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Battle-scars and Dragon’s Claws : The Legacy of Mametz Wood

The Mametz Dragon. Image Courtesy of Alun Edwards / First World War poetry Digital Archive, University of Oxford

In this guest Blog, Dr Gethin Matthews from the Department of History at the University of Swansea talks about the battle of Mametz Wood, which commenced on 7th July 1916.  Dr Matthews is principal investigator on ‘Welsh Memorials to the Great War’, a project funded by the AHRC Funded Living Legacies 1914-18 World War One Engagement Centre.   There are 5 WW1 Engagement Centres, whose focus is to provide UK-wide support for community engagement activities, commemorating WW1.

Those from outside Wales who are interested in the history of the First World War and its aftermath may be surprised to discover how one relatively minor battle on the Western Front has such resonance in certain Welsh circles. The Battle of Mametz Wood, fought from 7 to 12 July 1916, was part of the early Somme campaign. The losses, of around four thousand killed and wounded on the British side, though heart-rending are much smaller that the numbers lost on just the first day of the Battle of the Somme.


Berea Cricieth – Rhys ab Owen / Welsh Memorials to the Great War
Tregarth Church – Courtesy of Meg Ryder / Welsh Memorials to the Great War

Translation of text:

For the Honour and Glory of God and in sacred memory of
Lieut. H. K. Brock BA.          Neuf Berquin
Pte. J. I. B. Brock                   Ypres
Pte. W. H. Hughes                  Poperinghe
Pte. D. Jones                           Ypres
Pte. O. Jones                           Gaza
Pte. T. Jones                            Ypres
Lc. Cpl. E. Lloyd Morris        Givenchy
Pte. J. Owen                            Warnemunde
Pte. Elias Pritchard                 Bailleul
Pte. H. R. Williams                 Mametz Wood
Cpl. L. J. Williams                  Ypres
Boys of this church who fell in the War 1914-1918.
“For Freedom they lost their blood”

Its significance for Wales is that this was the first battle fought by the troops of the 38th (Welsh) Division, also known with some justification as ‘Lloyd George’s Army’. These were the men who volunteered in droves to be part of the ‘Welsh Army Corps’ that Lloyd George and his acolytes sought to raise from September 1914 onwards: men who were drawn by Lloyd George’s rhetoric about putting the first ‘Welsh army in the field’ since the days of Owain Glyndŵr. (See this blog – – for a consideration of Lloyd George’s famous speech in London’s Queen’s Hall on 19 September 1914). The ideal of the ‘Welsh Army Corps’ became the reality of the 38th (Welsh Division).


Hermon, Pembrey -Lisa Tiplady / Welsh Memorials to the Great War
Capel y Cwm – Courtesy of Christian Williams / Welsh Memorials to the Great War

Translation of text:
“Their graves are far from Wales”
In affectionate memory of the brave boys of this church who sacrificed their lives on the field of blood.
David Griffith Williams in “Mametz Woods” July 10th 1916.
William Ballard in “Contalmaeson”, July 20th 1916.
James Morgan in “Ypres”, August 5th 1917.
“May they not be forgotten”

Having been trained for the most part in Wales, these recruits were posted to the Western Front in late 1915 and gained experience of trench warfare in quiet sectors for some months. Six days after the opening of the Somme offensive, this division was given the task of clearing Mametz Wood, a dense wood that had been heavily fortified by the Germans who had held it for two years, and was now defended by the elite Lehr regiment of Prussian Guards.

The details of the fighting, and how the Welsh overcame the odds at a tremendous cost can be found in this article by Robin Barlow – .

However, after the mission was successfully completed, as Colin Hughes wrote in his 1982 book about the battle, ‘neither glory nor distinction was noticeably bestowed’ upon the Welsh soldiers, but they were ‘bundled unceremoniously away to a quiet sector of the front’. The official response of the upper echelons is summarized in General Haig’s comments on the action on 7 July: ‘The 38th Welsh Division … had not advanced with determination to the attack’.


Tregarth Church -Meg Ryder / Welsh Memorials to the Great War
Hermon, Pembrey – Courtesy of Lisa Tiplady / Welsh Memorials to the Great War

Translation of text:
In affectionate memory of the brothers who fell in the Great European War 1914-1918
Faithful members of this church
James Davies, Penstar
Wounded 22 June, he died 10 July 1916 in Rouen, France, aged 22
And Robert Jones, Myrddin Cottage, who died 10 July 1916 in Mametz Woods, France, aged 22.
Therefore be ye also ready

In contrast to the dismissive attitude of the Army’s High Command, the reaction in Wales was to laud the courage and tenacity of the Welsh troops. Newspapers printed letters carrying first-person accounts of the fighting within eight days of the action, describing in some detail the horrendous difficulties of fighting a well-armed and determined enemy in strongly defended positions. A ‘Soldier from Bargoed’ wrote to the Western Mail of how ‘The Welsh boys fought like very demons through a wood which was well-nigh impregnable’. In conclusion he declared ‘The whole of the Welsh boys, however, fought with great bravery and proved themselves to be splendid fighters’.

Even as other battles were being fought, the story of the Welsh at Mametz was being re-told and the narrative shaped into one of a remarkable success against the odds. Numerous examples of poetry (not necessarily, it has to be said, of a very high standard) can be found in both languages in various Welsh newspapers). See, for example, the verses in English by Driver W. H Davies from September 1916 – – or by Sgt J. Jarman from August 1917 – ; a Welsh-language example can be found here –  – in September 1918.

