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Tag: First World War

‘Today we have the Naming of Parts’: Words, Language and Military History

Written by Mark Connelly

In August 1942 the New Statesman and Nation published Henry Reed’s poem, ‘Naming of Parts,’ which has become one his most famous works. Its focus is a sergeant instructing the men in the handling of their rifle. The instructor luxuriates in the technical language of the weapon. We are told of the lower sling swivel, the piling swivel, the safety catch (and how quickly it can be released with a simple flick of the thumb), the bolt, the breach, the cocking-piece, the point of balance. The rifle is a welter of technical terms and understanding those technical terms means mastering a mystery, it means initiation into a distinct community; it means power.

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Ironic and Iconic: My relationship with Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory

Written by Mark Connelly

Every now and then a book comes along that meets truly the hyperbole of blurbs and testimonials found in reviews and adorning dustjacket covers. For me, one of those texts is Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory. First published by Oxford University Press in 1975, it has achieved something rare for an academic text: global fame and global notoriety. His argument that the Great War ushered in irony as the dominant mode of modern discourse was ever-present set people talking, thinking and writing, some furiously, others ecstatically. My first engagement with it was as a teenager and through the lenses of others. The first was provided by an English teacher at school who, on finding out about my interest in the First World War, urged me to read it. With the persistence of a Great War general hammering away at a strongpoint regardless of cost, he kept returning to the recommendation. I noted his enthusiasm and realised there was something special about this work, but I had a pile of other war books to get through including Wyn Griffiths’s Up to Mametz and the diaries of Edwin Campion Vaughan published under the title Some Desperate Glory. My next encounter with it came at Christmas when my parents indulged me with another pile of First World War books as presents. Among them were two other seminal texts (if you’re unlucky, I’ll write about those in another blog!), John Terraine’s The Smoke and the Fire and The White Heat. Reading The Smoke and the Fire was epiphanic (that’s a great word, isn’t it?). I went from being a full-blown Joan Littlewoodite to a full-blown revisionist in one move. And of course, a significant casualty was my open-mindedness about Fussell. This Fussell chap now looked distinctly suspect and out of his depth. As Bertie Wooster might have said, ‘Fussell can eat cake as far as I am concerned’, and that was him struck from my reading list.

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A Personal Reflection on the Recent War Graves Controversy

Written by Mark Connelly I first visited a Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery when I was sixteen years old. It was Dud Corner Cemetery and the Loos Memorial in France. I can remember the moment vividly. Having developed a deep interest in the First World War, I was on my first battlefield trip. Although my reading had made me aware of the work of the Commission, nothing prepared me for the beauty, calm and dignity of…

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Art, Men, and Masculinity in the Great War

Written by Laura Waters

People have been drawing people for millennia. Art is crucial to how we perceive ourselves, it both forms us and we form it. So when we think about identity during wartime, especially masculine identity as it relates to the male body, art is a vital source, often giving us as much information as written primary documents. Going into the Great War, we know that masculinity and gender expression were sometimes hotly contested in British society. The rise of eugenics, the classical body aesthetic, and the numerous debates over sports and exercise in schools all pushed and pulled at an ideal image of the male body, cementing its importance to one’s masculinity. As an added concern, men were expected to fulfil the role of heterosexual patriarch, to be domestic, to emote (but only within specific parameters).

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Towards ‘Neutrality Studies’: An Integrative Perspective on the History of War and International Relations

By Maartje Abbenhuis

In the history of warfare, neutrals rarely feature. When they do, they tend to be relegated to the peripheries, as marginal characters in a belligerent drama that takes centre stage. Unsurprisingly, then, ‘Neutrality Studies’ is not a well-established academic field, although there are more than a few scholars who specialise in neutrality. Still, no academic journal is dedicated to the subject, and no Anglophone academic publisher specialises in the field.

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Sounds of War: Music in the British Armed Forces

Reviewed by Dominiek Dendooven

While reading Sounds of War I was reminded of my late grandma. Born in 1908, she spent the war years in Café Transvaal near the station of Poperinghe, next to a large storage hall. Maybe this was the very same place the Guards converted into a theatre, as related by Emma Hanna in her fine book. Much chance then that the child later to become my granny witnessed British army bands performing there. Anyway, ‘oma’ often recollected how the British troops marched towards Ypres preceded by a band and singing loudly, adding: “But when they returned from the trenches they were no longer singing. Oh no”.

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The Forging of a Great Commander: Allenby of Armageddon

Written by Julian Daggett.

General Allenby, as Basil Liddell Hart observed, was something of an enigma. In the public eye he became both a great and popular First World War general. His war, however, did not start well. The official historian, James Edmonds, held that his career in France was one of ‘gross stupidity’. Allenby was a cavalry officer; at the outbreak of the war he commanded the Cavalry Division and – by late 1915 – Third Army.  He also commanded a fearsome reputation, being known as ‘the Bull’ – a rough, headstrong general who just butted forward in a blind sort of fashion. The initial, tactically impressive, triumph of Third Army at The Battle of Arras (1917) almost changed Allenby’s reputation on the Western Front.  But the triumph was short-lived; the fighting soon turned into the familiar attritional grind and Allenby reverted to type.  Three of his divisional commanders broke ranks and complained to Haig about Allenby’s murderous orders. In June 1917 Allenby was recalled to Britain.

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Dying for the Nation: Death, Grief and Bereavement in Second World War Britain

Reviewed by Ellena Matthews.

Over the last 30 years an increasing number of historians have explored the social and cultural history of death in the twentieth century. Lucy Noakes’ Dying for the Nation builds upon these studies to show that an analysis of death in wartime enhances our understanding of the Second World War. Through examining how death impacts upon individuals, communities and the state, Noakes illustrates that the management of death, grief and bereavement shaped the impact of wartime loss during the war years and in the immediate post-war period.

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Is the Future of History Digital? : Online Resources

Written by Mario Draper.

Were someone to walk into any room of historians and mention the word ‘technology’, they would undoubtedly illicit a reaction. Contrary to popular opinion, it may not always be that of fear-induced negativity, but rather an increasing acceptance of how digital media can enhance what academics already do. Teaching and research are the bread and butter of the academic profession and both are becoming increasingly entwined with the world of online dissemination. One need look no further than the importance attached to pubic engagement elements of research; much of it achieved through the streaming of events, the writing of blog posts, the recording of TV shows and podcasts, never mind the casual posts, rants, and streams of consciousness so prevalent on social media.

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The Commonwealth War Graves Commission: Online Resources

Written by Megan Kelleher.

As COVID-19 continues to be a key discussion point worldwide, the heritage sector is continuing to adapt to suit the needs of the public. One such organisation is the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), who care for the graves and memorials of the 1.7 million men and women who died in the armed forces of the British Empire during the First and Second World Wars. While the CWGC’s work is often at the forefront of much of the commemorative services for key anniversaries of the two World Wars, much of the day to day work it conducts has only recently begun to be told to the public through their website and ever-increasing social media presence. Their digital output has grown dramatically in light of the current crisis, and details of a selection of some of these online resources are detailed below:

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