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Tag: World War 1

Monarchies and the Great War

Reviewed by Mario Draper.

The First World War has frequently been described as a watershed moment. Arthur Marwick, for instance, famously put forward the notion that the resultant social, economic, and political change qualified it as the first total war. The impact on the institution of monarchy was no less dramatic, with the abrupt demise of the Romanovs, the Hohenzollerns, and the Habsburgs, as well as the resultant fall of the Ottoman dynasty a few years later. Nevertheless, a systematic study of monarchy’s role and influence during the First World War has received relatively little attention. This is all the more evident in terms of comparative history, where even The Cambridge History of the First World War only tackles the question of monarchy within the framework of civil-military relations (the autocracy vs democracy debate), which naturally extends its scope to include a study of the participating republics. To this end, Matthew Glencross and Judith Rowbotham’s conference and ensuing published proceedings, Monarchies and the Great War, provides a useful addition to the plethora of publications that have accompanied the Centenary of the First World War.

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The Next of Kin Memorial Plaque and the Family Connection

Written by Ann-Marie Foster.

The amount of personal mementoes brought to centenary events proved that family objects are at the core of many people’s understanding of the First World War. And why wouldn’t they be? These are objects that people associate with family members, use to tell stories about the past, and want to preserve for future generations. These family connections are present in many objects. Handkerchiefs, trench art, and postcards, are all examples of items which families kept as they reminded them of their loved ones. This blog focuses on one of the most enduring forms of family memorial item: the Next of Kin Memorial Plaque.

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Ypres: Great Battles.

Reviewed by Matthew Haultain-Gall.

Ypres. For well over one hundred years now, the name of this Belgian town has become shorthand for the death and destruction wrought by the First World War. But why? For whom? And which Ypres? After all, hundreds of thousands of combatants from dozens of nations fought several major battles in the ‘immortal salient’, each of which generated their own distinctive narratives. These questions are at the heart of Mark Connelly and Stefan Goebel’s fantastic Ypres, which painstakingly strips back the layers of this dense, multifaceted lieu de mémoirefrom the turn of the twentieth century to the First World War centenary.

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Belgian Neutrality and its Reinterpretation ahead of the First World War

Written by Mario Draper.

Léon Arendt will not be a familiar name to most readers. His role as the Political Director at the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 1896 to 1912 was hardly likely to make him a household name beyond Belgium’s borders. Yet, his conceptualisation of these borders and of Belgium’s wider relationship with neutrality – imposed in perpetuity by the Great Powers (Britain, France, Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Prussia) in 1839 – marks him out as a singularly important figure in defining the strategic paradigm at the outbreak of the First World War. For here was a man who proposed the controversial view in 1911 that neutrality was but a tool of independence and not an end in itself. In other words, were neutrality to jeopardize continued independence, Belgium was within its rights to reinterpret its duties and forgo its strict adherence to the 1839 Treaty of London. 

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(Re-)Visiting Ypres

Written by Mark Connelly and Stefan Goebel.

Visiting Ypres, or Ieper to use its modern name, is an amazing experience. First, there is the sheer wonder of wandering around a seemingly historic city which, on closer inspection, proves to be of very recent completion. Then, there is the impressive scale of the massive Cloth Hall, the great medieval trading market which attracted merchants from across Europe. But, that too proves to be a bit of curiosity when stared at, as the mix of very smooth, sharply cut stone merges with the pock-marked, scarred and worn pillars along the ground floor. Next to the Cloth Hall is a soaring medieval cathedral, but enter inside and it feels so new you almost expect it to squeak as it comes out of the shrink-wrap. Finally, there is the Menin Gate, a huge memorial to the British and Commonwealth missing of ‘the salient’. Tucked into the ramparts, the Menin Gate almost leaps out on the visitor walking along the street from the central square (the Grote Markt). Of course, it is the Menin Gate that provides the key to the rest of the mystery, for it commemorates the fact that this charming West Flanders city witnessed some of the most intense and prolonged fighting on the Western Front between 1914 and 1918. During that fighting, Ypres was reduced to rubble and ashes only to rise again in replica form. And that is an underlying theme of our new book, Ypres: the recycling, rebuilding, reconstruction of images, stories, and histories of Ypres which stands alongside the physical construction of memorials, monuments and cemeteries in a reconstructed landscape. It is about construction and reconstruction; the encoding and reinterpreting of a major historical event within its original space, and how the battlefield of Ypres could be brought home.

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‘What the Poppy means’: The Royal British Legion’s annual Poppy Appeal

Written by Amy Harrison.

On 17 October 2018, the Cambridge University Students’ Union (CUSU) posted a news article entitled ‘No, we did not ban poppies or Remembrance Day at Cambridge University…’. Their piece follows a series of articles appearing in national newspapers (although predominantly tabloids) which suggested that the students had voted against a motion to increase and promote Remembrance events among the student population as these were thought to ‘glorify’ the conflict. This news led to a severe backlash for the Union involved, with even the Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough telling the Daily Telegraph that the motion brought ‘“great shame” to Cambridge and shows “disdain” for the armed forces’. However, as with many controversial news stories, it was not all as simple as it appeared to be, and the 17 October response hit back at these assumptions. The CUSU condemned the actions of the press, suggesting that they ‘have used Remembrance Day and Cambridge students as political football’ and led to death threats and online abuse being sent to students involved. The main motion (to advertise Remembrance Day more fully) was adapted to include all those affected by war, and both were defeated in the understanding the Union’s engagement with Remembrance Day would continue as normal.

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Servicemen’s Music-Making and Morale in the British Forces, 1914-18

Written by Emma Hanna.

Pianos seem to be everywhere these days. Walking through St Pancras International station, one of the upright ‘street pianos’ are invariably being put through its paces by a variety of would-be pianists, belting out music of all kinds, from a Beethoven sonata, to Simon and Garfunkel, to the Lion King. Or you get to hear someone reminiscing on their school days with a rendition of Chop Sticks. Even the singer John Legend gave the beleaguered St Pancras piano a turn after a recent journey on Eurostar.

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