Perils of Pancakes: Flipping under Fire in the First World War.

Today many of us are enjoying pancakes, I in particular love a pancake as it reminds me of my Guardian, Dulcie, who always made the best pancakes and every year I try and fail to replicate that magic.  Try and fail that is.  So, this post, and tonight’s pancakes are very much for her.

As a First World War historian who is particularly interested in food in the trenches it amazed me this afternoon to think I have never considered the flipping of pancakes under fire.   So, let’s have a look shall we!

The history of pancake day, or Shrove Tuesday as it is more officially known, as the precursor to lent, is a long-standing tradition that has lasted for hundreds of years.  In Britain, this tradition has lent itself (see what I did there?) to the act of consuming pancakes consisting of eggs, flour and milk together with sugar and other delicacies as a treat before the restriction of luxuries until Easter.   Not only did people eat the pancakes but they also, and still do, run with them, in their Frying Pan.  Apparently, the story behind this is that in the 15th century a woman was cooking her pancakes when she heard the bells for the church and charged off to make it complete with pan in hand.[i]


Pancake racing at the turn of the century[ii]


During the 1700’s there would also be football games (a wonderful excuse to settle a score with a well-placed punch with the opposing town) organised over the highways but this came to an end with the Highways Act of 1835.[iii]

But what of the First World War?  Well the 28th of February was a busy time for the 4 years of the war.  In 1915 the German army bombarded Soissons an Reims Cathedral.  In 1916 at the Battle of Verdun, British forces repelled the German’s at the west of Douaumont.  In 1917 things were particularly hectic as the British took Thilloy, Puisieux and Sailly-Sailisel whilst the Turkish suffered dramatic losses in Mesopotamia.   By 1918 German was being repulsed at Chavigeron and all manner of attacks are taking place in the Ukraine.  These are just the tip of the iceberg for all the fighting forces in the war as numerous battles were happening whilst at the same time men were on leave, being treated for sickness or wounds, living in billets, training, recruiting, surviving and dying.  Essentially carrying out the long, exhausting bloody business of war.


However, celebrations did continue throughout the climate of war.  In 1914, the famous Christmas truce saw men share rations and presents with the enemy.  A smaller repeat of which was half-heartedly attempted in 1915, but by then not only had the war become more violent and fractious but also it was an offence within the British Army under pain of death to fraternise with the enemy.[iv]

But there is no such account for pancake day and unfortunately given the resources I have and the research I have done so far; I can find no direct account of anyone eating pancakes especially on this day.  But that doesn’t mean that they didn’t.

For the men who were behind the lines, the acquisition of food to supplement their rations was almost an obsession.  Private Keller wrote in his memoirs about how in 1917 he had to fight to get better food for him and his pals at the front.

During this period our rations were poor and bread was a luxury.  One day I walked back to the village about five miles 48. Behind the line to try to get some bread at the bakery.  I reached there as the baker was serving the last of his civilian customers who had to be attend to before he could serve the troops.  There was a line-up of soldiers to buy what he had to spare and when I came to my turn there was only one loaf left on the shelf.  The price was a half franc per loaf which was all that I had but a Canadian just behind me called out ‘one franc mister’.  I have yet to meet a Frenchman who would turn down the opportunity to double his take whether the deal was fair or not and the Canadian got the bread.  He was to big for me to handle physically, but have him a lashing with my tongue.  I pointed out that from now on the price of a load would be one Franc and it was.  The news quickly spread that the Canadians were well off and would pay double what the English soldiers could and from then on it would be one franc per load.  The Canadian did give me half of his loaf so my ten mile walk wasn’t for nothing.  However, my friends were disappointed when I got back with just half a loaf.[v] 

Bread is obviously not pancakes, but the lack of such a staple part of the diet, illustrates the unlikely event of having pancakes, at least on mass.  The main problem here is availability of ingredients and the ability to distribute on mass.   Eggs, flour and milk were precious commodities.  During the Second World War, rationing focused heavily on these three particular food types and for the First World War, available foods tended to varieties that were easy to make on mass and distribute hence the use of stews, bully beef and hard tack biscuits.

In 1916 flour in particular was so difficult to come by that that a new kind of flour called K-Brot, made from dried potato’s, oat and barley was trialled.  The result of which was a bread that practically inedible and that gave some soldiers unpleasant stomach complications.[vi]  Not exactly the best kind of recipe for a pancake.


