Co-ordinating Centres

Connected Communities Festival: Exploring World War One and its Legacy

A number of sessions at the recent Connected Communities Festival in Cardiff reflected on the nature of community at this time of commemoration and during the First World War.

In this short film, Mike Noble from the University of Nottingham’s Centre for Hidden Histories speaks about the work of the AHRC’s five World War One Engagement Centres. He describes how the focus of each centre allows it to better engage with communities.

You can revisit all the sessions which were live streamed in a YouTube playlist.


Whose remembrance?

Until very recently, the contribution of people from the former colonies to the two world wars has largely been relegated to the sub-text of mainstream coverage. Whose Remembrance? is an AHRC-funded Imperial War Museum project, funded through the Connected Communities programme, which aims to help restore this unfairly forgotten history to its rightful place in our consciousness – an investigation into the state of research into the experiences of the peoples of Britain’s former empire in the wars and its availability to 21st-century British audiences and communities. Find out more in a feature on the AHRC website.


Connected Communities Festival: World War One ‘Antiques Roadshow’ Event

A number of sessions at the recent Connected Communities Festival in Cardiff reflected on the nature of community at this time of commemoration and during the First World War.

Three academic experts from Welsh universities were on hand in a special ‘Antiques Roadshow’-style event to look at First World War memorabilia brought in by members of the public. Some 40,000 Welshmen died during the War and its impact reached into every aspect of Welsh life. Its legacy lives on in countless ways and not least in the memories, objects and artefacts handed down through the generations and still treasured today. You can find out more about the roadshow in the video below, or read about the experiences of members of the public who attended on the BBC News website.

You can revisit all the sessions which were live streamed in a YouTube playlist.

Co-ordinating Centres

Connected Communities Festival: Performing the First World War

A number of sessions at the recent Connected Communities Festival in Cardiff reflected on the nature of community at this time of commemoration and during the First World War.

This session, ‘Performing the First World War’ explored how drama and performance can shed light on lives and legacies of the First World War.

The session focussed on creating new drama from local material and how lost plays can reveal historical experiences. Brenda Winter-Palmer (Queen’s University, Belfast) led an activity around her experience of developing a community play, The Medal in the Drawer. Dr Andrew Maunder (University of Hertfordshire) then considered how ‘lost’ plays of the First World War can explore the war, memory, and identity and give an alternative perspective on the more familiar performances of the war.

You can revisit all the sessions which were live streamed in a YouTube playlist.


Aircraft built in Lincoln – the home of the tank

In this guest blog, Dan Ellin considers the places and people behind aircraft of the First World War which were built in a city better known for producing tanks.

In the history of warfare and the Great War, the city of Lincoln has become synonymous with the tank. In 1915 William Tritton, the managing director of William Foster & Co and Major Walter Wilson first began drawing designs of was to become the tank in a room in a local hotel. After unsuccessful trials of ‘Little Willie’, ‘Mother’ the prototype of the Mark 1 tank was tested at Burton Park on the outskirts of Lincoln in January 1916. Shortly afterwards the first 100 tanks were ordered, and tanks were first used in on the Western front in September 1916. Tanks were built in William Foster & Co’s Tritton works in Lincoln, but the city’s other engineering firms also played important parts in the war effort. Ruston, Proctor & Co., Robey & Co. and Clayton and Shuttleworth were all involved in aircraft production, with one in fourteen British aircraft being made in Lincoln during the war. The city was one of the top five aircraft manufacturing centres of the Great War with over 5,000 aircraft being constructed in the city’s factories which employed around 6,000 men and women on aircraft work.

Image 1. 1000th Camel at Ruston works.
1000th Sopwith Camel made by Rustons in the factory with workers in the foreground. Image from John Wallis & Charles Parker, Aircraft made in Lincoln, (Lincoln: SLHA, 2000).

Ruston Proctor & Co. LTD.

