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An Easter Truce, 1916

Gateways’ Dr Emma Hanna discusses Easter in the trenches in her latest blogpost.

As we approach Easter I’m sure I’m not the only person wondering how the festival was celebrated by the troops during the First World War. A fascinating glimpse into French army life can be provided by one of their many trench newspapers – Le Pépère — Journal Gai du 359ème Régiment d’Infanterie (Merry Newspaper of the 359th Infantry Regiment). The first issue dates from April 21, 1916, two days before Easter. The front-page feature is “Les Oeufs de Pàques” (Easter Eggs) which lists the regiment’s officers next to what each should ideally receive in his oeuf, drawing on a French Easter tradition of exchanging confectionary eggs containing surprise gifts. As with some of the British trench newspapers, such as the Wipers Times, missing letters have been replaced with punctuation marks, perhaps due to a shortage of letters in the print.

Le Pépère — Journal Gai du 359ème Régiment d'Infanterie, 21 April 1916

Le Pépère — Journal Gai du 359ème Régiment d’Infanterie, 21 April 1916

The Imperial War Museum has a photograph of German troops celebrating Easter in their dugout in the Champagne, 8 April 1917. The phrase “Happy Easter – Frohliche Ostern” can be seen written on the door.

©German troops celebrating Easter in their dugout in the Champagne, 8 April 1917

© IWM (Q 61040). German troops celebrating Easter in their dugout in the Champagne, 8 April 1917

For Russian troops the Easter festival was of greater importance than Christmas. Therefore this is a particularly fitting time to dig out the testimony of someone who witnessed an Easter truce on the Eastern Front in 1916. Friedrich Kohn was serving as a medical officer with a Hungarian regiment in Galicia, where Russian and Austro-Hungarian forces were facing each other in entrenched conditions entirely similar to those on the Western Front. In 1981, in a letter to Malcolm Brown and Shirley Seaton as they were working on material for their book and television programme Peace in No Man’s Land, Kohn recalled the events of Easter Day 1916:

The winter of 1915-16 was very severe and when I joined my regiment at the end of February the country was covered deep in snow. No military action was possible […] The thaw set in and the peace stopped artillery duels between the Austrian and Russian armies started, sometimes by day, but more frequently during darkness.

Then suddenly on Easter Sunday, about 5 o’clock in the morning, about twenty Russians came out of their trenches, waving white flags, carrying no weapons, but baskets and bottles. One of them came quite near and one of our soldiers went out to meet him and asked what he wanted. He asked whether we would not agree to stop the war for a day or two and, in view of Easter, meet between the lines and have a meal together. We told him that first we would have to ask the military authorities whether such a meeting would be possible. The Divisional Commander refused permission. Nevertheless at 12 noon the Russians came out of their trenches and brought with them their military band, who came playing at full strength, and they brought baskets of food and bottle of wine and vodka, and we came out too and had a meal with them. We also had food and wine to offer.

During the meeting both sides seemed to be embarrassed, but both sides were polite to each other and consumed the food and drinks we offered to each other. After a few hours we all went quietly back to our trenches.

I talked with a Colonel who spoke perfect German and he told me that he had lived for several years in Vienna. When I asked him why he was always firing shrapnel at my first aid post- he told me he knew exactly where it was – he promised to leave me alone and he would send a rocket if he had to leave. For the next fourteen days I was left unmolested. Then he sent me a rocket, telling me that his unit were leaving.

Kohn survived the ensuing Brusilov offensive of May that year. He survived the First World War as he later survived imprisonment by the Nazis before the Second World War. His letter to Brown and Seaton concluded that

I have seen demonstrated in front of my own eyes that suddenly people who are trying to kill each other, and will try to kill again when the day is over, are still able to sit together and talk to each other.

Friedrich Kohn’s words taken from Malcolm Brown & Shirley Seaton, Peace in No Man’s Land (Pan, 1984)

The essential bit of Great War kit

Gateways’ Director Professor Mark Connelly discusses the place of the puttee in Great War imagery.

There is a piece of kit used by all British and French soldiers that defines the Great War in my mind, capturing it in time and space. It delineates it from the second total conflict of the twentieth century, but links it back to the armies of the late nineteenth century and conjures up images of dusty imperial outposts on the North-West Frontier. I am, of course, referring to the humble puttee. I can’t quite identify when I became so fixated on this item, but it was certainly in my youth as I was first becoming interested in the Great War. I think it may have been to do with my local war memorial – a good, solid piece of bronze sculpture by Newberry Trent – of a sentinel soldier presenting arms guarding, as well as representing, the civic pride and honour of my East London suburb. Looking up at him on his plinth, it was impossible to escape the fact that his mounting at just above eye level meant that as the head craned up to take in his full size, the first detail caught by the eyes was his boots and puttees. Just what were these strange things? Not yet aware of the wonderful piece of technical Anglo-Indian Hobson-Jobson, I labelled them ‘bindings’. The real term was finally disclosed to me on my first trip to the Western Front when I was asked about the things that interested me in the Great War. I mentioned that there was something mesmeric about those bindings. ‘Aah, you mean the puttees,’ said an old chap from Blackpool with a fabulous Lancashire twang. So, that left me with a linguistic issue. Were they ‘puuuutteees’, as the Lancashire accent inferred, or ‘puttees’ as in window putty? To be honest, I think that one is an open question and either is acceptable.

© IWM (Q 45825). War memorial at Paddington Station, London

© IWM (Q 45825). War memorial at Paddington Station, London depicting a soldier wearing puttees.

So, what was it about the puttee that caught my imagination? I think first and foremost it was the idea of having what looked like a very tight serge wrapping bound tightly around the lower leg and how this might feel when wet. Secondly, and very much linked to this first point, I couldn’t shake the association with those wonderful photographs of chaps burdened down with huge Lee-Metford rifles wandering along a scrubby track in South Africa, or standing around on a rocky valley bottom watching mountain artillery batteries firing on some invisible Pathan position. The common things linking both sets of photographic images stored away in the mental picture album were sunshine, blue skies and dust. In my mind, it never rained in South Africa or on the North-West Frontier. Cold, at times bitterly cold, maybe, but rain never. In short, I couldn’t conceive how these blessed things could ever prove a blessing to a soldier attempting to do his job in a much wetter climate. Throw in miles of trenches and the wonder became even greater. But, and here is where I grew confused, the French army took to wearing them, too, so they must have had what we now call a good USP for them to have been consciously adopted specifically for this particular theatre. Unable to figure out just how they could be any good at all, I remained fixated by them.

