Author Archives: zd30

Back to Blighty: The Medical Front in Tunbridge Wells

Emma Purce, University of Kent 

This year, in conjunction with the Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery, a number of postgraduate students from the School of History have been co-curating an exhibition to commemorate the centenary of the First World War. ‘Back to Blighty: The Medical Front in Tunbridge Wells’ focuses on the healing of wounded soldiers in Tunbridge Wells, with particular reference to the use of various local stately homes as auxiliary hospitals and places of convalescence for wounded servicemen. The project has involved archival research to find personal testimonies from the soldiers and nurses who were recovering and working in Kent throughout the First World War, in the hope of linking these individual stories to the stately homes local to Tunbridge Wells.

Undertaking research at the Tunbridge Wells Museum

Undertaking research with Tunbridge Wells Museum staff Jeremy Kimmel and Elizabeth Douglas.

Following the completion of the archival research, there was an opportunity to think creatively about the way the exhibition should look. This included discussions about the housing of a number of interesting artefacts, which depict some of the ways that the successful healing of wounded soldiers was accomplished at Tunbridge Wells. Examples of the potential exhibits considered, included: the X-Ray of an arm shattered by a bullet wound, a soldiers medical kit, and a V.A.D nurses uniform, as well as a wide variety of photographs of men who were recovering from the injuries sustained at war. The exhibition, therefore, tracks the journey of the wounded soldier from injury on the battlefield and the immediate medical attention they received, to their return to England and the beginning of their journey to recovery. The exhibition will open on Friday 25th July 2014 and runs until January 2015.  

School of History postgraduates involved in the Tunbridge Wells project: Emily Bartlett, Emma Purce, Paul Ketley and Jack Davies

School of History postgraduates involved in the Tunbridge Wells project: Emily Bartlett, Emma Purce, Paul Ketley and Jack Davies



War: An Emotional History. British Academy Conference, London, 9-11 July 2014

Lucy Noakes, one of the Co-Investigators of the ‘Gateways ‘ project and Reader in History at the University of Brighton, was co-convenor of the recent conference War: An Emotional History held at the British Academy in London from 9-11 July 2014.

Conference convenors (l to r)Clare Langhamer, Lucy Noakes and Claudia Siebrecht.

Conference convenors (l to r) Professor Claire Langhamer, Dr Lucy Noakes and  Dr Claudia Siebrecht.

The conference bought together historians from around the world to consider the ways that ‘emotional history’ can help us understand the experience and legacies of warfare across a range of different places and times.  Papers given ranged, chronologically, from investigating the emotional history of the religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries in the Netherlands and the 1641 Portadown Massacre to a discussion of the multiple legacies of the Greek Civil War and the Northern Ireland conflict. Keynote addresses from Professor Ute Frevert, of the Max Planck Institute, Berlin, and Professor Martin Francis, of the University of Cincinnatti, examined, respectively, honour, shame and sacrifice in First World War Germany, and the relationship between private lives and public diplomacy in Second World War Cairo.

There was a wealth of discussion of the two world wars of the 20th century, with a variety of papers exploring the emotional history of the First World War.  The conference offered an opportunity to engage with work being carried out on the ongoing legacies of this conflict across the globe: these included Professor Christa Hämmerle talking about her research on love letters in Austria and Germany in the two world wars, Dr Claudia Siebrecht discussing patriotic, religious and maternal love in First World War Germany, Professor Michael Roper debating the impact of the First World War on families and Professor Joy Damousi considering the transnational impact of grief on families during and after the war.

Professor Jay Winter

Professor Jay Winter

A highlight of the conference was Professor Jay Winter’s (Yale) public lecture on shell shock and the emotional history of the First World War. Professor Winter made a compelling case for the under reporting of shell shock cases, arguing that current estimates of the 2-4% of men suffering from the condition during and after the war could, in fact, be increased tenfold.  Professor Winter’s talk can be viewed via this link:

Plans are afoot for the publication of a collection of the talks given at the conference, and details will be posted here once a final decision is made on this.

Photos reproduced with permission from the British Academy.