First contracted to build B.E.2c aircraft in 1915, Ruston and Proctor built over 2,000 aircraft and more than 3,000 engines in purpose built factory buildings in the Boultham area of the city. The firm was the country’s largest supplier of engines and employed more than 3,000 men and women in aircraft production.

Towards the end of 1915 the company began building the far superior ‘Sopwith 1 ½ strutter’ aircraft, and in 1917, the famous ‘Sopwith Camel’. The Camel was the highest scoring fighter of the war and it took its name from the hump over the two machine guns in front of the pilot. Rustons built the majority of the 5,500 Camels manufactured during the war; by November 1918 the Lincoln firm had completed 1,600. The thousandth model off the assembly line was painted in an Egyptian winged sun theme and used for publicity.


Image 2. Robey Peters fighting machine
Peters in the gun nacelle of the prototype Robey Peters fighting machine. John Wallis & Charles Parker, Aircraft made in Lincoln, (Lincoln: SLHA, 2000)

Robey & Co. LTD.

Between 1915 and 1919 Robey & Co. built aircraft for the Admiralty, but were unusual in that they also designed, built and flew prototypes of their own aircraft. The firm began with sub-contracted orders to build the ‘Sopwith Gunbus’, a pusher biplane with the engine to the rear of the aircraft, and later ‘Short 184 Seaplanes’. At peak production they produced one seaplane a day.

The first aircraft Robey designed and built was a single seater scout biplane. The prototype was sent to Hendon, but was never tested as the Gnome rotary engine the designer had hoped to use was not delivered. The company’s most successful prototype, the ‘Robey Peters Fighting Machine’ also never went into production, but two were built and tested. It was intended that the aircraft would be used by the Navy for anti Zeppelin and U-boat patrols. It was a single engine aircraft with a crew of three, the pilot, and two gunners. The gunners were to sit in separate plywood nacelles in the wings. The port nacelle was to be armed with a Lewis gun and thirty rounds of ammunition, while the starboard nacelle was fitted with a seven foot long recoilless Davis gun and ten rounds of 2lb ammunition. The second prototype was intended to be armed with two Davis guns.

Robey Peters Fighting Machine 1 plan. Image from John Wallis & Charles Parker, Aircraft made in Lincoln, (Lincoln: SLHA, 2000).
Robey Peters Fighting Machine 1 plan. Image from John Wallis & Charles Parker, Aircraft made in Lincoln, (Lincoln: SLHA, 2000).

The first prototype flew from Bracebridge Heath near Lincoln in September 1916. Its first flight, a circuit of the airfield was successful, but it overturned on its second flight. On its third test three days later, the engine overheated, the plane caught fire and crashed causing £50 damage to a hospital building. In April 1917 the second prototype stalled on takeoff and crashed on the edge of the airfield.

Robey Peters Fighting Machine 2 plan. John Wallis & Charles Parker, Aircraft made in Lincoln, (Lincoln: SLHA, 2000)
Robey Peters Fighting Machine 2 plan. John Wallis & Charles Parker, Aircraft made in Lincoln, (Lincoln: SLHA, 2000)
Handley Page 0/400 Bomber and Clayton & Shuttleworth workers. Image from John Wallis & Charles Parker, Aircraft made in Lincoln, (Lincoln: SLHA, 2000).
Handley Page 0/400 Bomber and Clayton & Shuttleworth workers. Image from John Wallis & Charles Parker, Aircraft made in Lincoln, (Lincoln: SLHA, 2000).

Clayton & Shuttleworth LTD.

The company built aircraft on its 100 acre site on the East side of the city. They first built parts for Admiralty airships, but in 1916 they received orders to build the ‘Sopwith Triplane’ and in 1917 ‘Sopwith Camels’. Lincoln’s long association with bomber aircraft arguably began in 1916 when Clayton and Shuttleworth were given an order to produce ‘Handley Page 0/400’ bombers. Prisoners of war were used to build new aircraft shops in which the aircraft were assembled three abreast. The Handley Page 0/400 could carry the 1,650lb (748kg) bomb, the heaviest bomb used by the British during the war and they were so large they had to be flown directly from the factory’s ‘Handley Page field.’ In September 1918 a force of forty Handley Page 0/400s bombed targets in the Saar region of Germany. An order for ‘Vickers Vimy’ bombers was cancelled after the armistice when only three machines had been completed.