© IWM (Art.IWM ART 16162 7). John Singer Sargent, Study for 'Gassed' Five studies of legs

© IWM (Art.IWM ART 16162 7). John Singer Sargent, Study for ‘Gassed’ depicting puttees

As we all know, the Great War generated a huge number of photographs, and as we also all know, for the Anglophone world at least, the Great War is dominated by images of trenches, and they are mostly associated with the Western Front. Another dominant image, visual and literary, is of the misery of men standing about in wet holes in the ground. Yet another thing we all know about the Great War is that the sun shone on two days only – 4 August 1914 when supposedly a million men went rushing off to the recruitment offices bathed in a Bank Holiday glow and 1 July 1916 when an entire generation was, so the common legend would have it, annihilated under a blazing sun. The rest of the time it poured down unremittingly. ‘Never a dry day in the trenches,’ as a character in Alan Bennett’s wonderfully insightful Forty Years On has it. In turn, this naturally concentrates the mind on the lower limbs and particularly from the knee down to the toes. We imagine men saturated. We imagine the awful misery of constantly being soaked to the skin and the creeping horror of trench foot. We see men stamping about in a thick Flanders porridge because that’s what all the films show us at some point. And, in those original sepia images nothing seems more sepia-khaki than the puttee itself. The puttee is the awful sponge of the soaking rain, the thing to which the mud clung naturally because they were so alike in colour. The puttee is the colour of Great War memory – sepia. One other colour does occur in a mental Dulux paint list of the Great War –  a violently vibrant splash of poppy red. But even here it is wet, blood wet, splashy. As Wyndham Lewis wrote of the Third Battle of Ypres: ‘The very name [Passchendaele], with its suggestion of splashiness and of passion at once, was very appropriate… The moment I saw the name on the trench-map, intuitively I knew what was going to happen.’ Soaking wetness is the essence of the Great War and the puttee tucked into the boots is its encapsulation. And, thanks to the presence of so many soldiers on war memorials sat up high on plinths, it is the initial moment of remembrance and memory. Most of those soldiers have pristine puttees as they are statues of sentinels, as in my home, but a few have dragged that Flanders mud back with them most notably Philip Lindsey Clark’s wonderful memorial for Southwark in Borough High Street. His soldier purposefully strives through the slough of despond. He is therefore not the pitiable soldier stood against the parapet of a flooded trench keeping endless sentry hours in unspeakable conditions. This one is the master of the battlefield, but the sheer fact that he is dragging himself through such muck focuses attention on the mud, the boots and the puttees.

All of these thoughts came crashing back to me when the BBC World War One at Home project ran a story about the textile manufacturing firm of Foxes and their wartime production of puttees. I was amazed to see that the factory is still going and they can still make them. Or perhaps a more fitting way of putting it given their dominant association is to say ‘pump them out’? By this time, however, I had learnt from various army manuals, memoirs and living history enthusiasts that the puttee can be a remarkably effective shield against cold, muck, dust and wet provided it is correctly bound. I must admit that that proviso has allowed me to maintain more than a scintilla of doubt about its actual effectiveness. And this explains why, whenever I see any image of British and imperial soldiers in the Great War, I always find myself viewing from the feet upwards.

Reflections on the Centenary So Far

Gateways’ Dr Emma Hanna looks back on the first months of the First World War centenary.

The Christmas break has given me time and space to reflect on the centenary so far. The run-up to Christmas is always a frenetic time but this year, with a lot of commemorations of the ‘Christmas Truce’ and my annual 3-day student field trip to Belgium and France, it was particularly busy. Saying that, for me the year 2014 will go down as one of the most productive years of my professional life. Never before have so many conferences, symposia and public events taken place. Edited collections, exhibitions, you name it, we’re doing it. The centenary so far has been a whirlwind of activity.

With students at Lochnagar Crater, La Boiselle

With students at Lochnagar Crater, La Boiselle

The year started on a high with the news that our bid at Gateways had been successful, and as many of us were already working on FWW-related projects we all hit the ground running. In addition to my own research and teaching, this time last year I was working with the British Council on their ‘Football Remembers’ resource and that was a very intense experience: not only did I get to research one of the best myths of 1914-1918 but that project also taught me all there is to know about copyright law. As part of the resource the British Council set up a competition for 8-14 year old pupils to design a memorial to the Christmas Truce. To see the finished design by a ten year old boy from Newcastle unveiled by the Duke of Cambridge at the National Memorial Arboretum on 12th December was really quite something. While I didn’t have anything to do with that memorial I still feel a sense of satisfaction of a project completed and that the resource was doing its job well. I couldn’t be at the unveiling of the memorial in Staffordshire because I was at the Gateways Christmas Truce Symposium at the University of Kent – a really enjoyable event attended by over 50 members of the public. Other memorials have been unveiled. On 8th December I was at Ploegsteert with 25 undergraduate students and our coach got stuck down a small road at Prowse Point cemetery because the lane was full of construction equipment as they were installing a Belgian memorial to the Christmas Truce – featuring, of course, a football. However, the spirit of peace and goodwill did not quite extend to the beleaguered Belgian police officer who helped our coach reverse up 1km of narrow muddy track.

Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, Thiepval.

Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, Thiepval.

It is always a moving experience going back to the old front line. Even now, as my own tally of visits to the former battlefields is well into double figures, there is always something you missed or didn’t do before. Taking groups of students, and for many it can be their first visit, it’s a cliché but it does help me see the war and the landscape through fresh pairs of eyes. Arranged via the new visitors’ centre at Ploegsteert, a new experience this year was a two hour tour of the area with Claude, a local guide who boarded our coach and showed us the various sites – including of course lots of references to Churchill and Hitler who fought in that area at various times, and the location of two as yet unexploded mines near Messines. We also had two students who recently discovered they each had a great-grandfather buried on the Western Front. Both paid their respects to their predecessors, and both were the first members of their families to visit the graves. I find that particularly moving: how many of those men have gone unvisited for nearly 100 years? During the centenary there will be more visitors to the battlefields than ever before, and in Peronne I did detect centenary fatigue. While the staff at the Historial could not have been more helpful (as always), the locals at various establishments in Peronne appeared weary of foreign (English) visitors. Perhaps they are tired of battlefield tourists, and even the value of 27 croque-monsieurs and a round of Leffe will not alleviate the burden of inhabiting the former battlefields. Even Paul Fussell identified a certain mood around the battlefields in 1975.

Nick Hudson at the graveside of his Great-Grandfather, Private Sidney James Best,20th Battalion London Regiment; died 1st October 1916, buried at Warlencourt British Cemetery, France.