Capel y Cwm - Christian Williams / Welsh Memorials to the Great War
Capel y Cwm – Christian Williams / Welsh Memorials to the Great War

Partially, this movement to commemorate the valour of the Welsh troops at Mametz Wood was driven by the soldiers themselves. The pride in their achievements is clear in the doggerel of Sgt. Jarman (‘For the hardest task we went through that morn / That’s been done by British sons’) and Driver Davies (‘My God! What a charge we made / The observers who were behind us / Said ’twas better than being on parade’). There is an interesting report – – of Welsh soldiers serving in France chanting that it was the Welsh who cleared the Germans from Mametz Wood.

Further impetus to commemorate this as a Welsh battle came from the top. When Lloyd George visited Welsh recruits in August 1916 training in the enormous camp in Kinmel Park, near Rhyl, he inspired them with a speech which focused on the achievements of their brothers-in-arms.

Mametz Wood 1916. Courtesy of Alun Edwards / First World War poetry Digital Archive, University of Oxford
Mametz Wood 1916. Courtesy of Alun Edwards / First World War poetry Digital Archive, University of Oxford







The local newspaper [ ] reports that he declared: ‘The attack on Mametz Wood was one of the most difficult enterprises which ever fell to any division. It was left to the Welsh Division, and they swept the enemy out of it (cheers)’.

Indeed, there was a debate in some Welsh newspapers in the spring of 1918 – before the outcome of the War was decided – as to which encounter should be commemorated as ‘the’ Welsh battle of the War: the choice being Mametz Wood or Pilckem Ridge (31 July 1917). In the euphoria that greeted the ‘victory’ in 1918, there were numerous poems written about Welsh valour in the battlefield, many of which took Mametz Wood as their theme.

Mametz Dragon Silhouette. Courtesy ofAlun Edwards / First World War poetry Digital Archive, University of Oxford
Mametz Dragon Silhouette. Courtesy ofAlun Edwards / First World War poetry Digital Archive, University of Oxford

A short story about a Welsh miner at Mametz won a prize at the National Eisteddfod in 1923; one of the best memoirs by a Welsh soldier about the war is Up to Mametz, published by Llewelyn Wyn Griffith in 1931. The most famous Welsh painting of the War is The Welsh Division at the Battle of Mametz Wood by Christopher Williams.

One of the most astonishing artistic works to come out of the First World War is David Jones’ In Parenthesis – this was largely inspired by his experiences with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers at Mametz (see ).

Thus it is not surprising that as interest in the First World War grew in the 1980s as the number of veterans of the conflict grew fewer, the focus on the experiences of the Welsh in this one battle became more intense. Following a campaign by the Western Front Association, a challenging and beautiful memorial was raised to the 38th Welsh Division at Mametz. Designed by sculptor/ blacksmith David Petersen, the memorial was unveiled in 1987: three documentaries were broadcast on Welsh television to accompany the event.

At a local level, the name of Mametz resonated long in various communities throughout Wales.

A ward at the Cardiff Royal Infirmary was designated the ‘Mametz Ward’. The 15th Welsh Regiment (Carmarthenshire Battalion) designated their reunion the ‘Mametz Wood dinner’. A wounded soldier in Llanrug renamed his home ‘Mametz Cottage’.

A project I am currently managing, Welsh Memorials to the Great War – – funded by Living Legacies 1914-18 –  – has uncovered further examples of how the name of Mametz remained engrained within some Welsh communities. The project has collected information on well over two hundred WW1 memorials in Wales (with hundreds more to be gathered) and one interesting aspect that comes over in many of them is the geographical range that is incorporated in the local commemorations. The men who are remembered served all over the globe: a large number of Welsh soldiers who served with Canadian or Australian units are commemorated in their home villages.

Many of the memorials to those who died state where the men met their fate, although most of the time the details are non-specific, stating simply ‘France’, ‘Gallipoli’ or ‘Mesopotamia’. However, a few are more precise. There are twelve names in the memorial at Tregarth church, Caernarfonshire. The last line carved on this memorial – ‘Tros ryddid collasant eu gwaed’ [‘For Freedom they lost their blood’] comes from the Welsh National Anthem. Four died at Ypres and one at Gaza – both names that appear with tragic regularity on several more Welsh memorials. One, Pte. H R Williams, died at Mametz Wood.


Capt. Hywel Williams -
Capt. Hywel Williams –


Other memorials in Welsh chapels have an explicit reference to Mametz Wood. Three soldiers are commemorated in the memorial at Capel y Cwm, Pentrechwyth, Swansea: one of them was David Griffith Williams, who was killed in the battle.

The memorial in Hermon chapel, Pembrey, has two names, including Robert Jones, another who was killed at Mametz Wood.

One more chapel memorial deserves particular attention – although the only photograph I have obtained of it is rather poor. The chapel, Berea, Cricieth (Caernarfonshire) closed a few years ago after its membership fell to single figures. The significance of this place of worship is that it was Lloyd George’s family’s chapel: for many years his highly respected uncle, Richard Lloyd had been its leading light. Two brothers, Hugh and Hywel Williams, who were family friends of Lloyd George’s family, died within six weeks of one another in 1916. Both had been active in the recruiting campaign, trying to persuade young Welshmen to answer the call put out by their politician friend. Captain Hywel Williams was killed at Mametz Wood.