Aircraft built in the city were delivered to ‘No.4 Aircraft Acceptance Park’ on Lincoln’s West Common. The landing ground, impractically built on the hillside, overlooked the William Foster’s Tritton works where the first tanks were manufactured, and was only a mile south of the tanks testing ground. William Tritton has been commemorated by ‘Tritton road’ built in the 1970s. Although some industry remains in Lincoln, the Robeys works is now a builders’ merchant and there is an out of town shopping centre along Tritton road where much of Rustons aircraft industry was located. Much of Lincoln’s aircraft manufacturing industry has been forgotten.

Copyright for images in this post remains with the Society for Lincolnshire History and Archaeology.


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.


Civilian Internment on the Isle of Man

The Isle of Man played a key role in not only supplying men for the forces but also in hosting the large numbers of civilian internees who were sent to the island to be held in two camps – Douglas and Knockaloe. Current research led by Professor Harold Mytum (University of Liverpool) is examining the camps using historical and archaeological evidence to investigate Manx internment from two contrasting perspectives.

‘Top-down’ reaction to the internee problem

The first perspective considers the attitudes, actions and effects of the administration to the sudden requirement to find and provide internee accommodation and security. The authorities had to deal with sudden changes in demand for internee places, and then control, house, feed, guard and keep sane large numbers of increasingly alienated people (mainly Germans but also Austro-Hungarians, Turks and others) who had not taken up arms against the British Empire but had merely been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The first camp opened was in Douglas in September 1914, achieved by converting Cunningham’s Camp, a holiday camp for young men from the Lancashire mill towns, into a prisoner of war camp. Using the existing chalets and tents for accommodation, it was expanded with an additional area with wooden barrack blocks on the other side of the road, all enclosed by barbed wire fences and patrolled by guards. However, the communal buildings of dining hall and kitchens, ablutions blocks, and sporting facilities (including tennis courts, bowling alley and snooker room) provided a substantial existing infrastructure. The camp was divided into three sections: the Privilege Camp (where internees paid for better quality accommodation and facilities), the Jewish Camp, and the Ordinary Camp.

Douglas Camp medal web
Douglas camp medal showing tents, chalet, guard’s hut. Local Douglas landmarks and the three legs of Man, all surrounded by a ring of barbed wire. Image courtesy of the Leece Museum, Peel

The camp was designed to hold 2,400 internees but by November held over 3,000 in what was now increasingly difficult conditions for an infrastructure designed initially only for short summer breaks. A riot took place during which five internees were killed, and so the clear need for a new camp was emphasised.

Knockaloe was a farm near Peel that had already been used for temporary camps for Territiorial and Volunteer Battalion training, but it was to house a camp for 5,000 internees. Before the end of the year there were over 2,000 at Knockaloe, engaged in the camp’s construction and expansion. Following the sinking of the Lusitania in May 1915 increased anti-German feeling in Britain and large numbers of additional internees were sent to the Island. The authorities had to create a settlement with all its infrastructure and supply routes for a total of upwards of 23,000 internees, with around 3,000 guards, making it a temporary town that was only dismantled in 1919.

Knockaloe view web
Print of Knockaoe produced by the internees showing the extent of the camp. Image courtesy of the Leece Museum, Peel

How, in practice, was all this managed? What was the quality of the infrastructure, the nature of the supply networks, security arrangements, and how were these changed over the course of five years? How, after the war, were the camps systematically dismantled and returned, in one case back to a holiday camp, the other to apparently pristine agricultural land?

‘Bottom-up’ reaction to the internee problem

Internees were swept away from jobs as varied as merchant mariner, waiter, or factory owner to be interned far away from their families on the Isle of Man. How did internees cope, in the short and long term? How did they manage themselves within the camps – without an existing structure of officers and men, as was the case for military prisoners?