Nick Hudson at the graveside of his Great-Grandfather, Private Sidney James Best,20th Battalion London Regiment; died 1st October 1916, buried at Warlencourt British Cemetery, France.

Megan Kelleher at the graveside of her Great-Grandfather, Private C. Bonnard, Royal Warwickshire Regiment, died 30th May 1915, buried at La Plus Douve Cemetery, Belgium.

Megan Kelleher at the graveside of her Great-Grandfather, Private C. Bonnard, Royal Warwickshire Regiment, died 30th May 1915, buried at La Plus Douve Cemetery, Belgium.

The war has become very local to me this year. I will always remember the evening of 4th August 2014; after an academic conference in London during the day, I was invited to give a short talk at the start of a ‘Lights Out’ event in Harrietsham parish church in Kent, near to where I live. The organisers had done a great deal of research into the parish during the war, and a cast of 12 villagers ‘performed’ the characters and words of local people from August 1914. It was tasteful and respectful, and it gave me goosebumps to sit in the church where so many of these men worshipped, were baptised and/or married. I have never seen a church so full of people, it was packed. I was only there to give a 10 minute explanation of how the war started and to give a general overview, something I do all the time for students, but it was one of the most moving experiences of my professional life. It felt incredibly emotional as the church bell rang for every man lost, a bell they themselves would have heard and remembered.  I also did some work and a talk on the Great Chart Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Fund, again a village very close to where I live, and reading through so many servicemen’s letters I feel I got to know many of them rather well. When I gave a talk on the collection at the Kent History Centre in Maidstone two of the audience were direct descendants of some of the men, and I was very relieved that they enjoyed the talk and thought that I had done their relatives justice. At times like that this feels very much more than just a job.

Overall the FWW has become very present in our everyday lives. The BBC’s centenary coverage on TV and radio is going to be longer than the war itself, and my Sky+ box at home is groaning under the weight of so many recorded programmes about 1914-1918. The war has also come to the forefront of political debates. John Major invoked the memory of both World Wars just before the Scottish Referendum in September, and the poppies at the Tower ignited a debate about national identity and the ways in which Britain should remember 1914-1918. A left-wing art critic writing in The Guardian slated the memorial as ‘a fake, inward-looking Ukip-type memorial’ [sic.]. He criticized the poppies’ ‘fake nobility’ and asked why were only commemorating British dead and not mourning German, French or Russian casualties. He suggested that a far more fitting memorial would be for the moat of the Tower ‘be filled with barbed wire and bones.’ A Daily Mail journalist was astonished that ‘anyone could politicize this magnificent project, any more than someone might quibble with the Cenotaph.’

Speaking of UKIP, on 9th December at the Menin Gate in Ypres, my students and I saw Nigel Farage at the Last Post ceremony. He didn’t appear to be there in any official capacity – he and his entourage were doing the same as us, paying their respects. However, I was greatly upset by a speaker who gave a short biography of a British officer who ended by saying his death during the conflict was part of the ‘routine wastage’ of the war. I looked at the endless names inscribed on the memorial and I felt both angry and sad that the death of a human being could be described like that. But that is the task ahead for FWW historians during the centenary – not to condone, excuse, or glorify the war and its horrific number of casualties – but to help others as best we can to understand a difficult war fought in difficult circumstances, and above all to ensure that the memory of 1914-1918 is worthy and respectful of those who still lie on the old front line.

All photos courtesy of Dr Emma Hanna, Gateways to the First World War

The Christmas Truce

In our latest blogpost Gateways’ Dr Emma Hanna reflects on the myths and realities of the 1914 Christmas Truce.

© Harold Robson/IWM (Q 50719). British and German troops meeting in No-Man's Land during the unofficial truce. (British troops from the Northumberland Hussars, 7th Division, Bridoux-Rouge Banc Sector).

© Harold Robson/IWM (Q 50719). British and German troops meeting in No-Man’s Land during the unofficial truce. (British troops from the Northumberland Hussars, 7th Division, Bridoux-Rouge Banc Sector).

As we approach the 100th anniversary of the Christmas Truce, there has been a lot of interest in the story of that particular wartime event. But for me, planning for the commemoration of the Truce started a year ago. I was approached by the British Council to advise on their education pack ‘Football Remembers’, a resource for schools that was sponsored by the Premier League and the Football Association, which also ran a competition for children aged 8-14 to design a memorial to the Truce at the National Arboretum in Staffordshire. Clearly the idea of a football match being played in no-man’s land remains strong in our collective memory of the Christmas Truce, and it was a key feature in an event run by the National Children’s Football Alliance in April when British school children from schools in Kent played sport with students from a school in Germany at Maidstone Football Club. The students had a lot of questions about the Truce and the football match, and I felt rather like a party-pooper in telling them that the Christmas Truce is really a myth – there was no one all-encompassing Truce and neither was there one single England v. Germany fixture in Plugstreet Wood. It is something I have to explain many times over – that there was no one wholesale truce but a series of lots of little events of fraternisation at Christmas 1914, some of which we know included football matches and other rather unexpected events. In Britain the ‘two world wars and one world cup’ mentality remains strong, and Andrew Murrison, a member of the government’s centenary committee, has underlined that perhaps football is the best way to get people interested in not only the Truce but the history of the war more generally. This has upset quite a few military historians, but I see this as the best time to get in there and explain the real history behind the Christmas Truce myth.

Last week I gave a talk about it to the British Legion, and yesterday I was interviewed for a BBC radio programme on the subject where I was asked many questions about ‘what really happened’.  Yes, the beleaguered Pope, Benedict XV, called for a Truce of God in the first week of December 1914, but Britain was incredulous about it, even before two German battleships had shelled the coastal towns of Hartlepool, Whitby and Scarborough causing the deaths of 122 and injuring over 450 residents. What I find really fascinating is that General Sir Horace Smith Dorrien, commander of II Corps of the BEF in the Ypres Salient, issued orders in the first week of December that he was concerned about the lack of ‘offensive spirit’. He was an experienced soldier and he realised that as weather conditions worsened the men might  be tempted to permit unofficial ceasefires in the run up to Christmas. He was adamant that under no circumstances any ‘intercourse with the enemy’ should be allowed. However, the day after a particularly costly offensive at Ploegsteert Wood on 18th December 1914 British and German troops agreed to permit one another to rise out of their trenches in order to bury their respective dead and collect the wounded. This was not particularly unusual, it had happened before, but further events would follow during that first Christmas of the war – a war that was supposed to be over by then, as the British newspapers claimed in the heady days of August 1914. Neither side was going anywhere. And as it happens, a number of British soldiers and their German counterparts did not follow their orders, much to Smith Dorrien’s frustration. Many of the German High Command found out about the truce after seeing some of the photos in The Times! However, no disciplinary action was ever taken on either side; they probably knew that any reprisals would have been extremely unpopular and that it was best to let the matter lie, which it did pretty much for over 60 years.

