Dr Mark Jackson (Newcastle University), Research Associate Niveen Kassem and creative writing cultural organisation, Identity on Tyne, have been funded to uncover hidden histories within the Gertrude Bell Archive about Middle Eastern ethnic minorities during WWI.
The First World War and its aftermath saw the establishment of new nation states after the fall of the Ottoman Empire but this period also resulted in massacres, forced relocation and mass-movements of minorities. A century on, many parts of the region are still a war-zone and minority communities continue to suffer.
Using the Gertrude Bell Archive located at Newcastle University, the Beyond Destruction project engaged members of the minority Iraqi, Christian Assyrian communities from Northern England in their history in Iraq before and after WWI and since in the UK. Fostering inter-generational dialogue in relation to this history, the project encouraged community discussion of destroyed heritage sites in the Middle East, the importance of the preservation of languages such as Aramaic and Syriac as well as the uncovering of documents in the archive written by Gertrude Bell’s neighbor, Cyril Porter. Porter was a British Army engineer who was stationed in Iraq between 1914-1918. He frequently wrote back to his family in Carlisle. In one of these letters, Porter powerfully described hearing about what would become known as the Armenian genocide from witnesses who managed to survive. You can access this letter by clicking this link.
Reflecting on the significance of Centre for Hidden Histories funding for this project, the Beyond Destruction team commented:
“The funding you have provided has been very important to our work with the Middle Eastern communities for whom WWI had radical consequences. We have been able to engage communities from Iraq with Gertrude Bell archives and explore their responses and reading to these histories and how these histories resonate today. We have run successful workshops that provided the communities with the space to explore their voices, memories and identity in the shadow of the past. Our next plan is to reach out for more Middle Eastern communities living in Europe and beyond by developing sample size social media and the internet.”
This blog was co-written by the Beyond Destruction team and Larissa Allwork
The Centre’s Principal Investigator, Professor John Beckett, uncovers the story of a daring escape from Sutton Bonington, today one of the University of Nottingham’s UK campuses.
During the centenary commemorations of the First World War, The Times is running a daily column reprinting a war-related activity first covered one hundred years ago. On 26 September 2017 it reproduced a story from 26 September 1917 headed ‘Escape of 23 War Prisoners’. It was about the escape of German officers from the internment camp at Sutton Bonington.
The Times reported the story with a certain sardonic humour. The German POWs had dug a tunnel and collected supplies ready for the break out, but having escaped they then struggled to put much distance between themselves and the camp. Six of them were caught near Nottingham, two were found asleep in a wood ‘worn out by their walk’, and three were arrested when they aroused suspicion by asking the way to the nearest railway station. Captain Muller was caught when schoolchildren found him blackberrying in Tollerton woods, six miles from the camp. Two more were found in East Leake ‘playing at cards while crouching beneath a hedge’.
These two men do not seem to have been trying all that hard to make their way back home, and apparently confessed the whole story. The escapees had tunnelled a distance of 50 yards over a three months period. Having escaped they divided into groups of four and started out on different routes towards the coast ‘where they hoped to get away by tramp steamers’.
Eighteen of those who escaped had been recaptured by 28 September 1917, and four more were taken at Chesterfield by Derby police on 30 September.
The story is, of course, well known. The Midland Agricultural College had been preparing to move from its premises in Kingston on Soar to the main building and men’s hostel newly built at Sutton Bonington. That building had a date stone of 1915. Before the move could take place the buildings were taken over to house German officers, who were generally well treated when they were captured as prisoners of war. In 1915 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle complained that they were quartered well away from ordinary soldiers, often in country houses or in the officers’ quarters of barracks. These were comfortably furnished, and servants were found for them from among the soldiers held as POWs. One of the prisoners, named in The Times, Captain Muller, had been in command of the Emden, a German raiding cruiser which had bombarded Madras in September 1914, and was subsequently sunk off the Cocos Islands on 9 November.
When the Sutton Bonington escape was reported, special constables were called out ‘and every measure was taken to apprehend the escaped prisoners’. With night patrols and road blocks, as well as special constables at strategic points, the prisoners were prevented from making much headway.
