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Diverse Perspectives on a Global Conflict: Migrant Voices and Living Legacies of WWI 

In this latest Blog Post, Philip McDermott  talks through an Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project on ‘Diverse Perspectives on a Global Conflict: Migrant Voices and Living Legacies of WW1’.

Via the Living Legacies WW1 Engagement Centre, Philip has worked closely with migrant communities in Northern Ireland on questions of identity. Their partner on this project was the North West Migrants Forum in Derry,

Bacadine from Guyana with her panel
Bacadine from Guyana with her panel

In 2016, I was fortunate enough to engage in a conversation with Lilian Seenoi, Director of the North West Migrants Forum in Derry~Londonderry. Lilian noted, “Understanding a place and its history is vital for any migrant but we also need to look closely at the difference and, most importantly, the similarities in our experiences”. This interaction led to a joint project between Ulster University and the North West Migrants Forum funded under the Living Legacies 1914-1918 Engagement Centre to explore this very perspective through the story of World War One.     

Participants at the Intercultural Dialogue Day in teh Millennium Forum Derry, March 2018
Participants at the Intercultural Dialogue Day in the Millennium Forum Derry, March 2018

The resulting project, “Diverse Perspectives on a Global Conflict: Migrant Voices and Living Legacies of World War One”, sought to provide a platform for the wider storytelling of WW1 from the perspective of migrants living in Northern Ireland. At the same time the project aimed to provide a means through which to broaden the debate on WW1 in this region, a story which has often been framed amidst competing narratives of Britishness and Irishness – thus hiding global elements of the story.

Boy reading panel (photo Gerry Temple)
Boy reading panel (photo Gerry Temple)

 Through the North West Migrant Forum’s membership participants from Poland, Romania, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Italy, Guyana, Cameroon, Congo, China and South Africa approached the project in order to prepare a panel exhibition telling their countries’ experiences of the conflict. Individuals attended a number of workshops and, with the help of a history/heritage facilitator, drafted a short text about the story of WW1 in their country, whilst reflecting on its contemporary legacy.  

Whilst some participants were acutely aware of the impact of WWI on their own country, others were surprised when they uncovered how deeply their region had been involved. Whilst some places actively ‘remembered’ others consciously ‘forgot’ – as later stories of independence had become the most prominent acts of commemoration.            

Hope from South Africa reads her panel with her son. Intercultural Dialogue Day March 2018
Hope from South Africa reads her panel with her son. Intercultural Dialogue Day March 2018

In Summer and Autumn 2017 the participants continued to work with the project team to acquire images for the exhibition which will tour Northern Ireland in 2018. The first launch event was held at the Millennium Forum in Derry~Londonderry as part of the intercultural festival and attracted more than 400 participants. Following this, the exhibition will be on display at Ulster University before touring locations in Northern Ireland.  

Participants discuss the impact of World War One and Prepare their Panels May 2017
Participants discuss the impact of World War One and Prepare their Panels May 2017

In reflecting on the memory of WWI one participant noted the resonance of the project for a post-conflict region like Northern Ireland. She said:  “We must remember the events that helped shape today’s world. How can we understand the present if we do not know the past? Especially in a place like Northern Ireland. If we remember our shared past our children can learn about the price for division.” 

Participant Feza from Democratic Republic of Congo with her Panel (photo Gerry Temple)
Participant Feza from Democratic Republic of Congo with her Panel (photo Gerry Temple)

Commenting on the project Lilian Seenoi noted “through this project our members have in some instances revisited histories they were aware of, whilst others have engaged with these sad stories for the first time. Projects like this are important in so many ways in that they show community organisations like ours how subjects like history and social science can help us in our own aims of promoting positive dialogue between migrants and the wider population”. 

“Diverse Perspectives of a Global Conflict” will next be on display at the Belfast Campus of Ulster University from 5th-9th November. Ulster’s heritage research cluster will also host a special event on  7th November (17:30) in the foyer of the Belfast Campus to mark the exhibition and the launch of “Heritage After Conflict: Northern Ireland” (Routledge), edited by Professor Elizabeth Crooke from Living Legacies and Dr Tom Maguire. Speakers will include Paul Mullan the head of Heritage Lottery Fund, Northern Ireland.