Dr Gethin Matthews, Dept. of History, Swansea University

Mametz dragon & wood. Image Courtesy of Alun Edwards / First World War poetry Digital Archive, University of Oxford
Mametz dragon & wood. Image Courtesy of Alun Edwards / First World War poetry Digital Archive, University of Oxford








Co-ordinating Centres

The Dulmial Gun

In this guest blog from Michael Noble, based at the Centre for Hidden Histories, the story of how a 19th century cannon came to sit at the entrance of a Pakistani village is revealed. 

Officers of Dulmial pose with the gun
Officers of Dulmial pose with the gun

Dulmial is a village approximately a hundred miles south of Islamabad in Pakistan. A century ago, the area was part of British India, which meant that its inhabitants were drawn into the Great War on the side of the Allies. A settlement steeped in military history, Dulmial sent 460 of its men to fight in the British Army, the largest single participation of any village in Asia. Nine gave their lives. In recognition of this service and sacrifice, in 1925 the British government offered Dulmial an award of their choosing.

The man in charge of this choosing was Captain Ghulam Mohammad Malik, the highest ranking and most decorated soldier in the village. The Captain was a man of great experience, having commenced his military life in the Derajat Mountain Battery and participated in Lord Roberts’ march from Kabul to Kandahar in 1880. A career soldier, he eschewed the British offers of land, money and water facilities, choosing instead to have Dulmial’s contribution recognised with the presentation of a cannon.

The gun at Dulmial
The gun at Dulmial

The British agreed to this selection and provided Dulmial with a twelve pounder. Agreeing was the easy part. Getting the thing to Dulmial would be quite a different matter. The gun was to be collected from the First Punjab Regimental Centre in Jhelum, from where it could be carried by train to Chakwal. There, the gun was dismounted and loaded in a cart to be pulled by three pairs of oxen for the remaining 28 kilometres. The roads were semi-mountainous and passage was difficult. It would take the ox carts two weeks to cover the distances. From five kilometres out, at Choa Saiden Shah, the route became more difficult still and Dulmial had to despatch five additional pairs of oxen to relieve the initial six and complete the gun’s journey.

The plaque attached to the base of the monument
The plaque attached to the base of the monument

Safely in Dulmial, the gun was placed at the main entrance to the village and a photograph taken with the local commissioned officers. It remains there today, a reminder of the contribution that Dulmial made in the First World War.

Dulmial is now known within Pakistan as the ‘village with the gun’, but it  is rather less well known in the UK. ‘This is because very little has been written or published about the the village in English’, says Dr Irfan Malik, a Nottingham man whose family originates in Dulmial. ‘I have visited Dulmial many times over the years’, he continues ‘and I have made it my aim to research the World War One history of the village as it played such an impressive part during the time’. It is Irfan’s intention to bring this hidden history to a wider audience and help to share the reasons of just what a nineteenth century Scottish cannon is doing in the mountains of Pakistan.


All images provided courtesy of Dr Irfan Malik with thanks.

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Where did the headstones for the First World War cemeteries come from?

In this blog post from the Centre for Hidden Histories, Nigel Hunt looks at the origins of the East Midlands headstones and the role they played in the Second World War.

Anyone who has visited the war graves will have felt a sense of awe at their sheer number. Making headstones in that volume took a lot of effort and a lot of stone. Nigel Hunt explains the East Midlands origins of the headstones.

Middleton Mine
Middleton Mine

With over a million deaths across the UK and the Dominions, and with nearly all the dead being buried on the battlefield, there was a huge demand for high quality headstones at the end of the war, along with stone for the monuments that are dotted around the battlefields, such as the Lutjens’ Thiepval memorial and Blomfield’s Menin Gate memorial, which together commemorate over 100,000 of the missing of the Somme and Ypres respectively. In total, nearly 1.3 million names are engraved either on individual headstones or on memorials to those who have no known grave.

By 1921, over 1,000 cemeteries had been established, and 4,000 headstones were shipped to France every week. Most cemetery construction was complete by 1927.

Headstone of 2nd Lt J.H. Bellamy, the Sherwood Foresters
Headstone of 2nd Lt J.H. Bellamy, the Sherwood Foresters

Most people think that the headstones are all made of Portland stone, derived from Portland on the south coast. Indeed, most headstones did come from there, but the demand was so high other sources had to be found, and the other main source of headstones was in Derbyshire, from Hopton Wood quarry near Middleton-by-Wirksworth. In all, 120,000 headstones were made from Hopton Wood limestone.

The name Hopton Wood quarry is a bit misleading. While the original Hopton Wood quarry was situated in Hopton Wood, near the village of Hopton, the main quarry is to the west of Middleton, linked to another quarry in Middleton itself. The quarry closed in 2006, but it had a long history. It is a source of extremely high quality limestone, examples of which can be found in many country houses and public buildings around the country. Examples include Westminster Abbey,

Aerial view of Hopton Wood quarry – tunnel entrance hidden by white area, right middle
Aerial view of Hopton Wood quarry – tunnel entrance hidden by white area, right middle

Birmingham Cathedral, Chatsworth House, Oscar Wilde’s tomb and the Houses of Parliament. It has been on many occasions mistaken for marble, because it can be finely polished. It is also relatively easy to carve, and is relatively hard-wearing. The main quarry is underground. There are over 25 miles of large passageways underneath the moors to the west of Middleton. The entrance can be seen from a nearby footpath.