K-Brot bread[vii]

So, it is again unlikely, but again, it might have happened.  Crepes were and continue to be a French delicacy.  It is very possible that men were able to grab a crepe if they were lucky enough to be on leave that day or able to gain access to the town.  (Although, ask any French person and they will tell you very quickly and clearly that there is a world of difference between the French Crepe and the British Pancake.)

If the men were likely to get a pancake anywhere then it would have been from the Canteens that sprung up alongside the billets which were run by support groups such as the Red Cross, the YMCA and the Army Chaplains Corps.  But again, the quality of the food was suspect.  Private Parks wrote to his daughter in 1917 to warn her about the food.  He wrote:

You see we get out tea so early & breakfast so late at (p.6) night that you get ever so hungry & you are forced to buy some supper at the canteen or the YMCA hut and you get some very mysterious pasties to eat – you can’t buy bread and butter. [viii]

Again, perhaps there were available but then again, perhaps not.   Men wouldn’t even have been able to make their own as whilst their French comrades had a cooking pan, their Marmite de Campement, shared between up to eight men at a time, as part of their kit the British only had their ration tins.


French Kit with cooking pan – replica of 1916.[ix]

Now, the D ration tin was very handy to heat up over a flame to make soup or stew but flipping a pancake would have been very difficult.  (Although I might try this for a one off feedingunderfire attempt – watch this space).


Replica of First World War British D Tin and Various utensils,[x]


There were alternatives to the pancake as a treat and one of the most widely known was Jam. Jam had a very special place within the lives of soldiers in the first world war.  The main brand of jam was Ticklers jam.


Poem from First World War

Tickler’s jam, Tickler’s jam,

How I love old Tickler’s jam,

Plum and apple in a one pound pot,

Sent from Blighty in a ten ton lot,

Every night when I’m asleep,

I’m dreaming that I am,

Forcing my way through the Dardanelles,

With a ton of Tickler’s jam.[xi]



Not only was the jam useful for filling the void made up of stale bread and unpalatable bully beef but it also became a weapon to be used against the enemy.   Most of the time the jam in the first world war was Plum and Apple and it wasn’t always particularly popular.  So much so that soldiers joke in their memoirs and diaries about the constant presence of plum and apple jam. A joke that continued beyond the second world war.   Variety seems to have been the main issue, as one returning soldier notes he would never touch plum and apple jam again.  Private Thomas McIndoe remarked in his oral testimony at the IWM that breakfast consisted of ‘Boiled bacon – always a liberal quantity of jam – usually plum and apple and then they would change it the next day, and it was usually apple and plum.’[xii]   But Jam was at least sweet, and perhaps on pancake day they could have had a spot of jam instead of a pancake.   Also, Jam was useful because the tins that it came in, became the first grenades of the war as the men filled them with bits of metal, stones and explosives to hurl at the enemy, promoting the British Army to research and create new bombs, more powerful and slightly safer versions of the tinned death-traps that the men were keenly throwing over the top.


Replica of Jam Tin Bombs from 1914.[xiii]

            So, we have bread, meat, Christmas dinner and jam, but still no pancakes and sadly the truth of the matter is that whilst the men may have had pancakes there is limited references to them within the information we currently have.  However, today it seems that Pancakes are a part of the British Army as shown by the 2015 video on YouTube by the British Army of how to make a pancake and demonstrated, very dramatically, by trainee army chefs.


Learning to Flip an Army Pancake  [xiv]

            But throughout the course of the First World War, under the tyranny of field kitchens and hard tack rations, sickness inducing flour and curdled milk, it is increasingly unlikely that pancakes made their way to the front for the lads. Hopefully, some of them found a pancake, a small ray of sunshine within the world of bombs, blood and mud on that day, but for the rest there was beef, jam and biscuits.


I’ll stick to pancakes thanks!


If you want to know more about food and the trenches, have a look at my YouTube series Feedingunderfire

Also have a look at the fantastic books by Rachel Duffett and Andrew Robertshaw below.



[i] Ellen Castow, ‘Pancake day’, Historic UK, (accessed 28/02/17)

[ii] The museum of Thin Objects, ‘Seasonal Stories’,, accessed 28/02/17.

[iii] Andrew Whittaker, Britain: Be Fluent in British Life and Culture, (London, 2009), p.356.

[iv] Stanley WeinTraub, Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce, (London, 2002).

[v] IWM Archive, C R Keller, IWM, Documents.11876, p.43.

