Monthly Archives: November 2014

Rare Books Collection: Between the Boards

Today’s post marks the first in a series focusing items from the Rare Books Collection. Further posts in the series will appear over the coming months.

There are certain things which you expect to find when you open a rare book – text and illustrations being obvious examples. But books can be full of surprises, not only in their published content but also in the materials and markings that they accumulate over the years.

The Rare Books Collection at Southampton includes examples of early books in such good condition that they could have been printed yesterday, but many bear, all too clearly, the evidence of their age and use. This is seen in the condition of the bindings and in annotations and bookplates, additions which have sometimes been seen as detracting from their value. With the increasing availability of early texts online, there is renewed interest in this copy specific information, now more easily traced through online catalogues and databases. Such features can provide an insight into the history of an individual book, in terms of its ownership and use, and also contribute to the study of both the history of books as cultural objects and the history of reading.

Signature of Elizabeth Cumberland

Signature of Elizabeth Cumberland
The Book of Common Prayer (Oxford, 1700)
Rare Books BX 5145.A2 (in box)

Ownership might be indicated by an owner simply writing his or her name in a prominent place and possibly recording how much the book cost and where and when it was acquired. Bookplates were often pasted inside the front cover, whilst wealthy owners also had the option of including a coat of arms on their personally commissioned bindings.  As well as recording ownership by individuals, books can also bear the labels of long defunct libraries and reading societies, some of which even list the borrowers’ names.

Annotations by Sir Frederic Madden

Annotations by Sir Frederic Madden
Lake Allen The History of Portsmouth (London, 1817)
Rare Books Cope POR 92

Evidence of use can be seen in the critical annotations made by former owners, often in a book’s margins whilst blank pages at the beginning and end of the text were used for a variety of purposes. These included unrelated lists and handwriting practice, as well as the records of family births, marriages and deaths which are often found in Bibles. Books could also be personalised with the addition of illustrations and cuttings related to the text or meaningful to the owner in some other way.

Advert for a Daimler car re-used in binding

Advert for a Daimler car re-used in binding
W.G. Johnstone The Nature-Printed British Sea-weeds v.4 (London, 1859-60)
Rare Books QK 466

The structure of the book can also be revealing. The fact that a binding is in poor condition or that a book has been rebound suggests that it has been well-used and valued, whilst a book with uncut pages tells a different story. Even damaged bindings are useful in exposing the practises of book-binders. Printers’ waste and discarded manuscripts were commonly re-used in bindings and only become apparent when damage has occurred.

Later posts will highlight examples of different copy specific features found in items from the Rare Books Collection, as well as books which on their publication contained unusual materials, quite literally in the case of the Repository of Arts, with its tiny samples of early 19th century fabrics.

Reflections on war and warfare: Week 39 (24 – 30 November 2014)

As of March 2014, we are posting weekly extracts of writings on war and warfare drawn from our manuscript and printed collections. Ranging from items on the Maratha wars to the Second World War, the extracts will reflect opinions both from the battle front and from those at home. The quotes tie in with the exhibition ‘When “the days of conquest are passed”: reflections on war and warfare’, currently on display at the Special Collections Gallery.

25 November 1812 Loss of intelligence in Spain
Having liberated large areas of Spain after the battle of Salamanca on 22 July 1812, Wellington’s army was eventually force to withdraw to the Portuguese frontier to avoid being trapped by large French relief armies. In the passage below Wellington writes from Freneda, situated between the Portuguese fortress town of Almeida and the Spanish fortress city of Ciudad Rodrigo, on the recent loss of intelligence from the country.

“I must admit however that I have lately received but little intelligence from the country. The decree of the Cortes which required every person to justify his conduct who had remained in the country occupied by the enemy, has obliged many, who were heretofore instrumental in acquiring and transmitting intelligence, to fly from their homes; lest they should be punished by the enemy; and I have not yet had time to establish fresh channels of communication.”

MS 61 WP1/351 Copy of a letter from General Arthur Wellesley, first Marquis of Wellington, to Henry Bathurst, third Earl Bathurst, Secretary for War and the Colonies, 25 November 1812

26 November 1939 The war “news”

“The war “news” a tale of more boats sunk – an ominous accusation by Russia that Finns have “attacked” their troops, killing some – the usual technique to excuse an attack of their own.”

