Engagement Centres living legacies engagement centre

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



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

‘Without death there is no victory, but I am alive and very well’: Letters from Indian soldiers during World War I

These five letters, describing the experiences of Indian men in the army during the Great War, have been excerpted from Indian Voices of The Great War: Soldiers’ Letters, 1914-1918 by David Omissi. Omissi’s research reminds us of the Indian Army’s involvement on the Western Front, and reveals how the experience was about more than front line combat for these men. (First edition published by Palgrave Macmillan in 1999. The new edition (2014) contains a foreword by Mark Tully.)

1. A Muslim officer to his brother (Central India)

December 1914

What better occasion can I find than this to prove the loyalty of my family to the British Government? Turkey, it is true, is a Muslim power, but what has it to do with us? Turkey is nothing at all to us. The men of France are beyond measure good and honourable and kind. By God, my brother, they are gentlemen to the backbone! Their manners and morals are in absolute accord with our ideas. In war they are as one with us and with the English. Our noble King knows the quality and the worth of his subjects and his Rajas alike. I give you the truth of the matter. The flag of victory will be in the hands of our British Government. Be not at all distressed. Without death there is no victory, but I am alive and very well, and I tell you truly that I will return alive to India.

2. A Garrison Gunner (Sikh) to a relative (France)

3rd December 1914

The English have suffered severely. Nothing is put into the news, but we know a good deal from day to day. The German ship Emden has sunk forty English ships near this land, and is sinking all the seventy English ships of war. She has not been much damaged although she gets little help.1 The English have eight kings helping them, the Germans three. We hear that our king has been taken prisoner. Germany said that if she were paid a lakh of rupees by five o’clock on the first of the month, she would release the king. The money was paid, but Germany refuses to let him go. I have written only a little, but there is much more for you to think of.

3. An unknown writer to a Jemadar (34th Sikh Pioneers, France)

[early January 1915?]
Gobind Garh

I was distressed to hear that you had been wounded. But God will have pity. Keep your thoughts fixed on the Almighty and show your loyalty to the Government and to King George V. It is every man’s duty to fulfil his obligations towards God, by rendering the dues of loyalty to his King. If in rendering the dues of loyalty he must yield his life, let him be ready to make even that sacrifice. It is acceptable in the sight of God, that a man pay the due of loyalty to his King. God grant you life and happiness. Those heroes who have added lustre to the service of their country and King, let them offer this prayer before God, that victory may be the portion of their King, and let them show the whole world how brave the people of India can be. The final prayer of this humble one before God Almighty is this – that God may make bright the heroes of Hindustan in the eyes of the world and with his healing hand may soften the sufferings of the wounded and restore them to health, so that they may go back to the field of battle and render the dues of loyalty to their King of peace, the King of kings, George V, and secure the victory for him.

4. Subedar-Major [Sardar Bahadur Gugan] (6th Jats, 50) to a friend (India)

[early January 1915?]
Brighton Hospital

We are in England. It is a very fine country. The inhabitants are very amiable and are very kind to us, so much so that our own people could not be as much so. The food, the clothes and the buildings are very fine. Everything is such as one would not see even in a dream. One should regard it as fairyland. The heart cannot be satiated with seeing the sights, for there is no other place like this in the world. It is as if one were in the next world. It cannot be described. A motor car comes to take us out. The King and Queen talked with us for a long time. I have never been so happy in my life as I am here.

5. A Pathan to a friend in the 57th Rifles (France)

13th January 1915
40th Rifles
Hong Kong

Return this letter signed and with your thumb impression on it, on the very letter itself. Of the dead say ‘so and so sends you greeting’ and of the wounded say ‘greetings from so and so’.Indian Voices of the Great War 2014 edition


Getting stuck in for Shanghai

Professor Robert Bickers of the University of Bristol explores the contradictions, patriotic fervour and battlefield experiences of the largest contingent of Shanghai British to fight the Kaiser’s forces in Europe, and the story of the city they left behind.

shanghai-articleAfter 1914, between tiffin and a day at the race track, the British in Shanghai enjoyed a life far removed from the horrors of the Great War.  Shanghai’s status as a treaty port – with its foreign concessions home to expatriates from every corner of the globe – made it the most cosmopolitan city in Asia.

The city’s inhabitants on either side of the conflict continued to mix socially after the outbreak of war, the bond amongst foreign nationals being almost as strong as that between countrymen.  But as news of the slaughter, and in particular the sinking of the Lusitania, spread to the Far East their ambivalence turned to antipathy.

Getting Stuck in for Shanghai: Putting the Kibosh on the Kaiser from the Bund by Robert Bickers is one of a set of China Specials published by Penguin Books China exploring different aspects of that country’s experiences during the First World War.

It is available in ebook and is part of the new wave of the iconic Penguin Specials range which aims to be short, informative and entertaining in a digital format.

Professor Bickers said: “The book’s about the British in Shanghai and their war, but tracing the people I wrote about led me far and wide, and even back to Bristol itself. It reinforced a point my research on the history of relations between Britain and China is increasingly exploring: how our histories are intertwined, and how you can find traces and legacies of this historic British experience of China in cities like Bristol.”

Professor Robert Bickers is a historian at the University of Bristol.  He specialises in modern China and the history of colonialism. He is a Co-Director of the British Inter-University China Centre and the ‘Historical Photographs of China project’ project, a virtual online archive of Chinese life which gives users the opportunity to explore and interact with more than 9,000 digitised photos of China taken between 1850 and 1950. A collection of photographs from Shanghai after the War recently featured in an AHRC Image Gallery.