Volunteering on the Centenary Commemorations Project at Canterbury Cathedral

Ruben Rees, School of History, University of Kent

Following a call for volunteers sent out to the University of Kent by the Archivist at Canterbury Cathedral, work began on preparing a First World War Centenary Commemoration display for open evenings at the Beaney Museum and the Nave of the Cathedral. The research began with a selection of material held in the Cathedral Archives which consisted mainly of wartime letters and some objects. There was also some existing research available specifically on HMS Kent that had been compiled by other volunteers at the Archives.


Canterbury Cathedral Library and Archives. This was the centre for the project and was where much of the research took place.

HMS Kent

HMS Kent. The ships involvement in the Battle of the Falkland Islands in 1914 was the main focus of the naval research.

The project from the off had a specific focus on local history and telling the ‘Soldiers’ stories’. It was decided that the research should cover the local area’s contribution to the war, with reference to the local Regiments, Pilots, Sailors and Civilians. As such, the challenge lay in searching the records for a range of local stories that encapsulated the whole war as much as possible.

The research revealed that Mick Mannock and James McCudden – two of the most notable ‘air aces’ of the war – were local to Canterbury and Kent. This provided a great start to the project. Also available was a paper on HMS Kent, which had already been the subject of research in relation to its role in the Battle of the Falkland Islands. The biggest challenge was the local Regiments, which certainly proved to be the most difficult part of the project. After sifting through casualty records and cross referencing names, dates and events, some little known stories were unearthed which – it is hoped – will enable the public to gain a better insight into the lives of the men of Kent during the First World War.


Members of B Coy, the Kent Cyclist Battalion pose in Castle Street, Canterbury in 1914. They would be sent to India in 1916 as a dismounted infantry battalion.


Major Edward “Mick” Mannock was discovered with thanks to the Canterbury Historical and Archaeological Society (CHAS), ‘Canterbury’s very own Red Baron’.

Finally the civilian organisations – the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) Hospitals and Canterbury War Work Depot – were brought in to give a wider view of the war effort at home and abroad. Research was also undertaken into ‘memorial and commemoration’ in Canterbury.

war memorial

The unveiling of the East Kent Yeomanry Memorial, High Street, Canterbury, October 1922.

The research has now been formatted into display boards and is in production. It is hoped that the display will be showcased, along with objects from the Archives, in the Cathedral in early October and will help inform the public of the local history prior to the main commemorative events the following month.

From start to finish the project has been of great benefit to the volunteers involved and has given the students of History a chance to take part in a research project in the historical sector during a very poignant point in the commemorations of the First World War. This experience will be of great benefit in the future.

Ruben Rees is a War Studies student at the University of Kent, about to begin the final year of his undergraduate degree.

Images courtesy of Canterbury Cathedral Archives.

AHRC Connected Communities Festival, 2-3 July 2014

The AHRC’s Connected Communities Festival held in Cardiff  at the start of July provided a welcome opportunity for members of all five of the AHRC’s First World War engagement centres to get together and talk about our various projects, both with each other, and with members of the public. Helen Brooks was there representing the Gateways Centre and over two days, at the Motorpoint in the heart of Cardiff, had the opportunity to talk about the First World War with a diversity of people, as well as to have stimulating discussions with people from other AHRC-funded projects.

Connected Communities 2      Connected Communities 1

As part of the event, the centres were asked to put together a collaborative workshop which, it was decided, would focus on two key themes which overlap all the centres: cultures of commemoration; and theatre about, and during, the war. The workshop was well attended, despite the difficulties in transport, and finding the room we were in! And audiences had a chance to hear about a range of work taking place across the centres. Ian Grosvenor, from Voices of War and Peace, screened a video reflecting on work undertaken with local schools, whilst Jonathan Coope and Paul Elliott from the Centre for Hidden Histories shared some of their findings of their Green Spaces project which looked at parks in Nottingham during the war. In the section on ‘Performing the First World War’ Andrew Maunder, from Everyday Lives in War, talked about a recent staging of J.M. Barrie’s A Well Remembered Voice at Hertfordshire, raising questions about how drama can shed light on people’s experiences and attitudes during the war. In an interesting contrast, focusing on new drama created from local First World War material, Brenda Winter-Palmer from Living Legacies 1914-1918 discussed the process involved in making her recent play The Medal in the Drawer, and it’s connection to her own experience of researching her grandfather’s role in the Great War. Highlighting the importance of theatre in upcoming commemorative projects, Dr Winter-Palmer pointed to drama’s unique ability to allow divergent opinions and perspectives to be voiced simultaneously, a theme which Gateways will be developing further in our upcoming collaborative events with the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury.