Bone flower vase carved at Knockaloe Image courtesy of the Leece Museum, Peel
Bone flower vase carved at Knockaloe Image courtesy of the Leece Museum, Peel

The project is exploring the material world of the internees, their experiences in the two camps, and the ways in which they coped with internment. The threat of ‘barbed wire disease’ – depression – was well recognised at the time, and many activities – including theatre, music, sports, gardening and crafts – were all undertaken. There is a large amount of material evidence from both camps, including newspapers, calendars, postcards, carved bone and wood, and metalwork surviving in public collections and private hands. These diverse sources – combined with the evidence being recovered from the Knockaloe site itself – will reveal many aspects of the actions, reactions and feelings of the internees.

Thus far efforts have concentrated on researching aspects of the photographic evidence from Douglas Camp, and we have just begun an evaluation excavation at Knockaloe Camp to assess the quality of the surviving below-ground remains – which will be reported in later blogs. The intention is then to propose a major multidisciplinary investigation of the Manx internment experience, informed by the extent and quality of the different categories of evidence. We would be delighted to hear from anyone who has items from the camps in their possession – contact Harold Mytum on

Click here to find out more about World War One and its impact on the Isle of Man


Premiere of new films on North East WW1 experiences

There will be a unique premiere at Tyneside cinema this July, as two short films about North East experiences of the First World War are aired.

The films were created by Newcastle and Durham University postgraduates and sixth formers from Heworth Grange and Ponteland High School. Postgraduates visited the Northumberland Archives at Woodhorn to gather private diaries, letters and photographs.  These personal accounts and current sixth formers’ responses to them are at the heart of both films.

These films show the war through the eyes of the generation that experienced it and explore what it means for modern students to read those experiences.

The film-showing will take place in the Roxy at the Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle on 28th July at 6.30pm. The event is free and all guests will receive a glass of wine on arrival. Once the films have been shown there will be a Q&A session with the filmmakers, the sixth-formers who took part and archivists from the Northumberland Archives at Woodhorn.  This will be chaired by the Project Co-Ordinator, Dr Katherine Cooper.

To attend please email Faye Keegan on by 20th July 2014.

This project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, as part of the Collaborative Skills Development programme.


‘Keep the Home Fires Burning’

In this guest blog, Meic Stephens explores the history of a popular war-time song which made it from a concert to the front in a matter of weeks.

KeepTheHomeFiresBurning1915Ivor Novello (David Ivor Davies; 1893-1951) was not yet at the height of his fame as a man of the musical theatre when, one wet evening in the autumn of 1914, the Welshman sat down at his piano in his Aldwych flat and played the first few bars of a melody that he’d been humming to himself for the past few days. He was still only twenty-one and, although he had had a few small successes as a composer of light music, his was not a household name and he was living quietly with his mother as the war entered its first winter. All that would change overnight: he was about to become the celebrated author of a song so popular that it summed up the stoicism of the British people during the crisis and was to live on as one of the best-loved songs of the years entre deux guerres. There were to be other songs inspired by the war, and Ivor wrote some of them, including ‘The Laddie in Khaki’ and ‘When the Great Day Comes’, but none would take off like ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning’, and all are forgotten now. Only ‘Tipperary’ could rival it in popularity and poignancy. Ivor’s creation was different from the rest in that it avoided outright jingoism and expressed the yearning of the civilian population for peace rather than the martial prowess of those on the front line.
There is more than one version of how Ivor came to write his masterpiece. According to one of his biographers, W. Macqueen-Pope (1951), the song was prompted by his ambitious mother, the formidable Clara Novello Davies, music teacher and choir-mistress, who pestered him to write a patriotic tune that she could promote at concerts and in the music-hall where her own compositions found an outing. When he didn’t comply, she wrote her own song, ‘Keep the Flag a’Flying’. Ivor found it embarrassing and so he wrote his own tune which he thought was passable. Now he needed the lyric to go with his first line, ‘Keep the home fires burning’. He had a friend, Lena Guilbert Ford, an American long resident in England, who was the first to hear Ivor singing the opening phrase and some of the chorus. She was asked to go home and come up with the lyric for his tune. When she rang a few days later and heard her sing the verse:

