Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Eleven Interesting Items I Found at the British Library Website

1.  John Bull Goes U-boat Fishing - Cartoon

Optimistic [hopeful?] cartoon from an Unidentified Member of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

2.  Denmark's Neutrality

In this picture workers are mounting barbed wire fences along the main road, Strandvejen, on the northern outskirts of Copenhagen. Fences like this were laid out across the northern suburbs to guard against enemy attack on the capital. Denmark managed to remain neutral throughout the war. Despite this, preparations were needed to defend their neutrality, including a major defence force of 50,000 men. Most of this force was deployed in the defence of Copenhagen. Furthermore, and strictly against international law, the strait of Øresund between Denmark and Sweden was mined on German command.

3.  Italian Armoured Cars

These armoured cars are in Gorizia, an unredeemed city for Italy, excluded from its 1861 reunification. Gorizia remained an Austro-Hungarian territory until World War One, after which it became part of Italy. Armoured cars were one of many innovations used during the war.

4. War Poem by a Young George Orwell (Eric Blair)

While George Orwell is better known for his novels, the first work he ever published was a poem. Written when he was only eleven years old, "Awake! Young Men of England" appeared in the local newspaper, Henley and South Oxfordshire Standard, on 2 October 1914. The poem was published under Orwell’s real name, Eric Blair—he adopted the pseudonym George Orwell only in the 1930s. During the years of the First World War, Orwell was a student at St Cyprian’s, a preparatory boarding school outside Eastbourne. Despite his young age, he was already determined to become a well-known writer. Orwell’s poem, written in three quatrains, shows the influence of the patriotic language and glorification of war that characterised the recruitment campaigns aimed at young men during the Great War. "Awake, Young Men of England!" appeared on the back cover of the newspaper, next to a long list of names of local men who had enlisted. 

5. Children Playing Soldiers

This photograph from the Italian Front shows children imitating soldiers, carrying swords and shields and lining up as if for a military drill. The lives of children were greatly influenced by the conflict. Toy bears were replaced by toy guns to imitate the occupation of absent fathers, and playtime was lost to work in factories. Children sometimes encountered their enemies face to face and were themselves victims of violence. They were also victims of the catastrophic changes the war inflicted on their families.

6.  Journey of the Red Cross Yacht Erin

The map shows the route of the steam yacht Erin in January and February 1915. The yacht was used by the Red Cross to transport ambulances, trucks, medical materials, and clothing to typhus-stricken Serbia. In the second image, Erin is shown passing through the Corinth Canal on the voyage.

7. Execution of an Unidentified Spy Near Reims, 1914

This photograph is one of very few showing executions by French troops during the first weeks of the war. After the Battle of the Frontiers (10–28 August 1914), which ended in French defeat, French troops were forced to flee in particularly harsh conditions. In order to maintain the cohesion of the French army, orders were given to execute spies and traitors. Those killed were both civilians and soldiers—soldiers who had become separated from their units or contested orders but also civilians unable to explain what they were doing there. We still know very little about those killed, as historians tend to focus instead on the mutinies of 1917.

8.  Honk!  The Voice of the Benzine Lancers

Honk! was a trench journal published by the Benzine Lancers of Australian, although this first issue was published on board the Lancers’ troopship. As with most trench journals, Honk! printed verse and humorous notes from the trenches and also included news from home. Trench journals were notorious for their wit and black humour, hardly surprising given the circumstances of those providing material for them. They provide an important insight into how people looked at and read about life to keep their spirits up. . . Diggers’ language and slang was different from that of other forces from the British Empire, and journals such as Honk! preserve the language and irreverence of the group. A sentiment summed up by the editor in Issue 1, who, seeking to stem any questions about why the soldiers were abroad and what the meaning of life may be, merely printed, in very large type, DUNNO! 

9.  Photograph of [1/4th] Gurkhas at kit inspection in Le Sart, Flanders

10.  Letter from First Sea Lord Admiral H. B. Jackson to Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet John Rushworth Jellicoe  

The beginning of this letter from First Sea Lord (professional head of the Royal Navy) Admiral H.B. Jackson to Jellicoe gives an insight into how some within the navy felt about their work during the war. Jackson warns Jellicoe, who is in charge of the whole fleet, to watch out for "staleness" among the commanding officers, and he sympathizes with his "monotonous" work. Defensive activities were important, but they could be dull, and many in the navy wished for a proper naval battle, ship against ship, like the Battle of Trafalgar more than a hundred years earlier.

11.  School essay written by a student about a fictitious attack on London

In his story "How I made a nightly attack on London with my Zeppelin,", the schoolboy I. Biberl writes about being in a troop in occupied Antwerp. The captain receives a message that his soldiers should attack London and orders them to prepare for departure. They fly to Dover with three zeppelins and six aircraft. The student describes being violently bombarded. Despite this, the troop manages to drop numerous bombs on London. After a successful attack, the team returns to Antwerp, received by cheering crowds. The essay is accompanied by a drawing of the air attack. In addition to the pupil’s handwritten text are corrections in red from his teacher. This document shows that the pupils were assigned to write patriotic essays on the war. New technologies in the conflict were a favorite topic.

The British Library provides 671 examples of pieces from its collection related to the Great War.  Begin browsing the selections HERE.

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