MS 168 AJ 217/35 Journal of Samuel Rich, 26 November 1939

30 November 1915 Preparations for dealing with gas attacks

As a chemical weapon, gas was used to injure and kill entrenched defenders. In 1915 Britain first used gas at the Battle of Loo, namely chlorine which was codenamed Red Star. Despite chlorine being a powerful irritant that could damage the eyes, throat and lungs, Red Star’s weakness was that it was dependent on a favourable wind for a successful attack. This meant that there was the potential danger of it inflicting damage on British troops if the gas cyclinders were hit by shells from the opposition. Britain learnt from this and went on to develop the potent killing agent phosgene, which was colourless and had an odour of mouldy gas. This made it less detectable and more effective as a weapon. This gas went on to be the cause of 85% of the 1000,000 deaths caused by chemical weapons during World War One. Britain also developed helmets for its troops to wear. Examples include the smoke helmet, which was developed in July 1915 and developed by Major Cluny Macpherson of the Newfoundland Regiment. This helmet consisted of a flannel bag with a celluloid window, entirely covering the head. Other examples include the British P gas helmet, which was impregnated with sodium phenolate. This was partially effective against harmful chemicals such as phosgene.

“This afternoon we had a lecture on gas, and helmet drill afterwards. We went into a room with asphyxiating gas which would have killed us in three minutes, but for the helmets. As it was you only felt a change in the temperature. Then we went into another room where there was more gas (known as lachrymose) being let off. In five seconds you were almost blinded and tears rolled down your cheeks. Beastly as the latter was I think it was preferable to the former.”

MS 132 AJ 322 1/1 Letter from Basil Henriques to his mother, 30 November 1915

User perspectives: Researching international dimensions of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan from 1947 to 1966

In this week’s post PhD student Rakesh Ankit looks back over his time researching the Mountbatten Papers among “the jewels in the crown of the University of Southampton.”

“When, in the winter of 2010, I was gathering information and collecting material to make a successful application to start a PhD in the United Kingdom, Southampton was among the 3-4 universities I applied to. It quickly emerged as my first choice for three reasons: an opportunity to work under Prof Ian Talbot, the possibility of a fully-funded bursary and archival studentship and the presence of the Mountbatten and related papers at the Hartley Library. I was, therefore, delighted when, in the spring of 2011, I was informed of the successful outcome of my application. Today, in the autumn of 2014 as I await my viva – having submitted my thesis – I look back on three very pleasant and productive academic years.

Lord Mountbatten being received by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Liaquat Ali Khan at Palam airport, Delhi, 22 March 1947

Lord Mountbatten being received by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Liaquat Ali Khan at Palam airport, Delhi, 22 March 1947

A key reason for this lies on the shelves of the strong room and the desks of the reading room of the Special Collections on Level 4 of the Hartley Library, where I have probably spent maximum time when in campus. My PhD thesis is on the international dimensions of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan from 1947 to 1966. This was also roughly the period during which Louis Mountbatten (along with his wife Edwina) was at his most involved and most influential, with diminishing returns as the years went, in Indian affairs. To state the obvious, therefore, his papers, those of his wife and his Press Officer, Alan Campbell-Johnson, have been the foundational source for my enquiry. Indeed, it would not be an exaggeration to say that it was Mountbatten who was responsible for any international dimensions accruing to the Kashmir dispute by his successful suggestion to his close friend and the first Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, to take the matter to the United Nations in December 1947. Otherwise, it might well have remained a subcontinental or a Commonwealth affair.

As befits a rich and enduringly relevant set of papers, MB files have been used by scholars ever since they were first put together in their present form almost two decades ago. Thus far, the chief focus has been Mountbatten’s role in the end of Britain’s India Empire with increasingly a look at his anomalous position as independent India’s first Governor-General from August 1947 to June 1948. Of course, as a contentious historical figure, Mountbatten has been subject to laudatory or condemnatory accounts from as early as early-1950s with the high water marks of biographical history-writing on him being reached in the mid-1980s and subsequently.