There are remnants of broken headstones in the walls in the area, particularly near to the Middleton quarry in the village, but there are few other traces of what was a very busy time for the quarry.


All images provided courtesy of Nigel Hunt with thanks.

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November 1913: The Archduke, Nottingham and a Near Miss

In this blog post from the Centre for Hidden Histories, Professor John Beckett explores how  Nottinghamshire, and the University College, Nottingham (as it then was) have a direct link to the origins of the First World War and to the Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s misadventures with firearms.

In November 1913 the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, spent some time in England, and this included a visit to Welbeck Abbey, Nottinghamshire. The owner of this former monastic property was the sixth Duke of Portland, who was lord lieutenant of Nottinghamshire, and also President of the University College Council. In the latter position he was spearheading efforts to have the College upgraded to full university status. These efforts had to be put on hold when the war broke out.

The Sixth Duke of Portland
The Sixth Duke of Portland

The archduke and his duchess travelled to Welbeck by train on 22 November 1913, alighting at Worksop to be driven by carriage to the Abbey. Fellow guests during their week-long stay included the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, and Arthur Balfour, leader of the Conservative Party.

During the course of the week they spent at Welbeck the archduke enjoyed shooting parties at Clowne Hills, Clipstone and Gleadthorpe, and he and the duchess visited Sherwood Forest, Bolsover Castle and Hardwick Hall.

‘I have often wondered whether the Great War might not have been averted, or at least postponed, had the archduke met his death then and not at Sarajevo the following year.’

The Archduke had an accident with a gun during the shooting. Portland later recalled that ‘One of the loaders fell down. This caused both barrels of the gun he was carrying to be discharged, the shot passing within a few feet of the archduke and myself.’ Portland subsequently reflected: ‘I have often wondered whether the Great War might not have been averted, or at least postponed, had the archduke met his death then and not at Sarajevo the following year.’

Archduke Franz Ferdinand at a shooting party at Welbeck
Archduke Franz Ferdinand at a shooting party at Welbeck

Nine months later, and safely back home in Vienna, the  archduke and his wife set out on a journey to Sarajevo, the  capital of Bosnia Herzegovina to open a hospital. They were  aware that this might prove to be a dangerous trip. So it proved when they were assassinated by Gavrilo Princip on 28 June 1914.

The assassination made relations between the Austro-Hungarian government and Serbia even more strained than they already were. Under existing treaty obligations Russia sided with Serbia and Germany with Austria. When Germany invaded neutral Belgium on 3 August 1914, Britain was drawn into the conflict as a result of their alliances with other European states, and war was declared the following day.

Through the war years, the Duke and Duchess of Portland played a leading role locally encouraging enlistment among young men, and supportive activities among young women (such as knitting woollen clothes for soldiers in the trenches).

The Duke continued to chair the College Council, regular meetings which between 1914 and 1918 received reports of former students and serving staff who had died in the conflict. He remained President of the Council until his death in 1943. Nottingham received its charter as a full university in 1948.

Duchess Winifred (1863-1954) nursed injured veterans at Welbeck Abbey during the First World War and her experiences in supporting and also miners led to the creation of Harlow Wood Orthopaedic Hospital in 1929 (closed 1995). She was also responsible for planning and opening a training college that could complete the work of rehabilitation for both veterans and miners – giving injured working men a new trade that would make them economically independent once more. This is still the role of Portland College, near Mansfield.


Images provided courtesy of Dr John Beckett with thanks.

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Birmingham’s Military Hospitals

In this guest blog post provided by one of the WW1 Engagement Centres, Voices of War and Peace, we look at the role that the University of Birmingham Hospital played during the war.

Plans for military hospitals in Birmingham were made by the 13th Territorial General Hospital well in advance of war breaking out. Birmingham University was used as the 1st Southern General Hospital, with the first wounded soldiers arriving on 1 September 1914, and 1,000 beds provided by early 1915. As casualties increased many other buildings became hospitals, such as the Poor Law Infirmary on Dudley Road in 1915, the Monyhull Colony in King’s Norton in 1916 and school buildings in Kings Heath and Stirchley. Rubery Hill and Hollymoor hospitals were also used.

Great Hall, University of Birmingham
Great Hall, University of Birmingham

Auxiliary hospitals, often staffed by volunteers, were set up in some of Birmingham’s larger houses, including Highbury in Moseley, Moor Green Hall, Harborne Hall, The Beeches in Erdington, Uffculme, and Allerton in Sutton Coldfield.

When war broke out on 4th August 1914, mobilisation orders were received by the 1st Southern General. Just one week later, 520 beds were in place in accordance with plans drawn up in 1909. This photograph shows the University of Birmingham’s Great Hall converted into a military hospital ward.

Ambulance at Highbury
Ambulance at Highbury

Many activities were organised to keep the wounded and  convalescing soldiers occupied. Workshops mended boots  and produced surgical appliances, bed frames, supplies for  the front. Classes were given in languages, shorthand, book keeping, shorthand, carpentry, tailoring and gardening. Drama companies put on shows and many Birmingham theatres provided free tickets to performances. At Christmas, wards were decorated and traditional celebrations took place.

Regular ambulance units could not cope with the numbers and volunteer drivers ferried wounded soldiers to hospitals and delivered medical staff to stations. Volunteers produced medical equipment and also trained as nurses. A Citizen’s Committee and Lady Mayoress’s Depot, set up in 1914, organised much of the voluntary work in the city.