[vi] Rachel Duffet, The Stomach for Fighting: Food and the Soldiers of the Great War, (Manchester, 2012).

[vii] Image of K-Brot Bread, from Paul Cornish, ‘Rationing And Food Shortages During The First World War’ IWM, (accessed 28/02/17).

[viii] IWM Archive, T Parks, IWM, Documents.14165, Letter home dated 13/06/17.

[ix] Uniform and Equipment of 1914, 151 RIL,, (Accessed 28/02/17).

[x] D Tin and various utensils, First World War Replica, (Accessed 28/02/17).

[xi] Andrew Robertshaw, Feeding Tommy, Battlefield Recipes from the First World War, (Gloucestershire, 2013)

[xii] IWM SA, Thomas McIndoe, Oral History Recording, Catalogue 568.

[xiii] Replica Jam Tin Bombs, Tommys Pack Fillers, (Accessed 28/02/17).


[xiv] British Army, ‘Pancake Recipe’, YouTube, (accessed 28/02/2017).


Fighting in Fact and Fiction: The Doctor and the Soldier

If you know me at all then you will know that two of my greatest obsessions are my subject (soldiers in the First World War) and Doctor Who.   Don’t get me wrong, I also adore cooking (see my feedingunderfire trench cooking YouTube series) and I am fiercely proud of both my Ravenclaw alumni status and my rank of Lieutenant and accompanying gold shouldered uniform and pips.  But above all its bow ties and khaki that really grabs my attention.

Recently I re-watched episode 2 of series 7 of Doctor Who and watched a character I adore (and frequently emulate) act out of character and actively murder the antagonist of the episode.  The antagonist for the episode, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, is Solomon, played wonderfully by David Bradley.[i]  Solomon is a selfish, genocidal capitalist pirate who will stop at nothing to ensure he makes a profit.  He murders an entire race of people, kidnaps an Egyptian queen, injures an unarmed man and shoots a triceratops to death.  Essentially, this is not a good man.  At the end of the episode the Eleventh Doctor, with his typical accidental style, orchestrates the aiming of the missiles that were targeting the spaceship containing the last dinosaurs in the universe as well as all of the main characters to shift towards the spaceship of the evil Solomon.   This is typical Doctor behaviour as he arrives to gloat and offer the man a second chance to live.  Except the he doesn’t.  Instead, his companion disables Solomon and as the old man begs on the floor the Doctor stands aloft and asks if the race he murdered had begged in the same way.  Then, with a flourish of triumph he points out the missiles that will kill the begging man, turns on his heels and seals the man in his own ship, sending it out into space to explode complete with Solomon and his two sentient robots whom the Doctor had previously disabled.

What has always disturbed me about this sequence is the deliberate aspect of the death of Solomon.  Indeed, the Doctor has killed before, the tenth doctor dropped the leader of the Sycorax from the deck of the spaceship after he failed to yield when the Doctor offered mercy.[ii]  In “The Two Doctors”, the Sixth Doctor attacked Shockeye with a cyanide-soaked handkerchief and suffocated him with it and certainly the end of the time war was brought around, albeit initially, by the Doctor engaging in the genocide of two races.[iii]  However, what strikes me different from the death of Solomon and the other occasions of killing is the motive.  Both the leader of the Sycorax and Shockeye proved that they would never give up in their conquest for victory therefore arguably, (and I can hear the fandom roar already) the killing makes sense, if not justifiable.  In a similar way, the use of the Moment, is based on the idea that the university was burning at the hands of the Time war between the Timelords and the Daleks and the only option that the War Doctor could see was to eliminate both to protect all of time and space.  Solomon’s death arguably meets none of these criteria, yes he posed a threat of sorts but in essence Solomon was an opportunist not a killer.   Unlike Casandra the last human, the Master, Miss Haritgan or a hundred different characters, Solomon is not shown pity or remorse.  Even the Krillitanes, with their wings and teeth are offered mercy but not Solomon.  This of course is the beginning of Season 7, a series that leads the Doctor to face his death, confront his past and fight for nearly a century to defend a small town against all of the enemies of the universe.  But in all of this, the Doctor and his companions are threatened with their lives and the resulting deaths that happen, are usually related to the situation that the enemy had arranged themselves.  But not Solomon.   The doctor could easily have dragged Solomon from that ship and handed him over to the authorities.  He could have save everyone in a number of ways that fan fiction writers and Who fans are surely still writing about.  But the simple fact remains that he did not and in that moment, the man who does not kill, the guy who saves people, the GOOD man, murdered a defenceless man when he didn’t have to.