From the start, therefore, I was conscious to avoid the trodden tracks and while I sifted through the material for my prime purpose – the international dimensions of the Kashmir dispute that simmered on Mountbatten’s watch as the last Viceory and boiled over during his tenure as Governor-General – I was perhaps keener to move away from the academic battles of 1947-48 involving Mountbatten. In this endeavour, I was encouraged by Prof Chris Woolgar. I can do no more than join the many researchers, who have benefitted from their interactions with the always generous, indeed indulgent, Head of Special Collections (1990-2013), in expressing my gratitude. And so, instead of starting with the MB1/D series as most if not all South Asia students do, I did everything else first: MB1/C, E, F, G, H, I, J, K et al. This research provided the basis for an article I wrote on Mountbatten and India, 1948-1964, which was published in The International History Review earlier this year in April.

When, after this detour, I turned to Mountbatten’s Viceroyalty, my attention was caught by the very first file, a rather thick one, in the MB1/D series, which contained the fortnightly personal letters that each of the last 11 provincial governors in British India wrote to the last Viceroy between March and August 1947. While the months leading up to the partition of British India has been looked at in perhaps every single detail now, at the national, provincial and local levels, one missing link in this story had been the provincial governors. One glance through the file made me embark upon a detailed plumbing of the letters, aimed at bringing these men to light. My supervisor, Prof Ian Talbot, gave me crucial confidence and support for this old-fashioned foray into personality politics of a period rather populated with personalities. It bore fruit recently (issue dated 2 August 2014) as an article in the journal Economic & Political Weekly titled The Last Sahibs: Governors in British India, March-August 1947.

While on the subject of provinces, yet another fruitful avenue of research that the Mountbatten files present is the situation in the non-partitioned seven provinces of British India at the cusp of independence and what that tells us about the continuities and linkages between the colonial and post-colonial state across the divide of 1947. Naturally, the historiography on Mountbatten and India in 1947 has been dominated by the plight of Punjab and Bengal, their partition and its aftermath. By shifting one’s gaze besides them to those other, sometimes bigger in size and population, provinces that escaped territorial division and communal calculations but wrestled with their own problems no less important for their imprint on the new dominions of India and Pakistan, aided by the files on them in the Mountbatten collection, one gets much food for thought.

Apart from the provinces, the other rich subject of enquiry for Mountbatten’s time in India is his treatment of the princely states – a much-written about subject. One princely state among the 550-odd that has escaped attention is the tiny western state of Junagadh, which was the first crisis of accession between India and Pakistan. As I worked on the biggest crisis – Kashmir – my attention came to the smallest – Junagadh. Once again, a set of four files in the MB1/D series made me realise the continuing potential of the Mountbatten collection to throw new light on many episodes of early independent Indian history, where there are still more assumptions than answers. Here, the Alan Campbell-Johnson files too registered a prominent presence.

These last two topics – the non-partitioned provinces and Junagadh – remain works in progress but how can one adequately express gratitude for the congenial research base provided for the PhD as well as the research possibilities pointed for a post-doc by this seemingly inexhaustible collection? Mountbatten was uniquely involved in the war and diplomacy around Kashmir in 1947-48 and then retained his influence to be brought out to India in the summer of 1963 to prevail upon his old friend Nehru to settle the dispute. Naturally, his papers have a range of material – from the official to the strictly personal. Among the galaxy of Britons who chose to stay back in India and Pakistan post-August 1947, none found himself in a more peculiar position than Mountbatten whose reputation as the imperial Crown Representative would give way to charges of partisanship in favour of India, not only in Pakistan but in the establishment circles in London too.

But before partition and charges of partisanship came, Mountbatten had gone to India to head a coalition government of the Congress and the Muslim League in March 1947 and, for the next two months, ran British India as the head of this council whose political and ideological incompatibility has overshadowed the complex collaborational governance exercise it was engaged in. Once again, those files in the Mountbatten collection, which contain the minutes of these Cabinet meetings, flag an interesting research topic, an enquiry into the nature and working of the last central government of British India that existed between September 1946 and August 1947.