Highbury opened as an auxiliary hospital in 1915, the money for its equipment being donated by Kynoch’s of Witton. It specialised in neurological cases and was staffed by a commandant, a matron, eight sisters and voluntary workers, mostly women. It had 274 beds, an open air ward, and the conservatories and greenhouses were used in emergencies.

Commonwealth Patients in Edgbaston
Commonwealth Patients in Edgbaston

This photograph, taken in the grounds of the Edgbaston military hospital, shows wounded soldiers from Australia and Scotland with other Allied patients and VAD nurses. By the end of the war there were over 7,000 beds in Birmingham and by 1919 over 125,000 men had been treated, including Belgian, American, and Serbian soldiers.



Image captions:

Great Hall, University of Birmingham [Library of Birmingham: WW1/Hospitals]

Ambulance at Highbury [Library of Birmingham: WW1/Hospitals]

Commonwealth Patients in Edgbaston [Library of Birmingham: WW1/Hospitals]

Co-ordinating Centres

The Silenced War – Fiction for Children across World War One

In this guest blog post, Professor Jean Webb from the University of Worcester looks at various children’s’ books from World War One and the gender divide they captured as part of research for Voices of War and Peace, one of the AHRC’s Engagement Centres.

The attitudes toward warfare in Britain leading up to World War I were deeply rooted in nineteenth-century notions of masculinity embedded in adventure stories for boys and therefore, by polar opposition, in the domestic construction of the feminine.

A V.A.D. in Salonika, by Bessie Marchant (1917)
A V.A.D. in Salonika, by Bessie Marchant (1917)

These were the values of the British Empire i.e. endurance, valour, honour, self-sacrifice and patriotism with war tending to be constructed as a great game. Such childhood reading ideologically influenced the men who volunteered to enlist in World War One to protect those values. There were a few books for girls principally by Bessie Marchant which emphasised the ‘clichéd’ part women played in the war and silenced other aspects of domestic life on the Home Front.

Fiction for children just prior to and across the period displayed patriotic patriarchal adventure stories heightened with fervoured romance silencing the realities of the experiences of World War One. It was not until 1935 with Captain W.E. Johns’ Biggles Learns to Fly that loss of comrades and the effects of fighting entered fiction for children.

The War years and the aftermath are framed by the Arcadian fantasies of Kenneth Grahame with The Wind in the Willows (1908) and A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the Pooh stories (1926) which presented protected enclosed idyllic worlds far removed from war and retreating from the deep social and political concerns of Grahame and the horrors which Milne has experienced as a combatant.

Burton of the Flying Corps, by Herbert Strang, 1916
Burton of the Flying Corps, by Herbert Strang, 1916

There are still other silenced voices, the voices which could tell either through realist modes of writing or surrealism or fantasy the lives of those who had to stay behind, the lives of the women who maintained the Home Front so that there was a domestic idyll to which to eventually return.



Books from the period:

Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows (1908)

Herbert Strang, A Hero Of Liége (1914), Fighting With French: A Tale of the New Army (1915), Burton of the Flying Corps (1916), Tom Willoughby’s Scout: A Story of the War in German East Africa (1918)

F.S. Brereton, With Joffre at Verdun: A Story of the Western Front (1916)

Bessie Marchant, A Girl Munition Worker: The Story of a Girl’s Work During The Great War (1916), A V.A.D. in Salonika (1917)

Alice Massie, Freda’s Great Adventure (1917), A Transport Girl In France: The Story of the Adventures of a WAAC (1919)

Alice B. Emerson, Ruth Fielding At the War Front or The Hunt For The Lost Soldier (1918)

Brenda Girvin, Munition Mary (1918)

A.A. Milne, Winnie-The Pooh (1926)

Captain W.E. Johns, Biggles Learns To Fly (1935)


Image rights:

A V.A.D. in Salonika, by Bessie Marchant (1917). Illustrated by J.E. Sutcliffe.

Burton of the Flying Corps, by Herbert Strang, 1916 [Image: Project Gutenberg]

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Cadbury Angels and World War One

In this guest blog post, Jo-Ann Curtis from the Birmingham Museums Trust looks at the role of women in the famous Cadbury Bros company during the war as part of the Voices of War and Peace project.

As soon as war broke out and troops were deployed overseas, Cadbury Bros began producing ‘chocolate for the troops’. These gifts continued to be distributed throughout the duration of the war and in total 20,000 parcels were sent out to troops on the front, as well as to those who were wounded and recovering at home or in hospital.

‘Packing Comforts for the Troops’
Packing Comforts for the Troops

The photograph ‘Packing Comforts for the Troops’ depicts Cadbury employees preparing to ship boxes of Cadbury’s Mexican Chocolate and books to British troops. Each box was packaged up with the message, ‘a present to our friends at the front, from the workpeople at Cadbury’s Bournville’.

Women employees at Cadbury during the First World War are predominantly represented as carers and nurturers. Recurring articles pertaining to the activities of the 3,500 female workforce included ‘Bournville Girls as Nurses’, and the knitting and sewing activities of individual departments. However, very little information is given regarding the experiences of women in the workplace during the war.

Both the Bournville Works Magazine and Bournville Works and the War 1914-1919, provide the reader with a vision of a workforce in harmony. But, for many women who were employed purely to supplement the depleted male workforce, the end of the war signified the termination of their employment. In the 1918 minutes of the Bournville Works Women’s Council, the company was considering the demobilisation of its supplementary female workforce.