While some historians have tried to play down the Christmas Truce, or even deny that anything like it really happened, there is an enormous amount of evidence from soldier’s letters and diaries – including Belgian, French, German and Indian soldiers – that truces of various durations occurred, that they met to bury their dead, had joint burial and carol services, exchanged gifts including food and tobacco, played football, and chatted about their pre-war lives and the war in which they were currently fighting. Incredibly there is even evidence – as shown in the Sainsbury’s advert – that soldiers who had been barbers before the war even offered their services to other side. Even I didn’t believe that until I found the evidence. It is rather bizarre, until you remember that there were hundreds of thousands of German businessmen in London when war broke out, many of whom were barbers, and that their skills would have been put to good use in their wartime lives, too. I also thought the old story about British officers bumping into the German chef of the Trocadero, a high society London nightclub, was a fallacy until I saw the evidence. But not all soldiers approved or took part. The Belgians and the French thought that the British soldiers who did fraternise were at best mad and at worst traitors, and there were many British soldiers, particularly those who had been at the Battle of the Aisne, who refused to fraternise because they did not trust the Germans.

This shows that historians shouldn’t be afraid of the sometimes yawning gap between history and myth. Sometimes, bizarrely, the gap isn’t as wide as we might think, and as the Sainsbury’s advert is just short of 14 million views since it was launched 3 weeks ago, we as historians should engage with the conversation about what the history and memory of the truce means to us in the history of 1914-1918. As is often the case, history can tell us more about the times in which it is being written than the period it purports to recount. The Christmas Truce was an anomaly,  an event which received only a little attention in Britain in January 1915, and I certainly think it is no coincidence that the main representations of the truce – eg Paul McCartney’s ‘Pipes of Peace’ and the first history Peace in No Man’s Land by Malcolm Brown and Shirley Seaton – date back to the early 1980s, a time when Britain was at war in the Falklands. We need to remember the more humane parts of the First World War because the conflict itself was so horrific, and that’s the appeal of the Truce – it makes the history of the war more palatable in some ways to see that at one point long-term foes became temporary friends. As with the sea of Poppies at the Tower of London, the Sainsbury’s advert has caught the popular imagination, and anything that increases the interest in the First World War gives us an ideal opportunity to engage in the conversation. Reality is sometimes stranger than fiction, and that is what makes History so interesting.

Emma Hanna is Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Greenwich. She is one of the expert speakers at ‘Representations of the Christmas Truce’, a symposium organized by Gateways to the First World War on Friday 12 December 2014. For more information please visit our website.

The Spanish Farm Trilogy

In his latest blogpost Professor Mark Connelly discusses R.H. Mottram’s novels and essays on the First World War.

Among my presents on Christmas Day 1985 was a book called Three Personal Records of the War.  I remember that it was in beautiful condition. Its binding was amazingly tight and was, to use the Dylan Thomasism, ‘bible-black’ in its blackness. Looking inside I found that it contained three long essays authored by R.H. Mottram, John Easton and Eric Partridge respectively. I had heard of Eric Partridge. Thanks to being interested in Oh What a Lovely War!, I had come across his wonderful, The Long Trail: Soldiers’ Song and Slang, collated with John Brophy. The other two were complete mysteries to me, and to be honest my grip on John Easton remains slim to say the least (is he the same chap who wrote about postage stamp design in the 1930s?). Then there was the publisher, Scholartis Press. By this stage, thanks to my parents being very good at snapping up things about the Great War in our local second hand bookshop, I was used to a good range of publishers such as Methuen, Blackie, Macdonald, Hodder and Stoughton, Chatto and Windus (or more properly Chatto & Windus: the ampersand is everything). Thanks to that teenage immersion, those names will always conjure up visions of offices in courts somewhere off Fetter Lane deep in the heart of a still very Dickensian City of London. Scholartis on the other hand stumped me, and a bit like John Easton, still means nothing to me aside from this particular volume. On flicking through its creamy, thick parchment-like pages, all in perfect condition, I became more and more convinced that no one had ever read this book. I found myself wondering whether it had been bought as a present for someone very interested in the war, but steeped in things like Churchill’s The World Crisis or Sir John French’s, 1914, found this a poor substitute,  and promptly shoved it into their bookshelves in a room that didn’t see much summer sun. Was it simply a very dull collection of pieces that no one else would publish I found myself thinking.

Distracted by other things, I got no further than a quick dip into it myself and put it back on my shelves. Then another piece of the jigsaw fell into place. Whilst scrabbling about in dear old Edward Terry’s (the second hand bookshop of my London suburb), I saw the bright orange and faded white cover of a 1930s Penguin classic. What really caught my eye was the title and author, R.H. Mottram, The Spanish Farm (originally published in 1924). I knew from the details about each author in Three Personal Records that Mottram was the author of something called The Spanish Farm Trilogy, but had no idea as to its contents. I picked it up and saw that it was a novel about the Great War and the setting was somewhere between Dunkirk and Ypres and not much further south than Hazebrouck. It was very cheap and so I bought it, took it home, flicked through it a bit more, found that it seemed distinctly lacking in drama and put it on my bookshelves.