There are many merits of the Mountbatten and related papers; first and foremost of which is that here one can find material that is still under lock and key in India (and Pakistan). Equally there are pitfalls in relying exclusively on this collection, like any other but especially so here given the personality and career of Mountbatten himself; the chief being the need to be wary of Mountbatten’s and his staff’s propensity to exaggerate his importance and centrality in the scheme of things as well as their production of contemporary records always keeping an eye on history-writing thereby at times taking liberty with facts and figures and sequences and sentiments.

It would be remiss to conclude without a mention of the very kind and helpful staff in the reading room. I have always felt at home and would rather be there than at any other place when on campus in Southampton. I will also remember fondly the behind-the-scenes view of the strong room that the Senior Archivist, Karen Robson personally handled for me and my parents. I write not only with a sense of attachment and affection, but also in praise of the personal touch and the professionalism with which the Special Collections are handled at the Hartley Library. Add the Wellington, Palmerston and the Anglo-Jewish Archives, and it is no exaggeration to say that the Special Collections are the jewels in the crown of the University of Southampton.”

Reflections on war and warfare: Week 38 (17 – 23 November 2014)

As of March 2014, we are posting weekly extracts of writings on war and warfare drawn from our manuscript and printed collections. Ranging from items on the Maratha wars to the Second World War, the extracts will reflect opinions both from the battle front and from those at home. The quotes tie in with the exhibition ‘When “the days of conquest are passed”: reflections on war and warfare’, currently on display at the Special Collections Gallery.

17 November 1941 Air raids in Southampton

“A meeting of the Council was held on 17 November 1941 […] Halls and Refectory Committee […] That a vote of deep appreciation and gratitude be sent to the Warden and Vice-Warden of Highfield Hall for their splendid example and conduct in the face of great difficulties and dangers in the air raids which had taken place in the immediate vicinity.”

MS 1/MBK1/8 Council minute book: University College of Southampton 1938-51, p.54

18 November 1939 Germany’s “war aim”

“There’s great unrest in Bohemia and Moravia – martial law in Prague etc. Dr. Ley, the German Labour Leader says Germany’s war aim is the destruction of Britain! Oh yeah!”

MS 168 AJ 217/35 Journal of Samuel Rich, 18 November 1939

19 November 1809 Battle of Ocaña

The Battle of Ocaña was fought on 19 November 1809 between French forces under Marshal Soult and King Joseph Bonaparte and Spanish forces under General Juan Carlos de Aréizaga. Tensions with the British meant that no assistance was given by Wellington’s forces. As a result, the Spanish army suffering its greatest defeat of the Peninsular War, leaving southern Spain free to further French incursion.

“I acknowledge that I have never expected any other result from the march of General Areyzaga and I am not at all surprised at what has happened. The folly will appear in a still stronger light if after all that has occurred the French should be unable to penetrate into Andalusia, which I really believe will be the case, if General Areyzaga should be able to collect any proportion of his scattered forces.”

MS 61 WP1/286/43 Copy of a letter from Lieutenant General Sir Arthur Wellesley, first Viscount Wellington, to Lieutenant Colonel Roche, 26 November 1809

21 November 1917 Battle of Cambrai

Taking place from 20 November to 7 December 1917, the Battle of Cambrai reflected what could be achieved with new artillery and infantry methods. As a result of Cambrai, France being a vital location for breaking through the German Hindenburg Line, Brigadier Hugh Elles of the Tank Corps suggested using a large number of tanks for the British campaign. In addition, a secret transfer of artillery reinforcements was suggested by Henry Hugh Tudor, Commander of the 9th (Scottish) infantry division artillery, in order to achieve a surprise offensive upon the Germans. Unfortunately the Germans received adequate intelligence to be on moderate alert, and were aware of the use of tanks. Despite the success of the Mark IV at the start of the Cambrai campaign, they became mostly ineffective after the first day, with up to 179 tanks being lost at the end of the battle. However, the use of strategic artillery and infantry techniques such as new sound ranging and silent registration of guns led to victory for Britain.

“There is such thrilling news in tonight’s paper about us pushing through the Hindenburg line that I just feel I must if down straight away write to you – praying so now that if you have been in it, that you are safe.”