The exhibition will then begin a tour with the Northern Ireland Library Service starting in Omagh, County Tyrone, on 19th November.

Dr Philip McDermott  is a lecturer in Sociology at Ulster University. He continues to work closely with migrant communities in Northern Ireland and welcomes comments, via the Blog. 

Participants at Workshop at North West Migrants Forum in Derry - May 2017
Participants at Workshop at North West Migrants Forum in Derry – May 2017

Photos of Millennium Forum Showcase Event are attributed to Gerry Temple.

Exhibition Entrance
Exhibition Entrance


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Lest we forget: Muslim Service in the Great War

Written by Chris Hill, Birmingham City University, and previously appearing on the Voices of War and Peace Blog. Reproduced with thanks.

‘Stories of Sacrifice’, an exhibition run by the British Muslim Heritage Centre about Muslim service in the First World War, was met with a note of surprise by visiting Muslims from across the UK.

Dr Islam Issa at the exhibition 'Stories of Sacrifice'
Dr Islam Issa at the exhibition ‘Stories of Sacrifice’

Dr Islam Issa, curator of the exhibition and lecturer in English at Birmingham City University, recalled how e-mails and letters from descendants of Muslim soldiers were full of gratitude, often with the qualification that ‘we didn’t think anyone cared’.

Commemorations WW1 Engagement Centre Projects Engagement Centres Northern Ireland Research

Making Memory and Legacy: Virtual Archives of Conflict from WW1 to The Troubles

In this latest Blog Post, Dr Johanne Devlin Trew,  from Ulster University & the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Funded Living Legacies World War One Engagement Centre, talks all things ‘Republican Crafts’.

On Wednesday March 14, 2018, a community conference and exhibition entitled Irish Republican Prison Crafts: Making Memory and Legacy was held at Belfast’s historical Crumlin Road Gaol. It showcased the Heritage Lottery funded project of Coiste na nIarchimí [Republican ex-prisoners organisation], supported by Living Legacies, Ulster University and The Open University. The goal of the project was to create a virtual archive of conflict-related Republican prison crafts that are in the possession of prisoner families and to capture the stories surrounding these objects of memory. The project took as a model the virtual archive developed by Living Legacies to record WW1 material sourced from the general public.


WW1 cartoons reach new audiences in Sydney

AHRC-funded research on WW1 comics is on display down under. Professor Jane Chapman’s research is part of the ‘Perceptions of War’ exhibition at Macquarie University Public Art Gallery in Sydney. Professor Chapman’s talks in Australia have particularly attracted interest from the Chinese community.

Members of the Sydney Chinese community are translating the WW1 comics and cartoon material on display, attending the public talks, and promoting it on their own social network site.

Translator Lan Zhang will use the content for teaching English and understanding of Western culture, and incorporate the content into Chinese English undergraduate classes.

Her grandfather was the Chinese government’s official illustrator and reporter during World War Two, covering the country’s invasion by Japan. She says:

Arts and history are both important in our life, I believe. By them, we can learn from our past and have the courage to go ahead, that is why your research on the cartoons from the trenches inspires me too.

‘Perceptions of War’ is on at the Macquarie University Public Art Gallery in Sydney until the 19th March 2015. There are free public lectures by  Professor Jane Chapman:

  • Thursday 19 February at 1pm, “Visual Satire and Australian Identity, 1914-18”
  • Wednesday 5 March at 1pm, “Humour as History – Soldier Cartoons from the Trenches”
  • Free Mandarin guided tour on the 18th of March at 2pm
Christmas Day at Gallipoli from the Anzac Book Collection the Australian War Memorial

A Land Fit for Heroes

In this blog post, Ian Aitch looks at how doctoral research, led by PhD student David Swift, is overturning assumptions about the patriotism of the working class.

The centenary of the start of World War I has brought with it a fair amount of debate about the reasons for war and the treatment of those who fought in the trenches. Some have questioned the war poets’ view, while others have sought to protest what they see as the glorifying of the ‘war to end all wars’.

Away from the controversies, research into some of the untold stories around World War One has been taking place. But this was not the usual collection of tales of derring-do or unexpected moments of humanity. Instead, the work that came out of an AHRC-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award (CDA) between the University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN) and the Manchester-based People’s History Museum explored a major piece of working class and labour history that had almost been forgotten about.