So, what does this have to do with you research into the First World War Simon?  Well dear reader, I’m glad you asked; It has everything to do with my Research for three reasons!  Or to be more exact, three people.

First there is the brief account of Private Arthur Schuman who joined up in 1914 in London another good man who became swept up in the rhetoric of the war.  He described in his memoirs his feelings toward the conflict. He wrote ‘War, to me, is tragic and cruel – futile and costly – won by no one.  The thought of killing a fellow man had never crossed my mind.’[iv]  Yet, despite this anti-war statement and desire not to kill, Schuman served for an entire year until he is wounded out with a gunshot wound to his arm only to return and kill the enemy at the attack on Gommecourt on 1 July 1916.  Ultimately, the good man Schuman noted how killing was never anything he had considered but by the end of the war he had several kills to his name before he was wounded out for good in October 1916.[v]

Whereas Schuman regarded killing something he hadn’t considered himself capable of and talked little about it when it happened, G K Parker, of the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion Sherwood Foresters, recorded in his memoirs how he was encouraged to kill.  He described how the heat of battle had clarified the moment for him of what had to be done to keep him alive in the midst of 1917.

At a signal from me all four of us lobbed Mill’s grenades in, from a distance of about six yards, then lay flat.  The result explosion was terrific, accompanied by screams, and pieces of debris.  After a wait to let things settle, we clambered over the edge of the crater.  In peace time the sight would have turned my stomach, but in the stress of war, there is no time to feel any emotion, it’s the same when one of your mates is killed besides, there is as sort of fatalism.  No one I know was of a cruel nature, it’s a case of self-preservation, them or you, both sides knew it, and we all accepted the fact.[vi]

From Parker, it is possible to visualise more clearly the world around him as he was normalised towards his surroundings, to the bombs and blood and to the killing of the enemy for the sake of protecting yourself and your men around you.  The use of the word cruel is particularly interesting, these are perhaps not good men within the climate of war but Parker is keen to demonstrate that they were certainly not cruel men.  For Parker, the killing of other men came about with the acceptance of the cost of war; the deciding factor in the outcome of survival or death.

Yet again not all men were alike as is illustrated in the account of Robert Pugh, a former British NCO who served with 166th Coy Machine Gun Corps on Western Front from 1916-1918.  In 1987 Pugh recorded his experiences of war as part of an oral history interview and he too described his attitude to killing, except his viewpoint differed significantly.

Interviewer: when the war broke out, did you have any idea of what a war was going be?

Pugh: ‘I didn’t know what it was going to be, but I know what I wanted it to be.

Interviewer: ‘What did you want it to be?

Pugh: ‘I wanted it to be a place to kill Germans’

Interviewer: ‘Why did you want to kill Germans?’

Pugh: ‘ I was a professional killer you see, animals for a living and humans for pleasure, so no you’ve got the answer’

Interviewer: did you have any sort of image of the Germans?

Pugh: ‘other than the fact that they wanted to make war on us, we didn’t want to make war on them, they wanted to make war on us, so I said the best thing we can do is get cracking.

In a later section the Interviewer asks about how Pugh felt about the war:

Pugh: ‘Oh I loved it’


Interview: ‘Did you find you were realising your ambitions?  Where you able to kill Germans?’

Pugh: ‘Oh I suppose so, I loved every minute of it’

Interviewer: Did you really? You enjoyed the war?’

Pugh: ‘Enjoyed it yes,

Interviewer” you didn’t find it got you down at all?’

Pugh: ‘Never got me down’

Later Pugh is asked to describe his combat experience at the Somme:

Pugh’ well you see my job was to lay a barrage of machine gun fire down on the Germans and force them to go over the top and then they could be targets for our snipers, that was my job you see, lay down what we called the call of fire, over, the communication trenches.

Interviewer: ‘how did you feel going over the top that day?’

Pugh: ‘ Lovely, (laughs).

Interviewer: did you really feel lovely?

Pugh: ‘oh yes’

Interviewer ‘What was lovely about it?’

