until the late nineteenth-century, nursing was mainly the work of religious orders or organisations, or relied on the voluntary actions of individuals; in the Crimean War of 1853-56, women such as Mary Seacole and, of course, Florence Nightingale would be celebrated for their charitable actions, conducted without any organisational support, and little interest from the military command they were aiding. Subsequently to the Crimea, nurses such as Nightingale and Ethel Gordon Fenwick would be instrumental in developing rigorous and professionalised training programmes and a national register for nurses within the United Kingdom. These schools later became affiliated with hospitals and, as a result of the efforts of Fenwick and others, as well as influential royal support, nursing grew into the organised body on which the modern service is based. With the founding of the Army Nursing Service (ANS) in 1881, the Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS) in 1902, the British Army’s First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) in 1907, and the VAD in 1909 nursing became more widely known and respected, and these services would provide crucial medical care when war came in 1914.
Of course the romanticised ideal of the Edwardian woman escaping the strictures of the household for a life of emancipation and liberation in the service of nursing owes a good deal to the recruitment drives mounted throughout the war. The image of the nurse created by the war was one of selflessness and sacrifice, determined to provide care no matter what the personal risks may be, a perception fuelled by the public feeling over the execution of Edith Cavell for espionage in 1915. Of course far more Edwardian women were already in work before the outbreak of war than most people assume, and the virtuous image of wartime nursing was ruthlessly satirised in Blackadder Goes Forth (1986) in which Miranda Richardson’s Nurse Mary Fletcher-Brown smokes, drinks and dryly declares that ‘it’s good to have someone healthy to talk to for a change’. However, for some women, service in VAD, QAIMNS, or FANY did nonetheless equip them with skills and experience, and instil confidence that they otherwise would not have had opportunity to acquire. Any fictional focus on these experiences, even if they do bend the truth a little for dramatic effect, plays an important part in remedying the notion that the First World War took place only in the trenches.