PhD student David Swift’s research on Patriotic labour in the era of the Great War revealed surprising results that showed how history can be re-written over time with the attitudes of a more modern era. Swift used the resources of the People’s History Museum to dust off the story of an almost wholesale support for the war from the trades unions and the burgeoning labour movement of the day.

“It was something that was led by the larger unions that represented navvies, railway workers and dockers,” says Swift of the union support for the war effort, which helped to shape the battalions based around workplaces. “It is interesting that, at that time, the unions were considered to be a conservative element of the labour movement in terms of social economic policies. The Socialist Society complained about the power of their block vote then, which saw radical socialist ideas voted down by the unions.”

“the labour movement’s enthusiasm for the war effort in 1914 was almost unanimous”

Swift believes that a modern view of the labour movement and war, especially coloured by the Falklands War, has painted it as a largely anti-war body. But its enthusiasm for the war effort in 1914 was almost unanimous. “The idea that if you are going to be on the left then you should be internationalist in scope and a pacifist is a rather recent convention,” says Swift. “Labour leaders made speeches about internationalists, but it was not something that they took seriously. It is a very racist period, so even the anti-war left are showing how degrading the war was by saying that allowing West Indian or West African solders to kill Germans show how terrible it all is. Being left wing economically and believing in social justice sat far easier with nationalism, patriotism and even racism than it does today, when it obviously does not do so at all.”

Sorting through around 16,000 documents from the Workers’ War Emergency National Committee at the museum, Swift found a complex picture emerging. Although he did find a left united in the war effort, even when some were critical of the reasons for it and the Government of the day. He also found sizeable pockets of working class conservatism in the East End of London, the south and places like Liverpool.

“The labour movement said ‘we cannot abandon our country, no matter how much we hate the ruling classes’,” says Swift. “This was a general agreement across the left wing that was really important. There was talk of the unions breaking from the Labour Party at the time, as Labour was seen as being too contaminated with middle class socialists and radicals who were too soft on Germany. But Labour’s support of the war meant this did not happen. So they survived the war intact and emerged rather united.”

This broad unity helped the Labour Party to establish itself as a major party, taking the unions, the co-operative movement and many feminists with them. By 1922 they were the second party and in 1929 emerged with most seats in the Commons under Ramsay MacDonald.

National Federation of Discharged Sailors & Soldiers certificate

Nick Mansfield, who is Swift’s PhD supervisor at UCLAN, was director of the People’s History Museum for 21 years, so knows its archives well. However, even he was surprised by the scale of some of Swift’s findings, as well as how the consensus had been blurred by time. “There were a quarter-of-a-million trade unionists volunteered by December 2014,” says Mansfield. “Local and regional trade union leaders actually did the recruiting. 200,000 miners and 200,000 farm workers joined up. Labour historians tend to look at things such as conscientious objectors, but there were only 16,500, with only about a quarter of those objecting on political grounds. They had to stop the miners volunteering, as they needed some to keep the coal going.”

Mansfield is pleased that the collection held by the museum was such an important resource in Swift’s research and that the PhD student has been able to interpret that for wider public use, with work from the pair forming a large part of the basis for an exhibition. A Land Fit For Heroes: War and the Working Class 1914-1918, opened in May 2014 and will continue until February 2015.

“This actually gives students experience in the nitty gritty of putting on an exhibition,” says Mansfield. “The show is achieving very high academic standards. This shows the huge change in the role of women, trade unions and the Labour Party, with profound consequences. I think it moves this on from the lowest common denominator you sometimes get with a lot of commemoration, about how all these poor people from a particular part of society had a terrible time. The fact that 95% of the trade union members were patriotic meant that they achieved a place in the political system they would not have done otherwise.”

 “The fact that 95% of the trade union members were patriotic meant that they achieved a place in the political system they would not have done otherwise”

Both Mansfield and People’s History Museum curator Chris Burgess point to the importance of papers belonging to Navvies Union leader John Ward in the story of this period of patriotic left wingers. Ward worked closely with Lord Kitchener and raised numerous battalions from his membership. “It would have been impossible for the museum to go through all of these boxes of papers,” says Burgess. “So we got a really good historical depth from this CDA. We didn’t want to do the classic trenches and battles for our exhibition. We wanted to talk about how the war really was popular and we wanted to show the agency of working class people who, at least at the start of the war, believed in what they were fighting for.”