MS 132 AJ 322 2/1 Letter from Sybil Henriques to Basil Henriques, 21 November 1917

10th Anniversary of the Special Collections Gallery

In the autumn of 2004 the University of Southampton welcomed visitors to the first exhibition to be held in the new Special Collections Gallery. The Gallery was created with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund and a major investment by the University in the remodelling and extension of the Hartley Library. Since then there have been three or four exhibitions on display each year based on manuscript and printed materials housed by the Special Collection Division.

The first exhibition, titled The Special Collections, sampled some of the main collections, to convey their range, importance and flavour. It was divided into five sections, reflecting the growth of the holdings and some of the principal themes that are to be found in them. These included materials relating to Hampshire; Prime Ministers’ papers of the first Duke of Wellington and the third Viscount Palmerston; Anglo-Jewish materials; materials relating to Lord Mountbatten and the transfer of power in India; as well as early materials from the Parkes Library.

Banners for exhibitions from 2007 to 2014

Banners for exhibitions from 2007 to 2014

Subsequent exhibitions have expanded on these themes. The exhibition Cecil Roth and Anglo-Jewish intellectuals in 2005 drew from the significant range of materials for Jewish individuals held by the Division. Focusing on the papers of five Anglo-Jewish intellectuals, the exhibition provided a snapshot of the overall holdings. The following year, to mark the 350th anniversary of the re-admission of the Jewish population into Britain, ‘In a style fitting to us Jewes’: Anglo-Jewish life from the Resettlement reflected more broadly on the Anglo-Jewish community and aspects of Jewish life in the UK.

A number of exhibitions have drawn on the official, diplomatic, military and political papers of the Duke of Wellington. Wellington and his papers in 2008 celebrated twenty-five years since the archive was allocated to the University under national heritage legislation in 1983. Showcasing the scale of the collection, the exhibition reflected the entire span of Wellington’s career from his first military commission to his political career. Meanwhile, exhibitions held in conjunction with the Wellington Congress have included The War against Napoleon in 2006, examining the impact of the Napoleonic War across Europe; and ‘Victory searches for her son’: defending Spain and Portugal against Napoleon, 1810 in 2010, focusing on two of the key moments in the Peninsular War – the Lines of Torres Vedras and the Battle of Buçaco – as well as Britain’s relationship with Spain and Portugal.

The Broadlands Archives in 2010 offered a look at the extensive range of materials in the Broadlands collection. Centred on the Temple (Palmerston), Ashley, Cassel and Mountbatten families, the documents in the collection cover major political, diplomatic, social and economic events of the 19th and 20th centuries. One such event was the focus of the exhibition The Independence of India and Pakistan, 1947 in 2007 which offered a fascinating perspective on the transfer of power from the British Raj to the newly-created states of India and Pakistan in 1947. Drawing largely on the Papers of Earl Mountbatten of Burma, the exhibition marked the sixtieth anniversary of this historic event.

In 2012 the University of Southampton celebrated its diamond jubilee as the first university to be created in the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, receiving its royal charter on 29 April 1952. It also celebrated the foundation of the Hartley Institution, the University’s predecessor, which was opened on 15 October 1862. To mark the occasion the exhibition ‘To constitute and found a university …’: from Hartley Institution to the University of Southampton’s diamond jubilee set out to reflect development over 150 years, both in terms of the experience of students, from the nineteenth century onwards, and in the physical changes to the institution. The same year saw The Poetry of F.T.Prince (1912-2003) examining the life and work of one of the University’s first Professors of English and a significant poet of the twentieth century.

Visitors at the Special Collections Gallery

Visitors at the Special Collections Gallery

Other exhibitions have focused on a wide range of topics, including ‘Irreconcileable with the principles of humanity and justice’: the trade in slaves and its abolition in 2007; ‘A Most Laborious Undertaking’: The Art of Maps and Map-Making in 2008; Unreliable memories: documenting personal and official experience in 2009; Britain and South Asia, 1760–1960 in 2011; Here, look after him’: los niños, refugee children from the Spanish Civil War in 2012; and ‘When a traveller is in a strange place …’: perspectives on romanticism and revolution, 1790–1840 in 2013. Exhibitions offering perspectives on artistic subjects have included In the Loop: Highlights of the Montse Stanley Knitting Collection in 2008; Print Matters: A visual journey through the artist’s book in 2011; and The early modern image: patronage, kings and peoples in 2014.