Pugh: ‘I couldn’t get at them quick enough, (laughs)… a machine gun had a good range of fire you see…’ [vii]

Pugh presents a very different story in that he claims to welcome the opportunity to kill. The statement ‘I was a professional killer you see, animals for a living and humans for pleasure….’ is particularly chilling.[viii]  For Pugh it seems that the war offered an opportunity to kill other humans and indeed do so in honourable service of his country.  There is much that can be said about this particular exchange including the reasoning behind such a statement such as patriotic bravado, presentations of masculinity or even questions of sanity but that is not the focus of this blog piece (it is however part of my doctoral thesis and potential post-doctoral research if any potential funders are reading, nudge nudge).

What is of note from these accounts is the notion of killing within the climate of war.  All of the three men presented approached killing differently, killed for different reasons and dealt with that differently afterwards but, with the possible exception of Pugh, this killing was limited to the scope of war.  It was out of character and struggles to fit within the idea of the man outside of the context.  It is this that brings the discussion back to Doctor Who from where the piece started.  It is the stark difference in the behaviour of the Doctor that made me reflect on these three men of the First World War and of the soldiers of the war more generally who became killers, sometimes overnight, sometimes with reasons and sometimes without.  It is the shift in character, the loss of the ‘Good Man’ persona, that I find most fascinating and most disturbing as the killing becomes normal for these men fictional or otherwise.   By now scholars of morality are potentially foaming at the mouth over my reductionist approach to the notion of good and bad within the scope of a reality that shifted good towards an effectiveness towards keeping one’s self and one’s mates alive whilst carrying out one’s duty and I deserve the back lash.  However, as you heat up the pitch forks, allow me to say that within this reductionist review lies not a damming moral judgement but simply a question of the impact of the environment and indoctrination to allow good men to refute their norms and carry out actions that may have been perceived as incomprehensible within a different climate, time or reality.

Therefore, as these men fade back into the fades of their memoirs and the Doctor swaggers off to his Tardis to await his next adventure I am left still with the question of what makes men kill and how does war affect that motivation to turn civilians in killers?  Essentially, I am left still asking, to paraphrase the conundrum that the twelve doctor constantly wrestled with in his first series, after all said and done, were they good men?






[i] “Dinosaurs on Spaceship.” Directed by Saul Metzstein. Written by Chris Chibnall.  BBC, September, 2012.

[ii] “The Christmas Invasion.” Directed by James Hawes.  Written by Russell T Davies, BBC, December, 2005.

[iii] “The Two Doctors.” Directed by Peter Moffatt.  Written by Robert Holmes, BBC, February, 1985 and “The Day of the Doctor.” Directed by Nick Hurran.  Written by Steven Moffat, BBC, November, 2013.

[iv] IWM Document Archive 1878, private papers of S E Butler.

[v] ibid.

[vi] IWM Document Archive 11787, private papers of G K Parker, p.24,

[vii] IWM SA, 9928. Robert Pugh, Reel 1.

[viii] Ibid.

Adventures in Archives: The Mystic and the Industrialist

Today I returned for the third time to the archive in St. Andrews within the University to pour through their eclectic but fascinating array of documents which are tenuously connected to the First World War.  So far during my delving into these, often not fully catalogued, files I have chanced across some very interesting letters and personal documents that I have been able to pepper into the folds of my thesis.

(A thesis that I massively should be writing by the way instead of writing a blog post.  Lets just call it occupational therapy to get me back on track.)

This period of discovery has introduced me to two men long since gone. Sir David Russell (1872-1956) and Major Wellesley Tudor Pole O.B.E. (23 April 1884 – 13 September 1968).  Two men who I am just starting to make an acquaintance with but who are both incredibly fascinating.

Major Wellesley Tudor Pole is perhaps the better known as the Grandfather of Edward Tudor Pole (of The Crystal Maze fame).  WTP, as he was known to call himself, for all accounts was a flamboyant and outgoing man.  He served as a member of British Military Intelligence and was seriously wounded Jerusalem in 1917.   His father, Thomas Tudor Pole, was active within the Fabian Society and engaged widely with a new generation of thinkers.

WTP was raised in a family that focused on spiritualism and religious inclusion and expression and spent time with a group dedicated to the hunt for the Holy Grail in the late Victorian period.  He was extremely well versed in literature, religion and had a talent for language.  He was also influential along with Winston Churchill in creating the silent minute as a form of respect and remembrance.

WTP did a great many things that granted him respect and social standing.  He also was a renowned and published mystic / psychic.

In 1917 WTP published a book called Private Dowding: The Personal Story of a Soldier Killed in Battle which focused on a conversation he had with a soldier after the man had died.