Lieutenants J. Stadelfaauer and P. Bastgem were recaptured in Derby after a week on the run – perhaps an inappropriate term since they had travelled just twelve miles from Sutton Bonington. Three men caught in West Bridgford on 25 September 1917 had among their possessions sardines, milk, bacon, ham, cheese, prunes, sausages, biscuits and dried toast. They might not have got far in their search for a packet boat to take them to Germany, but they were not going to starve. In fact, in the course of the First World War, only one German officer made it back home.
With ‘Pack Up Your Troubles’ and ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’ we all know songs which grew out of the First World War. Now, Away from the Western Front, a National Lottery-funded project is adding a new song to the collection, but with a very different angle. Choirs, musicians, singers and brass bands are all invited to contribute performances of this new song to the First World War ‘Away from the Western Front’ project. ‘No Parades’, composed by Chris Hoban who has written for acclaimed folk band ‘Show of Hands’, has been inspired by the experience of West Indian men who fought in the First World War.
Two battalions of the British West Indies Regiment served in Palestine and Egypt, and at the end of the war they joined the rest of the Regiment in the Italian port of Taranto. After poor treatment by their British officers the soldiers mutinied, demanding equal pay and conditions to the white troops they had served beside for four years. The mutineers were punished and the Regiment disbanded, sent home under guard and barred from the victory parades. The song continues the story:
From the islands and mainland we came
To fight and to show our allegiance
But returned to our homelands in shame
While for some there’ll be honour and glory
The West Indian will have no parades
Musicians, community choirs and brass bands can join the project in two different ways. They can record their performances of ‘No Parades’ by using the score and lyrics provided or use the song and accompanying information on the ‘Away from the Western Front’ website to inspire their own compositions and submit those. The project will produce a CD of the best performances, as well as promoting the performances through the website and social media.
The song has been written in several formats including mixed choir, solo voice with piano, male voice choir and brass band, and also has a version in the style of ‘Mento’, a forerunner of Calypso and Reggae. It forms the centrepiece of an exciting national music project which aims to highlight the often overlooked history of the wider First World War.
Robin Clutterbuck, the project’s National Coordinator said: “Colonial troops played a very big part in the campaigns away from the Western Front, in Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Mesopotamia (modern Iraq), East Africa and the Balkans. The experience of West Indian men was similar to that of Indians and black Africans, and for some led to feelings of anger and disappointment after the war due to the way they were treated once their assistance was no longer required”.
The music project is part of the major national ‘Away from the Western Front’ project, which aims to increase understanding of what made the conflict into a World War. Local and regional partners in Devon, Lancashire, Berkshire, Sussex and London are studying different aspects of the wider war. Local museums and National Trust properties in these areas are working with community groups, youth groups and schools with funding from the HLF grant to research the lives and stories of those who served in these far away campaigns. Those stories are being brought to life through engaging creative outputs, drama, film, art and music, specifically designed to raise public awareness of the First World War away from the Western Front.
The Sherwood Foresters in Dublin, Easter Week 1916
Nottingham Lakeside 7 October 2017
The Centre for Hidden Histories has provided financial support for a public engagement partnership examining the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916 and, in particular, the role of the 7th and 8th Reserve Battalion Sherwood Foresters. The battalion was mainly made up of young working-class men from Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.
The subject has been researched in some detail by Professor James Moran of the University of Nottingham’s School of English, and he has also forged the public engagement programme with Hall Park Academy, Eastwood. Jim Moran has worked on the project with Professor Fintan Cullen of the University’s Department of History of Art. Fintan is from Dublin.
The Sherwood Foresters who were sent to Dublin had little idea of what they were walking into, and the battalion suffered the greatest casualties of all the British regiments involved in the insurrection. The soldiers were also made to participate in the firing squads that executed the rebel leaders. Jim and Fintan have researched the story of what happened both during Easter week and immediately afterwards when they were moved to Galway. They used archival material to explore how, at the time of the rebellion, the Sherwood Foresters believed that they would be remembered.
Much of the research was embedded in a specially devised performance at Lakeside by year 10 students from Hall Park Academy in Eastwood. The intention was to recover the voices of the soldiers from Nottinghamshire, and the play used the words of the soldiers, their opponents, and Eastwood’s most celebrated son D.H. Lawrence who, the audience was reminded, was not a conscientious objector but was found (on three occasions) to be unfit to serve on the front line.
