An exhibition exploring some of the untold stories of the more than one million South Asian men who served during the First World War.
Royal Geographical Society
Saturday 5 November – Sunday 13 November
Monday to Friday 10.00am – 5.00pm
Saturdays and Sundays 10.00am – 4.00pm Free entry
Using previously unseen images, digital media, and individuals’ experiences uncovered from the archives, Far From the Western Front presents the First World War through the eyes of South Asian soldiers and non-combatants.
Following the stories of seven people across the globe, we are taken away from the Western Front to battlefields across the world; from Gallipoli to Mesopotamia; East Africa to the Suez Canal. Their experiences remind us that there was more to WW1 than the mud and trenches of Europe: instead, this exhibition astonishes visitors with the threat of lions on patrol, thirst in the 50 degree heat of the Sinai desert, and starvation at the Siege of Kut, during one of the Allies’ most significant military operations in the Middle East.
You cannot tell a single story about the experiences of the men of South Asia who enlisted during the First World War. Caste, community, geography, status, religion, ethnicity, role, age, and prior experience were all elements which shaped the way each of the 1.5 million men experienced the War (as they do all of our lives). Through the lives of a volunteer with the Bengali Ambulance Corps; the Maharajah who signed the peace treaty that concluded the war; and others, Far From the Western Front presents a diverse picture of the contribution of South Asians in WW1.
Far From the Western Front is created by volunteers from across London, including Indian, Pakistani and Nepali communities, and is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The exhibition examines how photography and historical bias have obscured the contribution of South Asians in the First World War, and seeks, through imagination, empathy and creativity, to fill in the gaps and tell their story.
Far From the Western Front has been supported by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. It is a partnership between the Asian Centre, the Pak Cultural Society, the Gurkha Veterans’ Foundation, Nanak Darbar and Collage Arts.
Yesterday I was fortunate to attend the ‘Voices of the Home Fronts’ conference at the National Archives in Kew. Convened by the ‘Everyday Lives in War’ Engagement Centre based at the University of Hertfordshire, Thursday’s programme featured a keynote lecture by Professor Adrian Gregory (Pembroke College, Oxford University) on consent and dissent among the British working classes during World War One. In a panel session that followed on Literature and Poetry, I saw Associate Professor Donna Coates (University of Calgary) give a fascinating introduction to the post-World War One Canadian national narrative of the Battle of Vimy Ridge and the efforts by recent Canadian novelists to problematize this image through a greater attendance to themes of ethnic diversity and gender. In other papers on the panel, Jeff Taylor tackled the ubiquitous presence of German spies in representations of World War One era East Anglia, Viv Newman analysed the war-time grief poetry of A.E. Grantham and Professor Andrew Jackson (Bishop Grossetest University) introduced the often over-looked rural war-time writings of Bernard Gilbert, a Lincolnshire poet. The second panel of the afternoon was equally interesting with Lucy Moore giving an overview of museums and galleries in Leeds during the war, Sonja Andrew introducing her textiles based responses to histories of conscientious objection and Lucie Whitmore discussing the emotional archaeology of First World War fashion. Dr Jim Beech concluded the session with his detailed analysis of British First World War soldier, Vince Schuerhoff and Schuerhoff’s experiences of military training in Britain before being deployed on the Front Line.
The conference concluded with an evening of talks which featured Professor Maggie Andrews (University of Worcester) and author and TV producer Richard van Emden. Emden spoke about The Quick and the Dead, his study of the impact of World War One on families who lost loved ones during the conflict. A conversation with Paul McGann ended the evening, featuring the actor’s reflections on meeting World War I veterans and making the controversial BBC series, The Monocled Mutineer (1986).
The Centre for Hidden Histories has been represented at the conference. ‘Beyond the Western Front’ speaker, Steve Lau spoke on Friday morning, Community Liaison Officer, Mike Noble chaired a session on Friday afternoon and Centre for Hidden Histories researchers Claudia Sternberg and David Stowe will be speaking on Saturday.
Community event explores why time stood still for over 1,000 Germans and Austrians in a Yorkshire village during the First World War
People from South Leeds, Rothwell, Lofthouse, Outwood and Wakefield are invited to discover what went on in the now vanished Lofthouse Park between 1900 and 1919. Historical documents and a guided neighbourhood walk will reveal why and how the park was turned from an aerodrome and place of popular entertainment to an internment and prisoner-of-war camp for German and Austrian civilians and officers in World War One.
Visitors to the event will be given the opportunity to find out about ‘enemy aliens’, individual internees, life in the camp and the odd escape, based on ongoing research of In the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time, a Centre for Hidden Histories funded project that brings together historians, descendants, residents, students and pupils from Britain and Germany.
The camp itself is not the only focus of the day, as project leader Claudia Sternberg (Legacies of War, University of Leeds) explains:
‘We will bring to life the experiences of Lofthouse Park Camp, but would like to know much more about the local communities at the time, whether they had dealings with the camp or not.
‘This Heritage Open Day is an opportunity for anyone to come and share knowledge, stories and documents relating to the local area in the first two decades of the 20th century. Perhaps people living around Park Avenue, Park Square and Park View or working for Peter Duffy Ltd. have even found objects that could be dated back to the time of the camp.’
The event is free and open to all. It will take place on Sunday, 11 September 2016, at Lofthouse Gate Working Men’s Club (12 Canal Lane, Lofthouse, Wakefield, WF3 3HN), from 11-16.00.
In addition to looking at documents on display and going on a walk led by independent historian David Stowe (11.30 and 14.00), visitors can try their hand at reconstructing Lofthouse Park Camp in a mapping workshop at 12.00. A short creative presentation by Heritage Corner’s Joe Williams and Leah Francis at 15.00 puts Lofthouse Park Camp in the wider context of civilian internment during the First World War, which affected tens of thousands of families in Britain, Germany and beyond.
The venue and guided walks are child-friendly and fully accessible. Pre-booking is only required for groups, but signing up for the walk on the day is appreciated. Children’s activities are offered throughout the day and refreshments are available.