David Swift says that his research findings have shocked many of those in the Labour Party and the trade union movement, who largely believed that their forebears were against the war. Although this period of labour movement patriotism could provide inspiration for those in the Labour Party looking for ‘blue Labour’ and other conservative demographics they wish to appeal to.

“There is a real surfeit of left wing Nigel Farages and Boris Johnsons during the war period,” says Swift. “You get a lot of bombastic left-wing equivalents who also love a pint. So you get London dock strike leader Ben Tillett who loved to gamble, drink and smoke. The opposite of the Methodist and Baptist, liberal teetotallers who were Labour Party leaders at the time. He was just one of many working class men who were great speakers, were left wing but also loved the football.”

A Land Fit For Heroes: War and the Working Class 1914-1918 continues until February 2015.



When War Hit Home: Hull and the First World War

To mark the centenary of the First World War, an exhibition ‘When War Hit Home: Hull and the First World War’ will open at Ferens Art Gallery on 19 July. The exhibition explores the effects of the First World War on Hull and its people, using Hull Museums’ extensive collection of objects and images.

Visitors can read personal stories from those who lived through the War, as well as find out about recruitment, life on the front line, the contribution of men, women and children that stayed at home, the war at sea and the role of fishermen and merchant seamen from Hull. The exhibition looks at the devastating effects of the Zeppelin raids on the city and changes in people’s attitudes towards Hull’s German community.

Councillor Geraghty, Portfolio Holder for Leisure and Culture said:

“It provides an opportunity for people to understand the impact the First World War had on Hull and the people who lived through it one hundred years ago.”

The exhibition includes previously unseen photographs from Hull during the war, some of which will be life-sized and have been digitised in preparation for the exhibition. A number of objects that have been stored for decades have also been conserved and will be displayed for the first time, including an early gas mask, some delicate costume from the era and a Hull and Barnsley roll of honour. 

Paula Gentil, Curator at Hull Museums said:

“Some powerful and poignant personal stories have resulted from our research into the collections at the museums. After an initial enthusiasm for the war, local families underwent an agonising four years of war and, for those that survived, their lives were changed forever. This exhibition really highlights the important contribution Hull men, women and children made.”

The exhibition, in Gallery 4 at Ferens Art Gallery will be open Saturday 19 July 2014 to Sunday 4 January 2014.

The exhibition is being launched with a day of free activities, talks and live music from the era at Ferens on Saturday 19 July. Talks will be given by Honorary Alderman John Robinson, Dr. Robb Robinson from the Maritime Historical Studies Centre, the BBC’s Adrian Van Klaveren, Dr. Rosemary Wall and Dr. Nick Evans from the University of Hull, and Arthur Credland who will talk about the Zeppelin raids.

To find out more visit the exhibition website.

The launch has been organised as a collaboration between Hull Museums, Heritage Learning and the University of Hull and is supported by funding from Arts Council England and the Arts and Humanities Research Council.


Old Bill meets the Kaiser: World War 1 in Cartoon and Comic Art

In June 2014 the Cartoon Museum (London) will be putting on an exhibition of cartoon and comic material relating to the First World War.

Some of the most evocative images of the First World War are cartoons. Who can forget Bruce Bairnsfather’s ‘Well, if you knows of a better ‘ole, go to it!’, Bert Thomas’s ”Arf a Mo’, Kaisder!’, or Alfred Leete’s cover design for London Opinion featuring Lord Kitchener, ‘Your Country Needs You’? Cartoons and comic strips provide a fascinating insight into the concerns and attitudes of people at the time, both on the battlefield and on the home front.

From 11 June to 20 October 2014 the Cartoon Museum, in collaboration with the University of Lincoln, will be showing an exhibition documenting the First World War  through a variety of material. The exhibition will be partly funded by the AHRC. Professor Jane Chapman has been researching First World War trench publications held in collections around the world and will be co-curating the exhibition. Find out more on the Cartoon Museum website.  You can also watch a short AHRC film about the research behind the forthcoming exhibition below.