Jim Moran introduced the play, in order to set the scene for the performance. The Second Battalion of the Notts and Derbyshire Regiment, better known as the ‘Sherwood Foresters’, were the last of the 1914-1918 war volunteers. They went to war to defeat the Germans but soon found themselves in combat on the streets of Dublin. The Foresters arrived in the Irish capital on 26 April 1916. They marched from Kingstown port (now Dun Laoghaire) into the city. The battalion was divided into two. Two thousand troops were sent into the city along the tree-lined Northumberland Road, cheered on by many of the citizens of Dublin – although some of the soldiers appear to have thought they were in France and were surprised to be greeted by cheering crowds speaking in English rather than French!
Far from having an easy ride against what they had been assured was an ill-disciplined and poorly trained rebel force, they found themselves up against well organised fighters, and within hours of their arrival more than 220 Foresters had been killed or wounded by just 17 men of the Irish Volunteers.
The Foresters had received just 12 weeks training, and they were ill-prepared for combat; indeed, some of the men had not even learned to fire a rifle. Their machine guns and hand grenades had been left on the dockside in Liverpool. The British military leaders believed that a show of force would be enough to end the uprising. It was a serious miscalculation.
One of the officers leading the men was Nottingham barrister Christian “Freddie” Dietrichsen, a Captain in the regiment. Before the war, Dietrichsen – who was of Danish extraction, hence the surname – had married an Irish women, Beatrice Mitchell. They settled in Nottingham’s Park estate but with the outbreak of the war Freddie, fearing the possible impact of Zeppelin raids, sent his wife and children to Watford. Unbeknown to Freddie, Beatrice decided this was still too close to the action, and moved with her children to Dublin. They were among the crowd waving flags on Northumberland Avenue when Freddie marched past. He was surprised, because he thought they were in Watford, and they were surprised because they thought he was in France. The march into Dublin stopped briefly for Freddie to kiss his wife and children before carrying on. Shortly afterwards he was killed by a sniper’s bullet. In his jacket pocket were letters to him from his children, and a letter he had written but not sent, to his wife.
All of this was recounted in the Hall Park Academy’s performance at Lakeside, together with appropriate quotations from Lawrence. For the pupils, this was their first opportunity to perform on a public stage, for the parents it was an opportunity to be proud of their offspring, and for the Centre for Hidden Histories and Jim Moran it was an opportunity to find out more about a First World War event which the British army chose (presumably from embarrassment at having underestimated the Irish rebels) to play down. But, first and foremost, congratulations to the pupils of Hall Park Academy.
On 13th September 2017, I had the opportunity to visit Dr Andy Davies and Madeline Heneghan, from Liverpool based community organisation, Writing on the Wall to discuss their Centre for Hidden Histories funded project on the 1919 race riots. Andy, Madeline and their group of volunteers have undertaken a detailed spatial mapping project of the events and locations of individuals affected by the postwar riots.
This mapping has been achieved through researching a recently donated archive which includes a collection of documents pertaining to the plight of black servicemen, seafarers and workers in Liverpool in 1919. Based on this archive, the group have created a map of the events of the 1919 race riots using an ArcGIS software package available at the University of Liverpool. Volunteers on the 1919 race riots project include individuals who are local to Liverpool, some of whom have have participated in previous Writing on the Wall initiatives. Others are Geography students from the University of Liverpool. Of the unique inter-generational dynamic that characterises this group, Madeline commented, “it’s a really nice group. Previous participants in Writing on the Wall projects have knowledge about the archive and the period. The younger students were enthusiastic about discovering the archive material for the first time and brought their technical skills to bear on the project.” For Andy, whose research seeks to understand how Liverpool can be understood as a postcolonial city, this sense of co-production is central to his ethos as a researcher: “One of the things that I want my academic research to be is something that is not just me sat in a university writing stuff…It’s not like we’re the leaders of the research. A lot of the time people come up with ideas among themselves.”
Once completed the map will be posted on the ‘From Great War to Race Riots’ website. However, members of the public can experience the group’s research findings as part of a special event which is being held to coincide with Black History Month 2017. On 22 October, Andy, Madeline and the team will be leading a walking tour through the city of Liverpool which will explore the history and urban geography of the 1919 race riots. The event will end with a public lecture by David Olusoga, author of Black and British: A Forgotten History (2016). For full details of this event and to book tickets, please follow this eventbrite link.
Andy hopes that this project will act as a springboard for future research networks and projects which will consider the global impacts of the 1919 race riots.