The two books sat there not much examined until I was an undergraduate studying a module on the Great War and literature and I noticed there was an essay question on R.H. Mottram. Totally intrigued as to what this chap was doing among the Sassoons and Owens, I couldn’t resist picking it. I also strongly suspected that no one else would go near it and so the secondary literature items associated with the question would probably be easy to grab from the university library shelves. Hurriedly retrieving my copies of both books, I started to read. And, as you have probably guessed, I was instantly hooked. The Spanish Farm amazed me. Nothing seemed to happen, certainly nothing particularly interesting about the front line anyway, but everything happened. As a suburban East Londoner, I was deeply engaged by his portrait of the British Western Front. Described as an area with a population about the size of London, he identified its West End as the rearmost areas where the great base hospitals and headquarters could be found often in highly civilised settings. The zone a bit closer to the line was like the City of London for it was the heart of administration and planning. The final component was the East End, the industrial zone, the front line where the killing was carried out with mechanical regularity. Deeply attached to The Diary of a Nobody and Betjeman’s tender solicitude for London clerks, I found in Mottram’s Western Front a world of khaki-clad Pooters and Metroland dwellers. By the same token, this author clearly inspired by Galsworthy and Trollope, also plunged me into a Zola-esque world of Flemish peasants who did not give a stuff about Germans, French or British soldiers and just wanted everyone to bugger off and leave them alone. This was a stunning revelation. They were no longer the anonymous, miserable swindlers, crooks and beggars of Graves’ Goodbye to all that, but passionate, stubborn, resilient people who had had their lives turned upside down by the war and were determined to get even by squeezing every penny they could get out of the British to cover the costs of billeting and the damage done to their property by largely clumsy, and only occasionally malicious, British soldiers. Madeleine, the daughter of old Vanderlynden, owner of the Spanish Farm, seemed terrifying in her single-mindedness and cunning. She is aged twenty at the start of the novel, my age as I was writing the essay, but she seemed infinitely more savvy than me. I felt very, very innocent next to Madeleine. Finishing the novel, I quickly got hold of the other two in the series, Sixty-Four, Ninety-Four (1925) and The Crime at Vanderlynden’s (1926). As I read, I saw more and more how deeply Mottram understood the culture into which the British army had intruded, and also how deeply the war had affected him. His ability to provide so many different pen portraits of peoples and landscapes – often buttressed with references to the paintings of the Flemish masters – revealed a man who had soaked up the war through the sodden Flanders soil.

After finishing the novels, I finally picked up Three Personal Records and read his essay. Mottram was clearly the star turn of the three. Even the book’s title seems to concede the fact being uncannily close to the title of his own essay, ‘A Personal Record’. Although producing another minor masterpiece of understated, middle-brow prose, as with The Spanish Farm Trilogy, Mottram revealed his determination to grapple with issues ignored almost entirely by other writers. Most remarkable to me was the decision to discuss the disturbances at Etaples in 1917. The public record of the British Army’s conduct allowed no entry for the one outbreak of large-scale indiscipline, and yet here was a man who tackled the subject head-on. He used the intriguing metaphor of the ‘Headless Man’ to describe the phenomenon, but in doing so shrewdly reduced the incident to something unplanned, uncoordinated and totally lacking in revolutionary fervour. It was just a lumbering, zombie-like mass of men crashing around because they were fed-up. As such this must have been deeply reassuring to a middle class fearful of Bolshevik infiltration of British life. But, he also sent out the dreadful warning never to repeat what he labelled ‘the nightmare of waste’.  I found myself more and more intrigued by Mottram’s beliefs about the war and his own war experience. He introduced me to the idea that ambiguity about the war was not only possible, but very probably the dominant response to it. Here was no Sassoon raging about a confidence trick played upon his generation. Here was no Owen agonising over the pity of war. Instead, Mottram maintained his pride at being a volunteer, his insistence that his fellow soldiers revealed wonderful reserves of sang-froid, stoicism and good humour, that on the whole the cause Britain fought for was justified, but at the same time he was horrified by its vast cost  which brought the civilised world to the verge of collapse.

Being so intrigued by Mottram’s world, I tracked down many of his other writings about the war including Ten Years Ago ‑ A Pendant to The Spanish Farm Trilogy (1928), containing a series of short vignettes many of which flesh out incidental figures and details from the trilogy; Through the Menin Gate (1932), a collection of essays mainly reprinted from newspaper articles and his finely crafted guidebook cum meditation, Journey to the Western Front (1936).  At the same time, I began searching for traces of his environment on the Western Front. Among the copses on the north side of the road leading from Steenvorde over the Belgian border and on to Poperinge can be see a hunting lodge. It corresponds closely – ‘a little hunting shelter, brick, with mock Gothic windows and leaded lights, encircled by a timber-pillared verandah’ – with the description of the one belonging to Baron d’Archeville, the local landowner of The Spanish Farm Trilogy. I am also pretty convinced that the model for the Spanish Farm itself – ‘a single-storied building of immensely thick walls of red brick’- can be found in the great barrack of a farm on the north side of the D948 at the crossroads for Abeele. I always point it out as I pass with any group I happen to be guiding and usually face a sea of unimpressed faces. Very few show any flicker of recognition when I mention The Spanish Farm Trilogy. It seems amazing that a writer who won the Hawthornden literary prize for The Spanish Farm, making him a celebrity often invited to comment on matters relating to the war by newspapers and magazines, could be almost entirely forgotten. But, perhaps Mottram and the world he explored in such detail is about to be revived. With more and more people interested in topics such as nursing, the hospital camps and the huge behind-the-lines infrastructure required for the maintenance of fighting units, Mottram’s focus becomes a wonderful snapshot. But a photograph is probably not a metaphor Mottram with his reverence for Flemish culture would have appreciated. Rather, he urges us to explore a distinctive physical and spiritual landscape of the Great War where sky and soil are so sharply contrasted: ‘that wide blue vault that the old painters loved… out of a Flemish picture ‑ a Van Dyck… a Hals or a Jordaens.’

Could this building have been the inspiration for Mottram's 'Spanish farm'? Image © 2014 Google

Could this building have been the inspiration for Mottram’s ‘Spanish Farm’?
Image © 2014 Google

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‘War Stories Open Day’ at Brighton Museum: Engagement, Empathy and the First World War.

In this blogpost Dr Lucy Noakes discusses a recent First World War centenary event in Brighton and reflects on the personal dimensions of our continuing fascination with the First World War.

On Saturday 13 September, 2013, the grounds of the Royal Pavilion estate in Brighton echoed once again to the sounds of Sikh riflemen parading and marching. Between 1914 and 1916 the Royal Pavilion and the Dome in the centre of the city had been the Kitchener Hospital, one of three buildings in Brighton (the others being the workhouse and a school) that were a temporary home to soldiers from the Indian sub-continent who had been injured while fighting on the Western Front. The 15th Ludhiana Infantry Regiment, a re-enactment group under the auspices of the National Army Museum’s ‘War and Sikhs’ project were participating in the War Stories Open Day being run by the Royal Pavilion and Museum to mark the major War Stories exhibition running at the Museum until March 2015.

15th Ludhiana Infantry Regiment' (National Army Museum War and Sikhs project) with Brian Fitch, Mayor of Brighton. Brighton Dome.

15th Ludhiana Infantry Regiment (National Army Museum War and Sikhs project) with Brian Fitch, Mayor of Brighton. Brighton Dome.