Covering a diversity of projects, the workshop provided a welcome opportunity to discuss how the centres can engage with the complex and contested legacies of the war when working with local communities. A key theme which arose was the importance of questioning myths of the war, and allowing for a range of historic experiences and attitudes to be reflected in commemorative activities.  Some excellent questions from audience members provided stimulating discussion around these topics, making for a very engaging event.

Lest We Forget Project, Portsmouth

Gateways is helping the people of Portsmouth research and uncover the stories of those who took part in the First World War at the front and at home in an Exhibition which will run from the 19 July 2014 to 25 January 2015.

Portsmouth City Museum, in partnership with the University of Portsmouth, was awarded £97,000 by the Heritage Lottery Fund for the Lest We Forget project which encourages community groups, families and individuals to contribute to the exhibition.

Dr Brad Beaven preparing the Lest We Forget exhibition

Dr Brad Beaven preparing artefacts for display in the Lest We Forget exhibition

The starting point for Lest We Forget was the museum and archive collections which hold First World War material relating to over 200 individuals who experienced war at the front or at home. Dr Brad Beaven, a Gateways Co-Investigator and guest curator of the exhibition, explained how the project evolved. ‘Work for the exhibition began earlier in the year when we put a call out to community groups and schools for help in researching the individuals and objects in the collection. The response has been fantastic and we have a really impressive level of community engagement from researching timelines to choirs singing war songs for our “sound showers” in the exhibition’.

Visitors to the exhibition are also encouraged to get involved. ‘Research hubs’ have been set-up in the exhibition to allow people to research names of individuals and objects in the collection. Dr Beaven commented that ‘with over 200 names in the exhibition we have gaps in our knowledge and we’d encourage visitors to add to our growing collection of personal stories’.

How You Can Get Involved

Add details of your ancestors to the Tale of One City Community History website.

Add details of your World War One projects to the Community history website under the topics and places sections.

Please do let us know if you are working on a local community history or schools project relating to the First World War – we can list your project on the web site. We are also working directly working with some community groups to support their projects.

The project coordinator would be pleased to visit your group to tell your more about the project. Let us know if you are interested.

The Loneliness of Thiepval

Professor Mark Connelly, University of Kent

Thiepval on the heights above the River Ancre was once a thriving village centred on a handsome chateau. As with countless other places in France and Belgium, it was destined to be utterly devastated by the war. During the course of the huge Battle of the Somme, Thiepval was reduced to nothing. Its commanding position sealed its fate for the Germans quickly saw that it was a strong defensive position capable of dominating the surrounding country. Inevitably, the British had to capture it before their forces could advance elsewhere. The attack on 1 July 1916 was a failure made more tragic by the fact that the men of the 36 Ulster Division achieved a stunning advance on its outlying boundary. Unable to maintain their toehold due to the failures on their flanks, these brave Irishmen had been forced to concede all their gains and return to their original positions. Thiepval then remained stubbornly beyond the hands of the British and it was gradually obliterated. Edmund Blunden witnessed Thiepval’s destruction and lamented its fate in his poem Premature Rejoicing, which was elegiac, wistful and ironic in turn:

What’s that over there?

Thiepval Wood.

Take a steady look at it; it’ll do you good.

Here, these glasses will help you. See any flowers?

There sleeps Titania (correct – the Wood is ours);

There sleeps Titania in a deep dug-out….

After much careful preparation, the British finally captured the village in a well-executed, but hardly bloodless, assault in September. However, this did not mark the end of the war for Thiepval, for it was fought over twice more in 1918 first during the great German advance in April and then for the last time when the British passed back through it in August.