As well as drawing on material held by the Special Collections Division, exhibitions have included materials from the Hampshire Records Office, the Southampton City Archives, the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Knitting Reference Library, and the University of Southampton School of Ocean and Earth Science.

Upcoming exhibitions in 2015 will focus on the role of music at the University, the Battle of Waterloo, and the Parkes library on Jewish/non-Jewish relations. The current exhibition ‘When “the days of conquest are passed”: reflections on war and warfare’ will run until 12 December 2014.

Reflections on war and warfare: Week 37 (10 – 16 November 2014)

As of March 2014, we are posting weekly extracts of writings on war and warfare drawn from our manuscript and printed collections. Ranging from items on the Maratha wars to the Second World War, the extracts will reflect opinions both from the battle front and from those at home. The quotes tie in with the exhibition ‘When “the days of conquest are passed”: reflections on war and warfare’, currently on display at the Special Collections Gallery.

10 November 1813 Advance towards France
With the capture of the city of San Sebastian in September 1813, Wellington’s Anglo-Allied army were in a position to push Marshal Soult’s forces towards the French-Spanish frontier. As they pursued the French out of Spain they achieved further success at the Battle of the Bidassoa on 7 October, and the Battle of Nivelle on 10 November. As noted in the below passage, the French suffered a further defeat with the surrender of the city of Pamplona to the Spanish on 30 October.

“The fall of Pamplona must have relieved you from some anxiety, considering the state of the season. Your advance into France will come at a very seasonable time, although Buonaparte has effected his escape to Mayence. It is impossible to judge by the French papers with what force he has been able to retreat. There cannot be any doubt of Blücher having defeated part of the army on the 21st.”

MS 61 WP1/379 Letter from Henry Bathurst, third Earl Bathurst, Secretary for War and the Colonies, Downing Street, to Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, first Marquis of Wellington, 10 November 1813

11 November 1918 Germany signs armistice, formally ending the First World War
Known as the Armistice of Compiègne, the agreement was the official signal of World War One ending, after four years. On 29 September 1918 Kaiser Wilhelm II and Imperial Chancellor Count Georg von Herling were informed by the German Supreme Army Command that the military situation facing Germany was hopeless. Quartermaster Erich Ludendorff claimed that he could not promise that the front would hold for another 24 hours, and heavily recommended Germany to accept the fourteen points made by of US President Wilson in January 1918. Such points related to the withdrawal of German troops to behind their own borders, a promise of reparations, the disposition of German warships and submarines, and the discontinuance of hostilities. Despite the Germans registering their formal protest at the harshness of the Allied terms, they were not in a position to refuse the armistice. This was due to the abdication of the Kaiser, and the threat of revolution looming in various parts of Germany. Thus, the armistice went into effect on 11am on 11 November 1918, marking a triumph for the Allies and a defeat for Germany.

“The child had gone to school, Amy to the shop – I reading a novel ‘The Game’ by J. London, when bang went the maroons, and guns and rockets. Alone in the house, I could only guess what it portended – a raid! Soon Amy came along and disabused me. The war is over! The war is over! The flags flutter from every house; Con brought home one for her half-holiday – W.T. has a big one at his shop. Armistice signed at 5am today, Sidney spent his half-holiday in going to Sutton to Ansells – I persuaded to go down to W.T.S for a drink of wine. We shut our shop ‘in consequence of victory’; the high road full of cheering crowds – all carry flags.”

MS 168 AJ 217/14 Journal of Samuel Rich, 11 November 1918

12 November 1939 Nazi violence against the Jewish people

“Mr. Bruno spoke on the music of the Reformgemeinde [reform community] at Berlin – destroyed by Nazi gangsters on the night of Nov 9/10 last year. He spoke well – the whole thing was most moving. There were only 25 present, mostly Germans. […] All the Germans present (men) had been in concentration camps. Their wives present. Mrs Shapski told me quite simply that she had walked from Smithfields that morning:- yet she had been a “very wealthy” woman! But no fussing. These are the real people.”

