The Centre for Hidden Histories is delighted to support a new project by Away from the Western Front, which has also attracted support from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the British Institute for the Study of Iraq (Gertrude Bell Memorial).
The project will explore the heritage of the men and women from Britain and its former Empire who served in the often overlooked campaigns of Salonika, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Mesopotamia and Africa.
The Western Front has remained the main focus for European commemoration of the First World War but the campaigns which took place away from the Western Front allow us to place the war in a global context, in which several empires grappled for world power and influence, leading to a major reorganisation of the international political situation in the years following the war. Britain’s part in this, its attempts to safeguard its place on the world stage and the consequences of this are as important as any European outcomes. A central aim of the ‘Away from the Western Front’ project will be to understand what made the conflict a World War.
Lyn Edmonds, a Trustee of the Away from the Western Front charity said: “Access to the heritage of the First World War away from the Western Front can be problematic for many people in this country. This is partly due to geography as the campaigns took place far away and partly due to subsequent histories in these areas, many of which underwent great social and political change after the First World War. This project is a great opportunity to improve public knowledge of these campaigns during the centenary period.”
The project will offer contrasting perspectives on the campaigns and provide fresh opportunities to engage with and learn about the common heritage of involvement in this global event. People from a very wide spectrum of communities were involved in the campaigns away from the Western Front, both fighting for and against the Allies and we will work with many of them in the project, including Iranian, Iraqi and Turkish communities in the UK.
Several local and regional partners have already been identified in Devon, Lancashire, Berkshire, Sussex and London. Local museums and National Trust properties in these areas will work with community groups, youth groups and schools with funding from the grant to research the lives and stories of those who served in these far away campaigns. Those stories will be 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.
On 21st and 22nd October, the Centre was very pleased to support a pair of events in partnership with Leeds City Museum. The events, which were held as part of Black History Month, were designed to examine histories and perspectives that are often overlooked.
On the Friday, a study day, entitled ‘Global Perspectives on World War One, was held at the museum. Papers were presented from a variety of speakers on a wide range of topics including how Black Soldiers and the wider African and Caribbean communities helped Britain during two World Wars, the life of Leeds Pal, Private Jogendra Sen, Chinese Perspectives on the Great War and female nurses’ relationships with non-white soldiers.
Staff from the National Archives, provided insights into the material that they hold on West Africa and South Asia and discussed the challenges of researching this area of the war and the value of examining the war through the themes loyalty and dissent.
On the Saturday, the museum opened its magnificent Broderick Hall for a community day called ‘Peoples’ Pathways: Soldiers from Overseas in World War One’. This event was largely performance-based, with music, spoken word and interactive talks.
Community historian Jahan Mahmood brought items from his travelling military museum and gave an illuminating talk on Muslim perspectives on the war. Russell Smith performed a monologue in character as Walter Tull, footballer and British Army officer and the event was rounded off with a beautiful performance of the World War One inspired Sacred Songs by Alchemy and SAA UK.
The topics were intentionally varied but nevertheless a few connecting themes emerged. One was the sheer range of stories that can be told about the war; so many that it’s possible to see the First World War not as one conflict, but many. It is important to reflect on these multiple ways of seeing history, not least because it confirms the value in having so many people take the time to explore the aspect of the war that most interests them.
Another theme to emerge was the depth of history required to even begin exploring the war. Most of the sessions examined histories with connections to the histories of empire and colonialism. Any thorough reflection of the global First World War must necessarily begin with the history of the European empires and the patterns of movement and control that developed way before 1914. So too is the history of Black and Asian people in Britain. This is also a long-term history and one that supports the view that the First World War is but a moment in a far longer set of stories about how people, willingly or otherwise, come together and find themselves sharing a common, albeit distinctive, histories.
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.
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.