As in other places, at the war’s end the people of the Somme region returned to their former homes and commenced the slow, grinding process of rebuilding and healing the scars of war on the landscape. But, for Thiepval there was to be no return to its pre-war condition. What had made the village an ideal defensive position now became its irredeemable weakness. Stranded on high ground a long way from the main Albert-Bapaume road, it lay inaccessible and isolated. In a region crying out for building materials and builders, Thiepval was a low priority as other, easier to reconstruct places swallowed attention and effort. Only slowly were roads rebuilt to the devastated village, but it had missed its moment. Thiepval shrunk massively from its pre-war size and although a non-descript red brick church, so typical of those that mark the Somme region, was rebuilt, it lacked a soul and a centre and became a hamlet containing a handful of houses and farm buildings.

Why then did the British choose this spot to erect their main memorial on the Somme? Everyone involved with the Imperial War Graves Commission knew that the Somme would have to be marked by some great memorial, and it would have to be in a prominent position. Sir Edwin Lutyens commenced work on designing a suitable memorial to commemorate the 70,000 missing on the Somme up to the spring of 1918 (a separate memorial was designed for those lost in the final stages of the war and was eventually incorporated into the cemetery at Pozières). With his plans complete, it was now necessary to allocate an appropriate location. Lutyens had wished it to be on the Albert-Bapaume road or on the outskirts of St. Quentin. In both cases the memorial would have taken on a similar function to the Menin Gate, as it would have been a daily reminder of British and Imperial sacrifice to all local people going about their lives. It was this very aspect which caused a problem. Concerned that too many large British memorials were being erected across France, which might give people the impression that the British effort had somehow outshone that of the French army, the French authorities were increasingly sensitive to requests for land. Unable to place the memorial in the heart of the Somme community, Lutyens and the Imperial War Graves Commission looked for an alternative site. As the highest point on the Somme battlefield, Thiepval was perfect for it meant that the towering memorial would be visible for miles around, particularly in a landscape still denuded of trees.

Work commenced on the memorial in 1929, and proved a complex task for it required the making of thousands of bricks and the movement of much heavy materials. After three years, the work was complete and it was unveiled by the Prince of Wales in July 1932. Unfortunately, unlike the Menin Gate, Lutyens’s architectural masterpiece has never gained the iconic status of Blomfield’s work in Ypres. The reasons are probably two-fold and involve the emotional and the severely practical. To start with the practical, it is harder to reach Thiepval in every way. In the 1930s a visitor would have to take a train to Amiens or Arras and then change to the branch line to Albert. Once in Albert, a visitor would have to take a bus or taxi to the site. Even then, most buses would have gone along the Bapaume road, leaving the visitor with a stiff walk from Pozières. Once at Thiepval the visitor would have found little to hold her or his attention. There was a café in the 1930s run by a British ex-serviceman, which would no doubt have been a welcome stop, but there was very little else to restore the flagging visitor. By contrast, Ypres was a short rail journey from the coast. Once at Ypres station it was a short walk into the heart of the city where there were bars and cafes aplenty, and, of course, there was the attraction of the Last Post ceremony. Then there is the issue of the emotions. Unlike the familiar neo-classicism and ornate decoration of the Menin Gate, Lutyens set the visitor an emotional and intellectual puzzle. As you first approach the Thiepval Memorial its strange ziggurat pyramid form, refashioned into an arch, hits the eye. It has a remarkably complex geometry and scale with each of the arches being two and a half with the largest central arch having a span of thirty-five feet. All of which means that on first glance the memorial appears to lack neat proportion and the brain and eye are slightly confused, and then there is the inscription which simply says, ‘The Missing of the Somme’. Rather than the affirming ‘Pro Rege’ and ‘Pro Patria’ of the Menin Gate, Lutyens makes the visitor think about the enormity of the losses. The visitor is forced to contemplate what caused such tragedy in sobering, sombre terms. Little wonder it often leaves people marvelling, but perhaps slightly confused and disturbed, too.

The Thiepval Memorial.

The Thiepval Memorial.