During this time, Cadbury had disbanded their bar on the employment of married women. In 1919 a rare protest is recorded in the Bournville Works Women’s Council minutes by women who had been

Girls' Works Committee, 1911
Girls’ Works Committee, 1911

temporarily employed in one of the men’s departments, on the announcement of their demobilisation the following was recorded:

‘Communication from Printing Shop Committee […] They think it fair that they should be given a chance to secure a position which will satisfy them, as they have stood by the firm during a time of difficulty. They would like to know exactly how they stand in the matter’.

This minute represented the experiences of many women at the end of the First World War. Although women were celebrated for stepping up to take on the roles of men during the war, once the male workforce returned women were expected to give up their newly found independence and status.

Bournville Works and the War 1914-1919

 Bournville Works and the War 1914-1919 was a  commemorative publication produced at the request of  Cadbury’s employees in 1920. Throughout the war Bournville  Works Magazine featured a column entitled ‘The Factory and  The War’, recording the activities of Cadbury’s employees.  The commemorative publication was a summary of this c  column.

In November 1914, the first ‘Factory and the War’ column was published. Contained within is an address given by Cadbury Bros to its employees:

‘We feel that it is the duty of every one of us to be willing to sacrifice our own immediate interests on behalf of out country. Some have felt it their duty to go to the front, but it is not less incumbent upon those who, for conscientious or other reasons, cannot let their patriotism take this form, to bear their share’.

The Works Magazine’s record of the war carried the sentiment of this address, in that it recorded the individual and collective efforts of the company’s employees at home and on the Western Front. The magazine’s readership during the period included employees serving in the forces. This was reflected in the publishing of letters recounting experiences on the Western Front, as well as comments on articles within the magazine.

Throughout the duration of World War One, Cadbury continued with chocolate production, albeit at a reduced rate, affecting many factory floor employees working on piece-rates. As a result Cadbury established emergency financial provision for those whose earnings fell below a certain rate. The firm also provided financial assistance to dependants of employees who had enlisted and for widows or dependants of men killed in action.In total, 2,148 of Cadbury’s employees served during the war, many enlisting with local Birmingham Pals regiments.


This is an extract from

Image Credits

Packing Comforts for the Troops’ courtesy of Library of Birmingham: MS466/41/3a/89

Girls’ Works Committee’, 1911 courtesy of Library of Birmingham: MS466/41/3/99

‘Bournville Works and the War 1914-1919’ courtesy of Library of Birmingham: LP66.53CAD


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Creative Centenaries Resources Fair: Titanic Belfast

Living Legacies 1914-18, one of the AHRC’s World War One Engagement Centres, gives an account of their recent visit to the Titanic Buildings in Belfast attended by academics, practitioners, local history groups and arts professionals. 

On Thursday 5th March, Living Legacies visited Titanic Buildings, Belfast, for the first large-scale, multi-stakeholder event this year. Kindly supported by the Nerve Centre, Derry/Londonderry, the Department for Culture, Arts and Leisure, Heritage Lottery Fund and Community Relations Council. The venue, the impressive Titanic Suite, was in-keeping with the scale of the event and provided an excellent backdrop to the day’s proceedings.

There were over 30 stalls on display, covering multiple angles and approaches to the war. Our colleagues from Heritage Lottery were present to provide advice and guidance to the many interested attendees. Community Relations Council chair, Peter Osborne, launched the fair by welcoming the assembled groups and audience members and encouraging all those present to engage with each other and discuss potential collaborations.

Audience members at the conference
Audience members at the conference

Following this, historian Dr. Eamon Phoenix gave an insightful lecture on the hidden history of nationalist involvement in the Great War, which is now being drawn out by excellent research projects, such as 6th Connaught Rangers.

The fair was attended by a combination of academics, practitioners, local history groups and arts professionals. Throughout the day, visitors and exhibitors exchanged knowledge and discussed a number of avenues for cooperative work. Whilst the fair was going on, a number of workshops took place in the conference rooms adjacent to the Titanic Suite. These dealt with ‘Ethical and Shared Remembering’, ‘What is Commemoration?’ and ‘Creative Responses’.

The Living Legacies team received a number of enquiries about supporting and guiding community-led research and we look forward to building upon these fruitful conversations. The Creative Centenaries Resources fair demonstrated the important and varied work which is going on in the region, to critically commemorate and engage with the legacy of WW1.


Written by Sophie Long, Queen’s University Belfast on behalf of Living Legacies 1914-18.

Co-ordinating Centres Research

Citizen historians – Sikhs in the First World War

Matt Shinn looks at a collaboration between a community group and academic that is uncovering an important but neglected aspect of First World War history.

 The First World War wasn’t just about white soldiers fighting in the trenches of France and Belgium. To begin with, every sixth British soldier serving during the war was from the Indian subcontinent. In total, nearly one and a half million volunteers from pre-partition India served in the British ranks: the British Indian Army was as large as the forces from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa combined.

 “every sixth British soldier serving during the war was from the Indian subcontinent”

Indian soldiers also served on many of the more distant fronts in the conflict, from North Africa to Mesopotamia – not just in Europe. But the role of Indian troops in the Great War has largely been overlooked.

