Call for Papers: Beyond the Western Front -The Global First World War

Call for Papers: Beyond the Western Front -The Global First World War

The Centre for Hidden Histories is proud to announce a two day Conference and Community Showcase, entitled Beyond the Western Front: The Global First World War to take place at the Albert Hall Conference Centre, Nottingham, 1st and 2nd July 2016

Two young Belgian girls greet their father outside their home on his return from work, as their mother looks on from the doorway. Birtley-Elisabethville, Co. Durham, 1918. IWM Q 27746
Two young Belgian girls greet their father outside their home on his return from work, as their mother looks on from the doorway. Birtley-Elisabethville, Co. Durham, 1918. IWM Q 27746

Through a combination of academic papers, workshops and creative performances, this free conference will examine different understandings of the war and seek to provide a broader cosmopolitan context in which to place the British First World War orthodoxy. We seek representation from a variety of national, faith and other emerging communities whose histories are rarely considered, and for whom the traditional Armistice Day celebrations may have strikingly different meanings.

The existence of a First World War beyond the Western Front is a critical element of the Centre’s thematic interest and the conference would be intended to examine this in an open and discursive manner. We are actively seeking contributions from community groups and academic researchers.

It is hoped that the debates at the event will prompt further research and collaboration between academics and communities. Where possible, prompts to the AHRC Connected Communities, Care for the Future and Global Uncertainties themes will be made.

The conference will explore four major themes:

  1. The Lives of ‘Others’
    We are looking for contributions that examine the experiences of those whose war was fought outside the western trenches; at home and around the world. This embraces not only the combatant roles of Asian and African troops in European and non-European theatres but also the important contribution of labour. All the combatants enlisted labour for the myriad heavy duties to supply and maintain front lines. There are few monuments to labourers. The Great War was also a global war at sea, and a large number of merchant seamen were non-Europeans.
  1. The War as Global Revolution
    The war was one of the most significant moments of change in recent history. We want to examine the global impact of these changes, in the destruction of old orders, the raising of new ones and in the development of new ways of living. This raises the question of periodisation e.g. the ‘1914-18 war’ so often projected; or, in the language of the UK Allied Victory medal ‘The Great War for Civilisation 1914-1919’; but what of the perspective from other parts of the world, eg. Turkey – should it be 1911 to the Treaty of Lausanne 1923? What is rather obvious is that the Great War did not end with the ‘Armistice’ or with the Paris treaties, but turned to revolution with sustained violence and destruction on a large scale across a large part of the world.
  1. We Are Making a New World: The lives of those who survived
    In remembering the fallen, did we forget the even greater numbers who came home? We are interested in proposals that will examine the challenges faced by the men, women and children who lived into the peace. There were not many ‘memorials’ for those who survived the war, but there were memories and psychological damage on a large scale.
  1. Different Memorial Cultures
    With the war now lost to living memory, cultures of remembrance are the primary methods by which people engage with it. We are looking for contributions that illuminate and explore the very different cultures of remembrance across national, ethnic and social groups.


Potential topics include, but are not limited to:


  • The impact of defeat
  • The impact of victory
  • The questioning of religious belief as a result of war
  • From 1914 to When? The question of periodisation
  • ‘Enemy aliens’ and the impact of war on minority communities
  • The concept of the refugee from 1914 to the present day
  • Migration and resettlement
  • The First World War and the founding of nation states
  • War and the growth of the power of the State
  • Total war and attempts to retreat from this in the early 1920s.
  • Postwar independence movements
  • The First World War and the creation of the modern Middle East
  • The impact of continuity on British national attitudes
  • The First World War in the twenty first century
  • Unknown Warriors: the creation of mass memorials
  • Memorial traditions in different cultures and territories
  • The changing heroic ideal
  • War and the changed roles and positions of women, and not just in the industrial states.
  • Influenza, a pandemic and the single largest demographic disaster of the 20th century. To what extent the flu was a result of the war?


We invite proposals for workshops, 20-minute papers, performances, or posters. Other creative responses or discussion and debate formats will also be considered.

Persian man posing for a photograph. Note a truck with British troops in the background. The Service of the 9th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment in the Persian Campaign, 1918. IWM Q 73032
Persian man posing for a photograph. Note a truck with British troops in the background. The Service of the 9th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment in the Persian Campaign, 1918. IWM Q 73032

We accept applications from individuals, community groups and academic researchers from any discipline, with an interest in relevant topics. The Centre would particularly welcome proposals that involve collaborations between community groups and academics.

Please send a brief description of no more than 300 words outlining the topic you wish to share and your preferred format of presentation.

Submissions should be made to by 29th January 2016.

Informal enquiries welcome.