From the moment I first saw it in July 1986 I have been overwhelmed and awed by the Thiepval memorial and its strange, haunting, ethereally majestic brooding effect. The brooding nature affects the stillness and quietness of Thiepval, and it can feel very, very lonely particularly on grey winter days when wind and rain buffet. The Somme trees may have grown back, but Thiepval can still feel extremely exposed and somewhat forbidding. Having taken many visitors to the memorial over the years, I have been struck by how often they return back to the road looking slightly quizzical, slightly cowed, slightly scared even. And it is then that the loneliness of Thiepval, the agony that it has suffered, the dreadful fact that 70,000 men were not simply killed but obliterated, really hits me. Lutyens’ brilliant genius combined with location provided a fitting tribute. As an architect for an imperial agency, Lutyens asks us to consider carefully the cost of war to a mighty empire. Doing so in the loneliness of Thiepval is sobering indeed.


Ypres: the game of ghosts

Professor Mark Connelly, University of Kent

I first visited Ypres on a cold, wet day in the spring of 1987. I remember the Grote Markt and the Cloth Hall with its colonnade along its eastern face. My memory also brings back a sense of emptiness. In my mind’s eye the Grote Markt was completely empty. My recall is of no cars parked, no buses moving around it, just a massive space shiny wet in the drizzle. I returned in mid-July, and again my memory is of a quiet, sleepy little place. I remember walking up to the Menin Gate and on the corner of the road opposite its great east portico were very ordinary, non-descript little shops. I think one was a grocer or maybe a butcher’s. Of course, the timing of my visit was very interesting for it was in the immediate run-up to the seventieth anniversary of the opening of the Third Battle of Ypres. Yet, there was little sign that anything in particular was being planned. I can’t remember any notices giving details of special events or parades. All seemed immensely low-key. This is not to say that the people of Ypres were indifferent to the war and the impending anniversary, far from it. Anyone who has ever visited the city will know that at 8pm every evening buglers sound the Last Post under the great barrel vault of the Menin Gate, or the Hall of Memory as its designer, Sir Reginald Blomfield, so poignantly labelled it. It is a simple, but deeply moving act of respectful commemoration. No, the point I am making is that although the swelling tide of the Great War renaissance was well under way, it had not yet brought vast numbers of British people, especially school groups, on visits.

The Menin Gate, Ypres

The Menin Gate, Ypres

It was a few years before I visited Ypres again – probably five or six, in fact. On my return I was shocked. The Meninlaan was now a road of smart boutiques and shops. The Grote Markt was much busier and there was a car parking system in place. Going to the Last Post ceremony was no longer a case of turning up relatively late on and picking a good spot, but one that required arrival at least fifteen minutes before hand. Since then I have visited Ypres with increasing frequency, and so am part of the phenomenon in which British, and Commonwealth, particularly Australians, Canadians and New Zealanders, visitors have flooded into the city to see the gate, stand choked with emotion at the Last Post ceremony, visit the museum in the Cloth Hall… and buy chocolate tin helmets, drink the wonderful local beers and eat the equally great mussels and chips. The number of visitors now means even more careful timing for the Last Post ceremony. To stand any chance of getting a good view, arrival has to be at least 45 minutes before. Wreath-laying by a group, be it a school, British Legion party or regimental association, now occurs almost daily, and the summer months can be packed solid. As for visiting on Armistice Day, especially if it falls on the weekend, a visitor could well fail to get a view of the Menin Gate at all being forced to take up a place somewhere near the Grote Markt.