Front cover of The Great War magazine showing men of the 45th Sikhs serving with the British troops on the banks of the Tigris River marching with their scared scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, in Mesopatamia, 1918.  Courtesy of Nanaki and Sahib Collected Works
Front cover of The Great War magazine showing men of the 45th Sikhs serving with the British troops on the banks of the Tigris River marching with their scared scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, in Mesopatamia, 1918.
Courtesy of Nanaki and Sahib Collected Works

The one percent

Among the community groups which are seeking to change this is the UK Punjab Heritage Association (UKPHA), a charity which is dedicated to preserving the cultural heritage of the Sikhs and the Punjab, and which aims to commemorate the remarkable but forgotten contribution of Sikh soldiers in the First World War, as well as recording the experiences of the families that they left behind.

Although they accounted for less than one percent of the population of British India at the time, Sikhs made up nearly twenty percent of the British Indian Army at the outbreak of hostilities. With Sikh military traditions being integral to the faith, the British Army looked especially to the Punjab for recruitment. Yet few now are aware of the important role of Sikh soldiers in the Great War, especially in the early months of the fighting on the Western Front, when they were instrumental in halting the German advance.

As the first part of a three-year project, an exhibition, Empire, Faith and War: the Sikhs and World War One, is being held at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the exhibition tells the story of how a small community played a disproportionately important role in the Great War.

As UKPHA Chair Amandeep Madra says: ‘the non-white Empire’s efforts have largely been forgotten, and their heroism and sacrifices omitted from mainstream narratives, or left as somewhat forlorn footnotes of history. By telling the Sikh story we want to change that, and remind the world of this wider, undervalued contribution of the non-white British Empire. This is British history, and a story that helps explain much about modern Britain.’

For the glory of the Raj: Indian troops charging the German trenches at Neuve Chapelle, March 1915. Courtesy of Nanaki and Sahib Collected Works
For the glory of the Raj: Indian troops charging the German trenches at Neuve Chapelle, March 1915.
Courtesy of Nanaki and Sahib Collected Works

But why was the role of Sikh troops, and Indian troops more generally, forgotten in the first place? As UKPHA team member Harbakhsh Grewal makes clear, it was recognised immediately after the war. There were war memorials (including the Indian Memorial at Neuve-Chappelle in France, and the Chattri Memorial in Brighton, on the site where many Indian soldiers were cremated), and much positive press and PR. But then ‘the Indian independence movement wiped away other memories. Some soldiers had gone to war with the expectation that proving themselves in war would help lead to greater independence. But very soon their actions were being omitted from Indian histories. And in many cases, veterans were not given the pensions they were due.’

In the case of the Sikhs, in particular, relations with the British changed very soon after the end of the war, with the Amritsar massacre of peaceful demonstrators in 1919 – an act which took place not just in Amritsar, the spiritual centre of the Sikh faith, but also during Baisakhi, the main Sikh festival. But even in India, according to Harbakhsh Grewal, enough time has now passed since the struggle for independence for the role of Indian soldiers in World War One to begin to be acknowledged.

As the Empire, Faith and War project continues, it will involve building up a database of soldiers’ and families’ stories, with members of the Sikh community being encouraged to become ‘citizen historians’, discovering more about their own ancestors who fought. ‘That is one reason why the exhibition is taking place at the beginning of the project,’ says Harbakhsh Grewal. ‘This is partly about engaging people with their own history.’

Stalwarts from the East - a French lady pins a flower on the Sikh saviours of France. Paris, 1916 (Toor Collection).
Stalwarts from the East – a French lady pins a flower on the Sikh saviours of France. Paris, 1916 (Toor Collection).

Founding myths

And as the project develops, UKPHA is exploring, with the World War One Engagement Centre at Nottingham University, ways in which academic expertise can help it become more effective. The Centre for Hidden Histories: Community, Commemoration and the First World War works with many different community groups, to find more inclusive ways of commemorating the First World War, and to broaden understanding of the war as a global conflict.

  “One visitor pointed to one of the soldiers in the background, and said ‘that’s my dad’”

Among the expertise that the Nottingham Centre is offering UKPHA is that of its computer scientists, who specialise in developing and using new technologies to capture oral histories. The researchers at the Centre have experience in developing guides, to ensure that the stories that are collected are of a high quality, so that the online database becomes a useful research resource for the future. Academics within Nottingham University’s School of Education are also able to help UKPHA make the educational material that is being produced, as part of the project, more engaging and useable for schools.

A Sikh soldier in a prisoner of war camp, c 1915. (Toor Collection)
A Sikh soldier in a prisoner of war camp, c 1915. (Toor Collection)

Mike Noble is Community Liaison Officer at the Centre for Hidden Histories. For him, ‘this is an opportunity to learn about how the war has been repurposed by different groups. In some countries, such as Canada and Australia, the First World War has become a founding myth of nationhood, a bit like Agincourt for the English. It has become a national epic: a story of adversity through which a sovereign nation was born. For other groups, though, the story of the Great War is a contested history: something that has been brushed under the carpet. Through the projects that we work on, we can help to get it out in the open.’

And already the UKPHA project has had some unexpected results, according to Harbakhsh Grewal. ‘One visitor to our exhibition looked at the photo that we use on the main exhibition poster – of Sikh soldiers marching through the streets of Paris in 1916, and being given flowers. He pointed to one of the soldiers in the background, and said “that’s my dad”.’

Staffed by a consortium of academics from the universities of Nottingham, Derby and Nottingham Trent, the Centre for Hidden Histories has a particular interest in the themes of migration and displacement, the experience of ‘others’ from countries and regions within Europe, Asia and the Commonwealth, the impact and subsequent legacies of the war on diverse communities within Britain, remembrance and commemoration, and identity and faith.