This affecting and affective exhibition traces the history of the war through fifteen individuals who came from, or had links with, Brighton during the war years. These included Bob Whiting, the goalkeeper with Brighton and Hove Albion football team, who joined the army with some of his team-mates in 1915 and was killed in the Arras offensive of 1917, a family of Belgian refugees who settled in Sussex, and Manta Singh, officer in a Sikh Regiment (and great grandfather of one of the re-enactors present at the Open Day) who had died in the Kitchener hospital in 1915 of wounds received when rescuing his commanding officer from the battlefield. In this focus on individuals, the exhibition could perhaps be understood as being shaped by the ‘new museology’; an approach to museum displays that has moved beyond the traditional ‘glass case’, replacing artefacts with affect and focusing instead on the lives and stories of historical actors as a means to engage the interest, and empathy, of the visiting public.[1] As this short piece will go on to argue, this is an approach that perhaps has an especial resonance for our understandings of the First World War.

As well as the Sikh Regiment, many other groups participated in the Open Day, and visitors to the Museum were able to handle wartime artefacts, hear popular songs from the war years, find out more about the history of Brighton and Hove during the war, and research the histories of their own families and communities in wartime. ‘Gateways’ ran an information stall, where we helped visitors who wanted to discover more about their ancestors’ wartime experiences. Helping people to research these experiences was a fascinating experience for the historians and history students who volunteered on the stall – a real ‘hands on’ history that reinforced our sense that the First World War continues to have a real resonance in many people’s lives today. It’s not often that the historian encounters the visceral emotional response that some visitors to the Gateways stall had when encountering the names of relatives on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.

Why is this? In part, of course, it is due to the nature of the war itself – its unprecedented and unexpected scale continues to have a resonance down the years, leading to a widespread understanding of the conflict as marking a kind of break between a lost, past world (‘never such innocence again’ as Larkin remarked fifty years on) and the modern world of today.[2] Political, as well as social and cultural histories have played their part in this: the rise of the totalitarian regimes that so dominated and decimated Europe in the mid 20th century are widely seen as having their origins on the battlefields of First World War, and the unsatisfactory peace treaty at its close. Cultural historians like Modris Eksteins and Paul Fussell have found in the war a turn away from the literary, musical and artistic forms of the 19th century and an embracing of the tropes of modernism, in high culture if not in its more popular forms.[3] And social historians have long debated the extent to which the war was a modernising force, bringing in its wake an extended democracy, and an increased willingness of the state to intervene in areas previously understood as the domain of the individual and the family.[4]

There is clearly more to it than this however. Many feel a real, personal link to those whose lives were shaped by the war. This is, I think, more than a simple desire to be ‘a part of history’, to claim a personal, familial role in the conflict that is being commemorated at the moment, though as Dan Todman has perceptively noted, this can be a factor in the ongoing fascination with key events of the war years for Britain, such as the first day of the Battle of the Somme, or Passchendaele, the third Battle of Ypres.[5] There is a personal dimension to the continuing fascination with the war years that can be harder to trace in many of the other key events of the recent past. The First World War coincided not only with the growth of photography and film, giving us numerous images of the battlefield and the home front, but with the growth of literacy, enabling more ‘ordinary’ soldiers to write home about their experiences, or to reflect on these after the war in forms that have been passed down through families and in archives. Conditions for soldiers and civilians in the Boer War just a decade or so earlier may have been equally foul, but, for the most part, they weren’t written down or photographed, and the smaller numbers involved mean what memories there are exist in fewer households today.

The sheer numbers of those involved then plays a key role in this, as family stories of ancestors caught up in the war both reinforce and are shaped by, popular, public representations. The rush to volunteer in 1914, the formation of the Pals Battalions in 1915 and the introduction of conscription in 1916 ensured that more men than ever before were to experience military life. The formation of the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps in 1917, and the work of nurses on the war fronts, together with aerial and naval bombardment, ensured that many British women saw the impact of industrial warfare first hand. Many households in Britain today can claim some link to the First World War, either through the participation of a male ancestor in the military or through the war’s impact on those at home in Britain, or in the Empire and Dominions. War memorials, Remembrance Sunday, war poets on the school syllabus, and the ease with which many of us today can visit the war cemeteries in France and Belgium all demonstrate both the continuing fascination with the war years, and its ongoing presence in our material and cultural lives.

Many historians continue to express frustration with (to reluctantly cite Michael Gove) ‘the Blackadder version of the war’, in which everyone dies, and indeed we should remember that the majority of combatant survived the war, and that the social and economic changes it engendered led to long term improvements in the lives of many. However, I would suggest that today’s wide public acceptance that the war was, largely, a futile waste of men’s lives that ended in an unsatisfactory peace which laid the grounds for the even more destructive Second World War, in fact indicates not only an admirable empathy with those who suffered in the war, but a perhaps even more worthwhile scepticism about politicians who are all too willing to rush into conflicts today. The focus on individual stories, and the emotional resonance that the war still has for many, means that the centenary of the war provides us with fertile ground for engaging with the wider public in historical research.

[1]Merriman, N. (1991) Beyond the Glass Case: The Past, the Heritage and the Public in Britain (Leicester: Leicester University Press).

[2]Larkin, P. (1964) MCMXIV.

[3]Eksteins, M. (1989), Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age (New York: Houghton Mifflin); Fussell, P. (1975), The Great War and Modern Memory (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

[4]Marwick, A. (1965; 2006), The Deluge: British Society and the First World War (Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan); Braybon, G. (1981), Women Workers and the First World War (London: Routledge); Gregory, A. (2008), The Last Great War(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

[5]Todman, D. (2009), ‘The 90th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme’ in M. Keren & H. Herwig (eds.), War Memory and Popular Culture (North Carolina: McFarland).

The Silent Cities (London: Methuen, 1929) 10s 6d

In this blogpost Professor Mark Connelly discusses The Silent Cities, a1929 publication by Sidney C. Hurst on the cemeteries and memorials of the Great War.

When I first visited the battlefields in 1986 I found that my military history interest was very quickly matched, if not surpassed, by a new obsession with the memorials and cemeteries of the Western Front. The first Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery I visited was Dud Corner at Loos, and despite seeing many photographs of those neat and tidy corners of a foreign field forever England, I was totally amazed by actually stepping into one. Just like everyone else I found the cliché was absolutely true: the peace, quiet and dignity of the place were truly remarkable. On returning home I quickly managed to find a copy of Philip Longworth’s official history of the Commission, The Unending Vigil, published to mark its fiftieth anniversary in 1967.  I read it avidly and was particularly interested in the references to a book called The Silent Cities by Sidney C. Hurst published by Methuen on behalf of the Commission in 1927. Deeply curious as to its contents, I searched my local libraries with no luck and then put in an inter-library search request. In those days everything was done by filling in paper forms and acknowledgement came in the form of a prepaid postcard. After a good few weeks that postcard duly arrived and told me the book was ready for collection. Having no idea of the nature of the book other than the fact that it was obviously about the work of the IWGC, I had no insight as to what I was picking up.