MS 168 AJ 217/35 Journal of Samuel Rich, 12 November 1939

‘The Great War’ Study Day

Lifelong Learning will be holding a one-day cultural event on Saturday 8 November 2014 consisting of a series of short talks led by experts from the university. This thought-provoking and inspiring conference will offer the opportunity to learn and engage in discussion about the Great War and the commemoration of conflict more generally.

Commemorating conflict

Commemorating conflict

In the lead up to the event John McAleer, a lecturer in History, reflects on the role of commemoration as a response to war and conflict.

Commemorating Conflict
On 21 November 1759, William Pitt, the Prime Minister, stood up in the House of Commons and declared that a public monument would be erected to the leader of the British troops at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, Major-General James Wolfe. Pitt’s announcement took nobody by surprise. It came on the day after Wolfe’s funeral procession in Greenwich and only a few weeks after news of the British victory over the French at Quebec had reached London. Wolfe’s death, at the moment of a victory that essentially secured the sprawling landmass of North America for Britain (albeit only for a generation), guaranteed him lasting fame. The monument proposed by Pitt was eventually unveiled in Westminster Abbey in 1772 at a cost of £3000. Its sculptor, Joseph Wilton, depicted the dying Wolfe supported by two soldiers in uniform as he gazes upwards to the figure of Victory, bearing a laurel wreath and a palm branch. It is a personal monument, dedicated to an individual, the hero of a war from which Britain emerged as a global superpower. But for contemporaries, the monument – and the commemoration of Wolfe more generally – served to channel ideas and ideals of heroism, sacrifice and victory, crystallising nebulous notions of national identity in the process. As Horace Walpole observed, it was at Wolfe’s death that his fame truly began.

The Seven Years War, in which Wolfe fought and died, has often been called the first truly global war. But the commemoration of the Great War – the First World War – contrasts significantly with what came before. Instead of statues of dying generals, we find monuments like the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme at Thiepval by Sir Edwin Lutyens, or the Menin Gate by Reginald Blomfield at Ieper/Ypres. Wilton’s heroic vision contrasts markedly with these architectural forms. Lutyens’s work may have echoes of the triumphal arch of antiquity but its spare architectural beauty – standing sentinel above the killing fields of the Somme – acts as a stark testament to the countless thousands who have no grave, no final resting place.

In the decades after 1918, it was the ‘war memorial’ – a sculptural or architectural feature that commemorated not a victory or a victorious commander but human sacrifice – that defined efforts to commemorate the conflict. The truly horrifying statistics of the war, with its millions of casualties, suggest why this might be so. Writing in a Berlin newspaper in 1928, the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig offered an interpretation of such memorials. They were, he wrote:

offered not to victory but to the dead – the victims – without any distinction, to the fallen Australians, English, Hindus, and Mohammedans who are immortalised to the same degree, and in the same chambers, in the same stone, by virtue of the same death. Here there is no image of the King, no mention of victories, no genuflection to generals of genius, no prattle about Archdukes and Princes: only a laconic, noble inscription – Pro Rege Pro Patria.

All of these monuments, erected in response to the great conflicts of their day, tell us as much, if not more, about the societies they come from as the conflicts themselves. In 1769, on the tenth anniversary of the battle at Quebec, Captain John Knox, an officer who had served there, published his memoirs. For Knox and his readers, there was no question about the importance of the taking of the city. Yet Knox was writing as much for future generations as he was for his contemporaries:

The end proposed, at least professedly, by all publications, is instruction, or entertainment. That I have the prospect of affording either, by a recital of facts, so recent as to be universally known, may possibly be a question with many. But the answer is ready. Though the facts, here recited, are known now, how long will that knowledge continue, if they are trusted meerly [sic] to memory?

Knox recognized that ‘meer’ memory is indeed slippery – a dynamic, active force that shapes the past but that is itself shaped by historical circumstances that change and respond to the specific political and social exigencies of the moment. And nowhere is this more true than in the way people and countries remember past conflicts.