If you would like to read more about the range of projects funded by the AHRC on World War One, including projects exploring the contribution of Indian and other non-European countries to the war effort, please go to our commemorative publication ‘Beyond the Trenches’ (PDF 17MB), or write to to request a print copy.

Co-ordinating Centres

‘Send a good letter to cheer me’ – soldiers’ correspondence in the Great War

Two brothers from the village of Sweffling in Suffolk – George and Albert Stopher – were killed on the Western Front within a few weeks of each other, in the spring of 1917. But the men’s voices can still be heard, through an extensive collection of letters that they left behind. Some of those letters were found, together with locks of hair and dried flowers, amongst their possessions after their deaths.

George Stopher (1896-1917)
George Stopher (1896-1917)

Rachel Duffett teaches History at the University of Essex. Through the Everyday Lives in War Engagement Centre, based at the University of Hertfordshire, she is working with the Suffolk Record Office in Ipswich to bring the Stopher letters to a much wider audience. ‘In some ways,’ she says, ‘the experience of George and Albert Stopher was typical of many young men in the First World War. They appear to have enlisted early (it’s impossible to know for sure, as their war records were destroyed during the Second World War). They suffered the privations of the Western Front, and George was hospitalised for a while with shell shock.’

But the Stopher correspondence is also very unusual, says Rachel Duffett. ‘First, there is its sheer size, with the many bundles of letters that the brothers left behind. Its volume contrasts sadly with the few lines in the official history of the Suffolk regiment, describing the engagements in which George and Albert died.’

Then there is the variety of the correspondence: ‘through it, we can chart the relationships between the brothers, their parents and their sweethearts.’

Unusually also, the letters tell the story of the rural citizen soldier, unlike most collections of soldier’s letters, which tend to be from men from towns and cities. Prior to February 1916, only about eight percent of the army’s recruits were from agricultural occupations.

Albert Stopher (1897-1917)
Albert Stopher (1897-1917)

The Stopher letters are also different in the way in which George and Albert express themselves. While the letters suffer from an almost complete absence of punctuation, and idiosyncratic spelling, they also have a directness and vivacity which are often absent from soldiers’ correspondence. Writing to his mother while he was in a French hospital recovering from shell-shock, for example, George Stopher says that sending him back to the front in his current condition would be like ‘sending a rat to kill a dog.’ As Rachel Duffett says, ‘people in small rural communities were not exposed to the mass media in the same way as city-dwellers, and so were perhaps less likely to express themselves in cliché.’

Food is a recurring theme in the letters, often as a proxy for love and care, with the brothers frequently asking their mother for home-cooked cakes and puddings. George and Albert also aren’t shy in getting their parents to importune things on their behalf: ‘do not be afraid to ask anybody for a little gift’.

But when it comes to the darker aspects of the war, there is very little that makes it into the letters. Certainly there was censorship in the trenches, with officers reading what the enlisted men had written before it could be sent, but we see very little black ink in the Stopher correspondence. What censorship there was seems to have been self-censorship, for a variety of reasons: as George says in his letters, of the treatment for shell shock he was receiving, ‘some things are not to be spoken of.’ And yet, as Rachel Duffett says, ‘writing of his shell shock to his mother, you can sense something of his desire nevertheless, to let her know what he’s experiencing. I’m surprised it got past the censor.’

George ends his unsettling letter, detailing his fragile state of mind, with a request to his mother to ‘send a good letter to cheer me’. He was probably thinking of something more uplifting than the letter that Albert received from his sweetheart Bessie, in which she told him that she’d dreamt that he had died.

letter1The surviving relatives of the Stopher brothers have been active supporters of the project, and have donated framed photos of George and Albert, as well as their medals. Displays of the letters and other material are being developed, and the letters have been used in local schools, as a way of introducing the subject of the First World War. The project also included public readings from the letters on 4 August 2014, the hundredth anniversary of Britain entering the war: according to Rachel Duffett, ‘it’s surprising how different the letters seem when you read them out loud – how vividly the men’s voices come across.’ And giving a talk at Sweffling, she was ‘struck by the resemblance of the many great-nephews and great-nieces who were there to the Stopher brothers, as I’d seen them in photographs.’

But then, it is this quality of immediacy and familiarity in the Stopher correspondence which makes it so unusual. ‘I’ve read so many collections of soldiers’ letters,’ says Rachel Duffett, ‘but these really are special. You come to feel that you know the Stopher brothers personally.’

Listening in

letter2Bridget Hanley is Collections Manager at Suffolk Record Office in Ipswich, where the Stopher correspondence is held. For her, the involvement of Rachel Duffett, through the Everyday Lives in War Engagement Centre, has made the difference in bringing the letters to life: ‘we’re providing a resource for others to use in imaginative ways. Rachel has been able to take one of our collections and really run with it.’

When the letters have been used in schools, ‘we’ve had fifteen-year-olds, which is a notoriously difficult age groups with which to engage, almost in tears. They’re not a lot younger than the Stophers were when they went to the front: this collection of letters personalises the war for them. And it enables us to see both sides – we have some of the family’s letters to the Stopher brothers, but also their letters back. We can see how everyone – both on the front line and at home – was affected by the conflict.’

‘This is a story of ordinary, everyday people, with the same emotions that we all have, being caught up in the First World War. It’s a story that was played out across the country: it always touches people. You feel almost like you’re eavesdropping.’