Opening the book for the first time I was stunned. First, it was printed on beautiful, glossy art paper. Used to the yellowing and foxed pages of inter-war books I had purchased in my local second hand bookshop or read in the library, nothing had prepared me for opening a volume that seemed brand new. Then there was another huge shock. Rather than pages of text, which I had expected, there were photographs of cemeteries; not just a few photographs to break up and illustrate the text, but page after page of photographs. The book was a gazetteer of each and every cemetery and memorial. Under each cemetery was a short description with details about the graves they contained and map references to aid location. Suddenly I was teleported back to the world of the original visitors to the Western Front or those who longed to go, but with perhaps neither the means nor time who, instead, purchased the book as some kind of permanent souvenir of their lost loved one thus providing a fitting domestic reminder. The book was also a world of liminal spaces for many photographs showed the cemeteries incomplete or in transition. The original Graves Registration Unit crosses could be seen in some rows with others seemingly sprouting up their new crop of pristine white IWGC Portland Stone headstones. Close examination of the landscape around the cemeteries also revealed a world permanently caught in a moment of drastic transition. Look beyond the cemetery and it could have been a shot of the prairie with far, far horizons: the war had destroyed everything and so there was nothing to punctuate the background or immediate hinterland. Most of all, it was a world of saplings carefully planted by the IWGC in the cemeteries or some farmer to help define his field boundaries beyond. Mature trees seemed so rare that their total number could easily be accounted across the entire 407 pages of the book. It was impossible not to play the ‘then and now’ game as I thought about the cemeteries I had seen on my trip and compared my photographs to those contained in the book. Houses, roads, and above all, trees, had appeared in the intervening years.

The next great discovery was turning to the back of the book and seeing the index of cemeteries. Having been on the trip I had some inkling of the wondrous range of names used, starting with the severely utilitarian, through the humorous and ironic and on to the elegiac and iconic. But here was a whole new thesaurus of memory and commemoration. Cemetery names tumbled out and rapidly fused in my head a connection with Blunden’s poem, Trench Nomenclature, which I have never since escaped, particularly in that most wondrous of concoctions, ‘Perth Cemetery (China Wall), Zillebeke’. Pouring over the photographs and delighting (that may seem an odd word to use in this context, but I genuinely can’t think of another one which better describes my sensations) in the cemetery names, I saw veterans in tweed jackets, smoking pipes and doffing their caps as they visited the graves of old chums and cloche-hatted women with young children searching for solace in at least seeing daddy’s grave so nobly marked and beautifully maintained. As you’ll know if you’ve read any of my other pieces, that vision is one I have never since managed to shake off and has become an important component of my professional career.

Of course, the time came for me to return the book. I dreaded that moment, for I realised then that The Silent Cities was a book that I wanted to own. At that stage I knew absolutely nothing about the workings of the second hand book trade other than the fact that there was a good, rambling second hand bookshop in the London suburb in which I grew up. I did know that I had a rarity on my hands and I was highly unlikely to find a copy in my usual haunt. Aching with the misery that only a teenager can muster, and a teenager at the height of ‘The Smiths’ fame at that, I wondered what I could do. Looking at the library stamps in the book, I saw that no one had taken out since the late 1950s! From this fact I deduced that the library from which it originated might not be that interested in retaining it. Using what I thought to be politely cunning (or cunningly polite) skills I wrote to the library (I have a vague feeling that it was in East Sussex somewhere) and asked whether I might be allowed to buy the book from them, especially as it was clearly not the hottest volume on their shelves. Needless to say that offer was declined with equal decorum and politeness (and perhaps cunning, as well). Skip forward a few years and I was now on the mailing lists of a few second hand book dealers who sent me their quarterly catalogues. Then, one magical day, I saw the book listed in one of the catalogues. I phoned immediately terrified that it might have been snapped up by someone else, but no, I was fortunate and managed to purchase it for let us say a not inconsiderable sum for the early 1990s. Receiving the book felt like having a scoop of soil from every cemetery in Belgian and France; it felt like some holy relic was now in my possession. Something far more than a simple catalogue was now on my shelves.

You might therefore imagine the amazing frisson that overcame me, when, about a year later, I purchased a copy of a collection of R.H. Mottram’s essays (of which more in a later piece) titled Through the Menin Gate. Among the short stories, autobiographical sketches and snatches of journalism was a review of The Silent Cities. I made straight for the essay and felt an odd sensation as I realised that Mottram had expressed many of my own thoughts some sixty years earlier. ’The real end of the War came, so far as I am concerned,’ he wrote, ‘on the day that a volume entitled The Silent Cities, an illustrated guide to the War Cemeteries in France and Flanders, 1914-1918, was put into my hands for review. That was the end, there is no longer anything to be done.’ For me though, Silent Cities was not the end but the end of the beginning.


The Arrival of the Belgians at Folkestone

Dr Will Butler, University of Kent

The outbreak of the First World War only had a very limited impact on the town of Folkestone during its opening weeks. Despite the fact that many of its summer visitors had left in a flurry of panic in its opening days, many did not, and the town had also begun to fill with British soldiers ready to embark for the front. However, by the middle of August allied forces had suffered a series of setbacks and its armies were on the retreat along with many thousands of refugees. Many fled westwards, but others attempted to reach the ports of Calais, Boulogne, and Antwerp in an attempt to cross the channel.

Belgians on boatsBelgians on boats

Initially, penny packets of Belgian soldiers began to arrive at Folkestone. The first boat from Calais brought 72 men from 12 different regiments. These men had fought at Namur and Liege, and the fact that they had come from so many different regiments shows just how much the Belgian army were in disarray. Within a few days, a conveyor belt of civilians began to arrive from the Continent, many of them in commandeered fishing boats.  An extract from an article written by the Folkestone correspondent of The Times perhaps best illustrates the scene:

‘Gradually at first and very rapidly during the last week or ten days there has been a great change. The town is full, hotels and boarding-houses are crowded, and there is a constant stream of people walking along the Leas. A huge crowd gathers daily outside the closed gates of the Harbour Station and stands there for hours to watch the thousands of people landed every afternoon who pass out to take up their temporary abode here. But it is not the usual holiday crowd which Folkestone knows so well. These sad-faced people, who walk soberly about or gather in little groups and discuss solemnly topics which are evidently of intense interest to them, are not happy rollicking, holiday-makers, nor is their language ours. There is far more French than English heard on the Leas in these days, for Folkestone is becoming a town of refugees’.