This book would go on, with many other books by WTP, to be reprinted a number of times and be very popular within the early 20th century.

WTP was a surprising and fascinating man and it is therefore interesting that he had such a strong friendship with Sir David Russell.

David Russell was a champion of industry in the late 19th century and early 20th.  As the third son of David Russell senior (1831-1906), a partner in Robert Tullis and Company Ltd, papermakers based in Markinch, Fife, he would eventually turn the Tullis Russell and Company Ltd into one of most successful companies in 1920’s Britain.

Russell by all accounts was a generous and intelligent man who raised a successful family, was a magnanimous benefactor to various charities and foundations, many of which he founded and was rewarded by an honorary doctorate from the University of St Andrews and a knighthood.

What is particularly interesting between these two impressive men is the relationship that they share.  Working through their correspondence in 1918-19, it is possible to see the contrast between them.  For example a letter dated the 27th of May 1918, from Russell to WTP refers to the potential publication of Russell’s psychic experiences with a pamphlet called ‘Voices’  and Russell speaks matter of factly regarding the process of publication and asks Tudor Pole to consider using a ‘nom de plume’.

‘Would you think of using a nom de plume?  As I have already said I do not think your name should be used nor even your initials… The account of your experiences when wounded is only slightly amended.  I would like to have your approval of both of these before publication.

Letter from David Russell to Captain W. Tudor Pole, 27th May 1918, in Papers of David Russell, Archives of the University of St Andrews, ms38515/6/14/6.

Letters from Russell to WTP are usually without a signature page where as returning letters from Tudor Pole are usually so much more flamboyant and chatty.  On the 22nd of July 1918 his letter to Russell swings between business and niceties.

Where is Stephen Graham?  I think I could find him a post out here.  Is he still Private?  In reference to the proposed publication of my sisters writing, i do think it would be a pity if this book did not appear in our series, but I consider that the messages should appear actually as received and not be altered except on points of grammar.

Letter from  Captain W. Tudor Pole to David Russell to, 22nd July 1918, in Papers of David Russell, Archives of the University of St Andrews, ms38515/6/14/6.

The end ends with a abrupt shift back to pleasantries:

I have not heard from you for a long time, and I am most anxious (underlined in the letter) to have a line from you.

With kind regards (Crossed out in the letter and replaced with:) Tamey sending you kind regards!  Rather I send you my love + comradeship.

Yours ever, WTP.

Letter from  Captain W. Tudor Pole to David Russell to, 22nd July 1918, in Papers of David Russell, Archives of the University of St Andrews, ms38515/6/14/6.

This change in language is as common in the letters of WTP, as is the habit to write over the typed words with more florid ones, as is the stark politeness is in Russell’s letters. These personal correspondences show a fascinating dynamic of affection and whilst Russell seems to act as WTP’s banker, manager and agent he also continually supports and tries to focus Tudor Pole in various ways.

As I look forward to continue to explore the relationship between these two dissimilar men I am reminded that although my usual focus is on men at war between 1914-18 there was always a constant connection to the people behind.  WTP and David Russell are admittedly somewhat removed from the squalor of the trenches but regardless the point remains that life continued ever within the catalytic reality of war between 1914-1918.  Sometimes this life brought advantageous, business deals and the continuation of friendships.  On other occasions, as is becoming increasingly apparent within other aspects of my research, it brought pain, misery and death.  Regardless, this link is important and remains a further facet of the experiences of those that served and those that remained behind.

I will keep you updated as the adventures continue.

For Reference:

The letters for this post can be found: in Papers of David Russell, Archives of the University of St Andrews, ms38515/6/14/6.

A selection of Wellesley Tudor Pole’s work is available for purchase but extracts can be found at, accessed 20/02/2017.

also here accessed 20/02/2017.







Northern Motivations for War – Questions of industry influenced hatred of Germany in the North East of England.

The following is less of an argument and more of a general musing following a conversation with Ian Jones, local historian and retired army Major who showed me around the archive at the 101 (Northumbrian) Regiment RA (V) museum in Gateshead.

The rush to colours at the beginning of the First World War has been well documented within historical literature. Volunteering men’s motivation to enter the fray originated from a plethora of reasons including the pursuit of portraying a masculine ideal, demonstrating patriotic zeal or viewing the whole episode as sport. Tyneside was no different in this rush to the fight. Tyneside saw 1100 men enlisting within the first eleven days of the war. 1726 men returned to the regimental depot of the Northumberland Fusiliers, only 40 failed to respond the call for the reserve forces.