How and why have wars been represented and remembered over the years? What role do specific anniversaries play? In what ways do commemorations shape our individual and collective responses to war and conflict in general? These are just some of the questions that we will be exploring in a study day to be held at the university on Saturday 8 November. We will consider specific national contexts and the various media that have been enlisted to help in this work of commemoration: from images and objects to poetry and music. Although a major focus of the day will be the First World War, we will also draw on other examples to place this conflict in broader historical contexts. And there will also be an opportunity for participants to have a guided tour of the special exhibition in the Hartley Library.

You can find out more information about the study day here:

Reflections on war and warfare: Week 36 (3 – 9 November 2014)

As of March 2014, we are posting weekly extracts of writings on war and warfare drawn from our manuscript and printed collections. Ranging from items on the Maratha wars to the Second World War, the extracts will reflect opinions both from the battle front and from those at home. The quotes tie in with the exhibition ‘When “the days of conquest are passed”: reflections on war and warfare’, currently on display at the Special Collections Gallery.

3 November 1812 Madrid is retaken
Having liberated Madrid on 12 August 1812, Wellington made the decision to move against French forces in northern Spain in the hope of capturing the strategically important stronghold of Burgos. However, the castle proved too tough a target and Wellington raised the siege on 21 October. As French relief armies moved in Wellington ordered his forces to withdraw towards Ciudad Rodrigo. He ordered Lieutenant General Rowland Hill to abandon Madrid and march to join him. This allowed Joseph Bonaparte to re-enter the capital on 2 November.

“I do not know how the French can contrive to keep together the force which they have brought against us; but at all events as we have got together they cannot do us much harm and sooner or later they must separate and we then shall resume again the upper hand.

At all events although the evacuation of Madrid is a material deterioration of the campaign, its effects on the contest in the Peninsula are still most important.”

MS 61 WP1/351 Letter from General Sir Arthur Wellesley, first Marquis of Wellington, Rueda, to Robert Banks Jenkinson, second Earl of Liverpool, Prime Minister, 3 November 1812

4 November 1939 Opposing Fascism

“Coming back from service, we came upon a Fascist meeting at the corner by W.H.Smiths opp. The lib[rar]y.  The speaker wanted a general election: the people to vote peace or war. Mosley for peace.  I noticed a “supporter” abuse a non-Jewish member of the crowd by calling him a Jew “you were in a synagogue being yitched when the last war was on!”  A large crowd was hostile to the speaker & the police stopped him & the meeting.”

MS 168 AJ 217/35 Diary of Samuel Rich, 4 November 1939

5 November 1918 The Armistice of Villa Giusti
As a result of being defeated at the Battle of Vittorio Veneto, the troops of Austria-Hungary were finished as a combat force. This state of the army made it imperative for Austria-Hungary to secure an immediate armistice. On 1 November the rough draft of the armistice conditions were disseminated to the Austro-Hungarian Armistice Commission by General Badoglio, Assistant Chief of the Italian General Staff and Chairman of the Italian Armistice Commission. The conditions included Austria-Hungary reducing her army to 20 divisions on a peace footing, surrendering over half of her artillery, and releasing all prisoners of war. On 3 November the Austro-Hungarians accepted the peace terms.

“There was quite a lot of excitement in Cairo yesterday at the news of the Armistice with Austria – particularly among the Cairene Italians.”

MS 116/8 AJ 14 Volume of typescript ‘excerpts’ from letters from H.D. Myer, 5 November 1918

4 November 1852 Winning the peace
Faced with the problem of how to retain peace in areas conquered by the British in South Africa for the long term, the best way of settling the colony was investigated. One suggestion was to move Swiss settlers into the area.

“An Englishman always looks forward to returning home and that his residence in a colony is only temporary, but if you could transplant a community of Swiss who would make the Amatola mountains their home, you only effectively render them inaccessible to the Kafirs, but secure to yourself an industrious sober population a most certain safeguard on your most exposed border.”

MS 63 A904/3/23 Letter from Captain Edward Wellesley to his brother Richard, 4 November 1852