Yet, what are we all there for? What brought us to this charming, friendly West Flanders city? Trying to determine what motivates each and every visitor is, clearly, impossible. However, a few broad-brush suggestions can be made. One of the huge advantages and outcomes of digital communication is the availability of information and records. In turn, this has made genealogy much easier, and given the very bureaucratic procedures of the armed forces, we are all much more likely to find a family member who once performed some sort of military service. Then, given the ubiquity of Ypres in the British military experience of the Great War, it is hardly surprising that many people find out that their relative served, and possibly died, in the salient. Next comes the mystical appeal of the Great War itself. What has given it such a grip on our imaginations? Perhaps it is something to do with envy? In our world of cynicism, information coming at us from all angles bearing many different, often contradictory, messages at once, the men who went off to war in 1914 are bathed in a glorious light of certainty. No matter what became of them later, our hearts tell us that they signed up because they believed totally and utterly in the cause. Unconditional belief in a cause: how wonderful that seems. We also have the bitter-sweet sensations of power through knowledge of their fate which we often translate into a journey starting in innocence but often ending in brutal experience. We can pity them, and that gives power, but also makes us feel strangely powerless. If only we had a time machine, we could go back and warn them, tell them what we know and how they might avoid their fate. But we don’t, and so desperately feel the need to do something. We can go to where they served, suffered and perhaps died. We can stand there and conjure up some kind of communion with them. This is clearly an emotional journey with very little hard-headed, rational thinking about it, but emotions are powerful motivators and the visit to Ypres is often seen as the way of assuaging, or even exorcising, them.

Although I am professional historian in the wondrously privileged position of being paid to research and teach about the past, when I go to Ypres I definitely feel its emotional pull and it often crashes right through other bits of my thinking and feeling. By the same token, my obsession with the city itself, as opposed to the former battlefields beyond it, is not so much its wartime state as what happened to it from the end of the war and up to 1939. I am fascinated by how the local people returned to this shattered city and started rebuilding their houses, businesses, occupations and lives. I am fascinated by the fact that they lived in little wooden prefabricated bungalows. I am fascinated by the fact that almost instantly a tourist industry grew up and people started visiting the ruins and battlefields. When I go to Ypres I am desperate to find signs of them; to think about the kinds of places they would have visited, the people they would have met, the souvenirs they bought, the memories they brought home with them. I want to know more about the British people who decided to make Ypres their own home. By the mid-1920s there were enough of them to necessitate the building of a school, and for visitors to notice the existence of a permanent British community. It is for this reason that I am delighted to be writing a book that will explore these very ideas and questions. Ypres gets under the skin alright, but how much of that is because of what we impose on it by what is in our head and how much is because of real ghost inherent in the very fabric of the place, I really don’t know.

Read more about the Menin Gate and other war memorials at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website:



Step Short and Folkestone and the First World War Project

Dr Will Butler, University of Kent

Over the past eight months, I have been working as the project manager and lead researcher for an exhibition at the Step Short premises in Folkestone, and a self-guided walking tour app of the town, taking in sights that were of significance during the First World War.

Aerial shot of Harbour (2)

Aerial view of wartime Folkestone

The idea of the project was to provide a very local perspective of the war, and how it affected its local population. Throughout the war, Folkestone acted as one of the main thoroughfares for a plethora of different nationalities, those either escaping the European mainland, or making their way to it. Much is known of the Belgian refugees, and British, Canadian, and American soldiers who stayed and passed through Folkestone, but it is important to tell the story of those left behind: how the changing makeup of the town influenced its people, how they lived and worked, and how the town itself was altered during over four years of conflict.

Belgium Refugees-inner harbour

Belgian Refugees in Folkestone

Naturally, Folkestone, “The Queen of the South Coast” as one handbook described it, as one of the most popular seaside resorts in Edwardian Britain, was used to an influx of people, especially during the summer months. Therefore, the rapid change in the demographic of the town was less of a culture shock than it may have been in other towns. There were few problems between the townspeople and its visitors, but this does not mean that there were no issues at all. Friction existed between soldiers and shopkeepers when high prices were charged; petty crime increased; prostitution became a real concern; and a whole host of regulations that restricted movement took its toll on how the town worked.

The relations, however, were, on the whole, harmonious. All concerned appeared to benefit from the arrangement- the town provided the soldiers and refugees with a comfortable environment to stay, and in turn, the inhabitants were afforded economic stability, and a whole host of entertainment opportunities, from musical performances to sporting events (Baseball had even been introduced to the town by 1918).

The exhibition will provide information and visual material to illustrate some of these changes and relationships, acting as a starting point for those interested in the history of Folkestone, and those with a wider interest in the home front, or the war in general. Additionally, the self-guided tour will demonstrate, through photographs and written information, how many locations were transformed by the war, and how they have changed subsequently. This culminates with a walk along the Leas to the newly erected Memorial Arch, which commemorates all those who passed through the town on their way to the front, or on their way home.