It was estimated that by 5 September, as many as 18,000 refugees had arrived in Britain through Folkestone Harbour and there was no sign that the numbers would fall. A Folkestone War Refugees Committee was quickly formed in the town and a Belgian Relief Fund was instigated by various newspapers around the country. Each refugee was given a medical examination by a doctor before they left the Harbour, some were then sent on to London, and others were found jobs locally, such as hop-picking. Above all, free meals were provided to all who required feeding: as many as 6,000 meals each day.

All classes of people had made the journey across the Channel. Many ‘smartly-dressed’ people of the middle classes stayed in the larger hotels and boarding houses surrounding the Leas. The poorer visitors, described as ‘terribly poor’, with little or no luggage were put up around the town in rooms volunteered by many of the townspeople. The Refugee Committee was praised very highly for its endeavours. Described as displaying ‘untiring zeal, cheering drooping spirits, feeding the hungry, helping the helpless, and directing and advising all who stand in need’.

The stream of refugees continued almost every day until the middle of October. By this time the town was as full as it would be at the height of the tourist season and few unoccupied rooms could be found anywhere in the town. Over 100,000 Belgians had passed through Folkestone in only a few months and as many as 15,000 had taken up residence. As a result, more funds were required to ensure that they could be cared for over the winter months. Many of the shops had put up signs in their shops advertising in French and a specific paper was printed, Le Franco-Belge, which could keep those who wish to be informed of news from the front. All effort was made to make the refugees feel welcome and comfortable. For many it would be at least another four years until they could return home.

Belgian refugeesBelgian Refugees

The citizens of Folkestone clearly embraced the presence of the new residents. In July 1915, the town celebrated ‘Belgian Day’, to coincide with the Belgian national holiday. The Town Hall and other businesses flew the black, yellow, and red flag, and many Belgian children were seen selling them in the streets. A ceremony was held at the Roman Catholic Church and the Mayor of Folkestone spoke of England’s admiration for ‘gallant Belgium’.

Other events regularly took place throughout the war, and the town was visited by many dignitaries as a result of its hospitality to the Belgian people, including the King and Queen of the Belgians who were warmly received. Famously, Signor Franzoni painted a portrait which depicted the arrival of the first Belgian refugees at the Harbour, which can still be viewed in the town. A tablet was erected outside the Town Hall in testimony of the work carried out by the townspeople. Finally, a message was received by King Albert at the end of the war, when a Mausoleum was erected at nearby Shorncliffe Military Ceremony, who stated that ‘Folkestone had earned the admiration not only of the Belgians, but also of the whole world: yes, the whole civilised world knew how the town of Folkestone had received them with such cordiality which would never be forgotten’.

Belgian recognition of service

Canterbury and Folkestone at the Outbreak of War

Dr Will Butler, University of Kent

In the summer of 1914, the idea of a major war was far from the minds of the populations of both Canterbury and Folkestone. For both these centres, the summer sun had brought along with it the promise of holidaymakers: the former was host to the famous Canterbury Cricket Week in the first week of August, the latter, a destination for peace and tranquillity on the coast for many thousands from home and abroad.

Folkestone, one of the foremost seaside resorts in the country subsequently described by the Reverend J.C. Carlile in his work on Folkestone and the First World War, was ready for its usual visitors:

‘The season was opening; thousands of visitors had flocked to the town, attracted by the health giving breezes from the sea and the charm of the scenery. Passengers crossing from the Continent watch for the white cliffs that stand for England…Little did the happy throng of visitors dream that, just across the Channel, were all the preparations for a great war, that would outrage Belgium and lay waste to the fair fields of France’.

Almost immediately visitors, alarmed as to their safety, swiftly packed their bags and left the town, as The Times reported ‘leaving the townspeople bewailing the fact that their season had been ruined’. The news had ‘cleared the town of Folkestone as effectively as though a plague had desolated her homes’. Within a week though, the Mayor of Folkestone, Sir Stephen Penfold, stated that, except for the inconvenience being felt throughout the country, Folkestone was in a normal state- amusements were as usual, the food supply was ample, and while there were still many visitors in the town, there was room for more in comfort! However, Carlile recalled that, by this stage, bands continued to turn out on the Leas, but no one was there to listen as the boys were enlisting, and women were asking what they could do to help.

A further issue (and to many another inconvenience) lay with the fact that the town had a large number of Germans and Austrians in residence, many working in hotels and guesthouses in the area. Within days many were prepared to answer the call back at home and attempted to leave Folkestone through the Harbour. A small scandal was created by the fact that some were permitted to do so, but this was soon stopped when Folkestone was designated a Prohibited Area. Scuffles even broke out between French and German men trying to board the same ship to Boulogne.

A fully laden troopship leaving Folkestone Harbour for Boulogne

In Canterbury on 4 August, where the usual preparations had been made for what was the biggest social event of the year, the streets shone with twinkling lights and Japanese lanterns hung on many street corners. Initially, there was no rush to leave as there had been in Folkestone, in fact, large crowds attended the first match at the St Lawrence Cricket Ground, and the Regimental Silver of the East Kent Regiment was on proud display, as it always was during Cricket Week. After the two matches (Kent had lost to Sussex, and then beat Northamptonshire in the second), the usual evening entertainment was available to the many visitors all around the city.

By the third day, however, the crowds had disappeared. Entertainment was difficult to find, in large part due to the fact that many of the bands were made up of military reservists who had been mobilised on the declaration of war. The army took over the Cricket Ground and Canterbury Week came to an unceremonious halt.

Although there appears to have been no initial great enthusiasm at the immediate outbreak of the war, both population centres soon found themselves greatly affected by it. Owing to the fact that Canterbury was home to a large barracks, it was soon inundated with military personnel, many of whom had to be billeted throughout the city. This was to remain the case for the duration of the war as men and women passed through, either on their way to the front, or on their return, many of whom were wounded and treated in the many VAD hospitals in the vicinity.

A group of soldiers from Canterbury, 1914

For Folkestone, the harsh realities of war were very quickly to present themselves to the population of the town in a variety of ways. Soldiers began to embark ships en-route for France, and many wounded soon began to appear. Most strikingly, within the month, the well-worn faces of thousands of Belgian refugees made their way along the Harbour arm and would become a prominent feature of wartime life in the town for the next four years.