Keep the Home Fires Burning,
While your hearts are yearning.
Though your lads are far away
They dream of home.
There’s a silver lining
Through the dark clouds shining,
Turn the dark cloud inside out
Till the boys come home.

he knew he had the makings of a hit song. There are other versions of how the song came to be born, including one in which the composer bade the maid bank up the fire in his sitting-room with the words, ‘That’s right, my dear, we must keep the home fires burning . . .’ but the collaboration between Ivor and Lena G. Ford are not in dispute.

The song still had to be launched and this was where Mam played her part. Accompanied by Ivor, a young Welsh singer and pupil of his mother’s called Sybil Vane, brought the house down during a Sunday League Concert at the Alhambra. To his great astonishment, the composer heard the audience – mainly working-class people with whom he felt a special rapport — joining in and, to the wildest applause, they kept on singing the words over and over again, even as they made their way out of the theatre and into the street. Within weeks the song had swept the country and reached the Front. Its popularity showed no sign of waning, especially after the Americans entered the war. The composer’s mother, ever eager to boost his reputation, is said to have paid organ-grinders to play the song in the streets of London. A year after its first performance, it had earned Ivor the nice fortune of about £15,000, which helped set him up as a man of the theatre for many years thereafter. Only Lena G. Ford, who shared his triumph, did not live to enjoy the wealth she had helped him earn: she was killed, with her son, in an air-raid over London in 1918. Ivor Novello would go on to write musicals set in Ruritania that included Glamorous Night (1935), The Dancing Years (1939) and King’s Rhapsody (1949) and to enjoy a career as ‘King of Make Believe’ like no other.

Performed by Frederick Wheeler for Edison Records in late 1915

The song’s immense popularity has outlived its creator. Recorded many times by singers such as John McCormack and, in our own day, Cerys Mathews, it has been featured in films such as Oh, What a Lovely War (1969), Chariots of Fire (1981) and, more recently, Gosford Park (2002), in the last of which the country-house guests are entertained by Jeremy Northam acting the part of the composer as he sings ‘The Land of Might-have-been’ at the piano.

As part of Glamorous Night: A Celebration of Ivor Novello, Sir Mark Elder leads the Hallé and Toby Spence (tenor) in Keep The Home Fires Burning.



World War One in the Classroom

For years, learning about the First World War at school has been a key part of History and English Literature courses. For pupils, it might spark a lifelong interest, or it might be their only exposure to the period. In order to explore how teaching the history and literature of the war has contributed to the way in which the war is remembered, a research project has considered secondary schools in England as sites of cultural knowledge transmission.

The First World War in the Classroom project, funded by the AHRC, has just published their findings. Through regional focus groups and an online survey, the project found that there remains a strong sense of dedication to teaching the period, that popular representations such as Blackadder are used as windows to deeper discussion, and that the focus on some aspects of of the conflict (causes, the trenches) are a result of curriculum content and not a refusal by teachers to integrate more complex topics. The project also hopes to act as a “call to action” for academics to get involved with schools during the centenary periods to support training and teacher development.

Teaching in English literature and History is complicated by some concerns over the subject remits, with overlaps sometimes causing friction. The report suggests that cross-curricular work would produce better results. The report also found that teachers feel a widespread obligation to combine teaching of the war with developing pupils’s empathy and a moral stance towards warfare.

Dr Ann-Marie Einhaus (Northumbria University), one of the researchers from the project, comments on the key issue the research aims to address:

Ultimately, however, the greatest challenge we face is to make the war relevant to each new generation of pupils in their turn – and how better to do this than by exploring the war in all its many aspects?

Find out more about the project and read the final report on the WW1 in the Classroom website.