Launch of Gateways to the First World War, Friday 30th May 2014

Last week saw the launch of Gateways to the First World War, one of five AHRC-funded centres designed to enhance public engagement and mark the centenary of the conflict. Gateways is based at the University of Kent and brings together a team of researchers from the Universities of Portsmouth, Brighton, Greenwich, Leeds and Queen Mary, London. The launch was part of a First World War Study day organised by the University of Kent’s German Department. The event was opened by Professor John Baldock, the University of Kent’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor Research, who expressed the university’s pleasure in hosting the Centre and introduced an afternoon of debate and discussion on the First World War and its commemoration.

conference2 conference1    

Dominiek Dendooven, Dr Suzanne Bardgett, His Excellency Dr Emil Brix and Dr Deborah Holmes discuss how and why we should commemorate the First World War

One of the highlights of the event was a panel discussion on the commemoration of the First World War chaired by the event’s organiser Dr Deborah Holmes, of the German Department, and featuring Dr Emil Brix, Austria’s Ambassador to the UK, Dr Suzanne Bardgett, the Imperial War Museum’s Director of Research, and Dominiek Dendooven of In Flanders Fields Museum, Belgium. The panel led a fascinating discussion of both the problems and benefits of commemorating an event often complicated by ‘contested memories’. Dr Brix expressed his belief in the importance of European collaboration in the commemoration of the war, and Mr Dendooven discussed the ways in which the Flanders Field Museum is attempting to overcome national boundaries through exhibitions focused on individual war experiences. Dr Bardgett outlined some of the exciting centenary projects supported by the Imperial War Museum, including Lives of the First World War, the First World War Partnership, and Whose Remembrance?, the IWM’s project to investigate the role of colonial troops in the conflict. The discussion reinforced one of the key aims of the Gateways project: to encourage academics and the wider public to work together to discover connections between the local and the global during the First World War. As Gateways’ Director Professor Mark Connelly stated, the conflict was, for Kent and the South East in particular, a ‘global event with global repercussions’ which took place ‘on the doorstep’.


Gateways Director Professor Mark Connelly with His Excellency Dr Emil Brix, Dr Deborah Holmes and Dr Heide Kunzelmann

The panel discussion was followed by an illustrated lecture by Professor Connelly and Dr Heide Kunzelmann, of the German Department, presenting photographs taken of troop mobilisation and prisoners of war in 1914 by Dr Kunzelmann’s great-grandfather, a medical officer in the Habsburg Army. Comparing these newly discovered sources to photographs taken by British officers in 1914, the pair talked about the connections between the personal and the public, and the similarities between artefacts of the First World War from different sides of the conflict. Through their discussion of the photographs – which focused on the themes of mobilization, violence, vulnerability and reconstruction – they emphasised the importance of revisiting accepted and established approaches to the conflict.

img023 img017 Photographs taken by Dr Friedrich Kunzelmann in 1914

The event ended with a drinks reception and official launch of the Gateways to the First World War Centre. Professor Connelly and Dr Will Butler outlined some of the centenary projects already underway, including a collaboration with Step Short of Folkestone on an app tour highlighting the town’s connections to the conflict, and guests were shown the newly-launched Gateways website. After a successful opening event, the Gateways team is now looking forward to developing its work with local groups and organisations on a range of First World War projects across the UK. The Centre aims to encourage and support public interest in the conflict through a range of events and activities such as open days and study days, providing access to materials and expertise, and signposting for other resources and forms of support. Forthcoming events include:

19th July 2014 – 25th January 2015 – ‘Lest We Forget’, an exhibition in conjunction with Portsmouth City Council

13th September 2014 – A Family History Day at Brighton Museum in conjunction with Brighton Museums and Pavilion

28th September 2014 – Gateways to the First World War Public Open Day, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

12th December 2014 – ‘Representations of the Christmas Truce’, a one day symposium at the University of Kent

More details of these and many other projects can be found on the Gateways website at The Gateways team can be contacted at and via Twitter and Facebook.