Investigating the Malaysian Sikhs in the First World War

In this guest post, Dr Narveen Kaur describes some of the research that she is conducting for the Centre for Hidden Histories.

blog 1Researching World War I is rather a difficult task involving the trawling through archival material and old newspapers. In my work with the Centre of Hidden Histories, I want to uncover the family histories of soldiers involved in the War effort, specifically the participation of the Malay State Guides in the Aden Field Forces from 1915 to 1919. The Hidden Histories project aims to fill a gap in memories and as the focus on Malaysian Sikh participation in World War I emphasizes the Ghadr movement and the resulting Singapore Mutiny prior to the troop transfers in 1915, there is comparatively little on their experiences during the war. The work to date has been a challenge, in identifying families and trying to source primary material. In the Malaysian Archives, the files are restricted and require government permission while the Japanese Occupation of World War II in Malaysia meant the destruction and loss of significant chunks of material history including the regimental colours and silver.

Entering the active data collection phase of research for my project, I wanted to start blogging a bit on the experiences of collecting family memories and working with enthusiastic and passionate citizen historians. In this first blog post, I would like to put in perspective the service of this unit. As described in a newspaper article, the Malay State Guides entered the war effort in 1919, with a force of approximately 1000 men. This unit received a number of recognitions in medals and orders of merit. A complete list may be found here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADuring the course of my research, I spoke with one woman, who has devoted time and effort to research on her father and his participation in the Malay State Guides, his service in Aden and later his work within the Police forces. Her father was one of the approximately five hundred soldiers who returned from Aden.




The efforts of citizen historians help to keep the artefacts and histories of these soldiers alive yet the lack of research methods knowledge impedes their work. I hope to contribute to their efforts by organising a road show in Kuala Lumpur this July. Hopefully, efforts such as this will offer the opportunity to disseminate the knowledge needed to preserve the valour and bravery of the Malay State Guides and expand our understanding of the Malaysian Sikh diaspora and their engagement with the forces of empire, pushing back against the politics of remembrance within the Malaysian national narrative that results in the loss of cultural knowledge and history. A recent investigation of cenotaphs in Malaysia demonstrated this slow erasure, where the World War I memorial that stands outside the railway station in Ipoh holds only the names of the British fallen soldiers.

Exhibition: 400 Years of Caribbean Contribution to British Heritage and Culture

Screenshot 2015-05-22 14.28.01“Nothing beats stronger than the heart of a volunteer”

The Why Are West Indians (WAWI) Project has announced the launch of their 400 Years exhibition in Solihull.

The exhibition, which runs from the 1st June to the 31st July, aims to provide an insight into why thousands of volunteers from the British-speaking West Indies answered Britain’s call in defence of her Empire.

Their timeline covers: The Napoleonic Wars, the First World War and World War Two, Women at War and the Home Front, concluding with the Poppy and its relevance to all communities.

Venue details:

Solihull Central Library,
Homer Road,
B91 3RG (Near Touchwood Shopping Centre)
The exhibition is free to enter. Opening times are:

Monday & Thursday 9AM – 3PM
Tuesday & Friday 9AM – 6PM
Wednesday 10AM – 6PM
Saturday 9AM – 5PM

Public Talk: British Public Parks and the First World War: Recovering a Hidden History of the Home Front

War graves and memorial in Nottingham Road Cemetery, Derby
War graves and memorial in Nottingham Road Cemetery, Derby

The Centre for Hidden Histories is proud to present a public talk on the subject of British Public Parks and the First World War. Professor Paul Elliott, of the University of Derby, will give the talk at Derby Quad on Wednesday 27th May at 7pm. Here, Professor Elliott introduces some of the themes that he will cover in his talk.

On 16 December 1914 German shells thudded into Scarborough from the sea, aimed at a Naval Wireless Station at the top of Falsgrave Park. In all, the bombardment killed 17 people including a 14 month old child who had been in Westbourne Park. Apart from this highly unusual episode in the home front context, public parks were rarely, of course, the targets of German bombs, although perhaps they ought to have been, as they were playing their role in the war effort.

Public reaction to the conflict changed over the course of the war, with propaganda and rumour fostering patriotism and hatred of the enemy whilst the ethic of volunteerism and the rhetoric of sacrifice were prominent in debates over where the burdens of war should fall and documented in public discourse, as well as the influence of religious ideas. As the war drew to a climax, tensions about the distribution of sacrifices threatened to tear society apart, whilst victory and the processes of commemoration helped create a fiction of a society united in grief.

Memorial tablet in Derby CathedralThis talk will argue that public parks were caught up in some of these reactions and ambiguities, and were utilised both in support of the war effort in various ways and also sometimes as places where resistance to the war and its consequences occurred. The recruitment of hundreds of thousands of men for the armed forces, food shortages and rationing, the assumption of male work roles by numerous women, all impacted upon urban parks and green spaces. As we shall see, public parks in Derby and other places were requisitioned for various purposes including military (such as anti- Zeppelin and aircraft guns), defensive, governmental, medical and for food production, particularly after the Defence of the Realm Act or (DORA) was passed. They also played an important role in maintaining morale when some other forms of recreation were curtailed such as organised sports like football and rugby. At the same time, parks were places where civilian and military populations on leave or recuperating could temporarily escape from some of the demands of war and even resist authority. On occasion they served as venues for anti-war and pacifist meetings and demonstrations too.

The event is free but spaces are limited so if you are interested in attending, please let us know by emailing