Blandford Stret Dining
Image taken from, accessed 8/08/2015,

By Christmas 1914 over 21,000 men had enlisted in Newcastle alone. Yet the question remains of the their individual motivation for signing up. Was it simply a myriad of reasons caught up in patriotic excitement and public displays of masculinity? Or are there deeper questions of a personal resentment to a nation whose industry had rapidly become a chief rival to the industrial British cities?

John Sheen, in his book Tyneside Scottish, is keen to explain the importance of industry to the North of England. He discusses the importance of the coalmines, 335 of which were in Durham. Describing the harsh conditions in which mining families existed Sheen offers similar views to Arthur Marwick regarding limited diet, constant environmental dangers and health issues brought about by the arduous nature of the role. For many coal miners, the occasion of war meant an opportunity to leave the pits and take on a more exciting role potentially in better conditions. Sheen quotes a soldier whose decision to join the army was very much influenced by the opportunity for an escape from the pits.

‘I joined up not through any sense of patriotism but as a means of getting out of the pit. I was a hand putter and men were hewing in a two foot seam.’ (Lance Corporal J G Barron 21st Battalion), loc.513.

Gill and Dallas (p.44-5.) explain how the bond between miners brought together successful pal’s battalions but also how the assertive character of many miners conflicted with military discipline. They note how a regiment in 1915 made up almost entirely of volunteer welsh miners twice refused to fall out in complaint of their treatment during training.

The military also benefitted from the volunteering by men from other heavy industries. Famous for its shipbuilding and metal manufacturing, the North East of England provided ships and weaponry, tempered by the coal and coke from the Durham pits, for the war effort. Many of these men also left the industries to play their part on the theatres of war. However it is here, within the notions of patriotic zeal, white feathers and escapism that the personal relationship between the industrial worker and the enemy be further explored.

article echo
Our Shipping Trade and the War, Sunderland Daily Echo, Saturday January 23, 1915, p. 23

The above statement is part of a lengthy article from 1915 in the Sunderland Echo that considers the impact of the war on trade. Yet, the response is not overly a negative anti-German rhetoric but instead more of an exultation at the loss of a main competitor. However, the first line of the article does invite considerations of anti-German rhetoric, particularly in relation to trade and industry. ‘The great German Navy was built for one object only, namely to destroy the commercial supremacy of this country.’

Within this article lies the potential for a personal antagonism within the northeast against the enemy and it is with this notion in mind that further research will be pursued to consider it further.

It is here that I will leave this idea to percolate. Further research will be considered hence why I am not presenting an argument or a conclusion at this moment. As this continues, I will return to it here.

Was the First World War a Period of Change or Continuity for Employment in British Society?

In 1914 Maisie Nightingale took up work in an aircraft factory in Southampton as her husband embarked for war. By 1918 she had gained work experience, responsibility for her war-wounded husband and unemployment from a job that was suddenly better suited for a man. Undoubtedly for the Nightingales the First World War was a period of change as their world was significantly different that it had been in 1914. Employment was one of the most crucial aspects of British society during the First World War. For many men the war presented a new vocation as a soldier. Operating on fronts around the world, men serving as professional, voluntary or conscripted soldiers would experience a work place like no other. Those that returned in 1918 entered a society that had changed. A reality where women had been undertaking roles previously limited to men and where unemployment would be an issue for the next two decades. Therefore impact of change and continuity on men and women must now be examined.
(Six Sketches of Soldiers in Various Kit – Image taken from IWM Collection, accessed 26/3/15)

For the majority of men who fought during the First World War, the mud of France and the sand of the Dardanelles was their first experience of post training military service. The sending of men to war certainly indicates a change within British society as a result of war. Yet, Keagan argues, the British class divide remained clear within the volunteer and conscripted men who headed to war between 1914-18. Cunningham also notes that class status remained rigid within the military as it had within pre-war society. He argues that prior to the First World War soldiering for the elite was a calling whereas for the lowest classes it was usually an economic necessity. Within the military of the First World War, this class distinction existed as the majority of volunteers and conscripts, many of which belonged to the lowest classes, joined the rank and file whilst the elite accepted officer positions. McCartney agrees and adds that the middle class essentially floated in-between as their social status and educational attributes tended to lead them to subaltern and junior officer positions. This manifestation of pre-war class roles within military hierarchy indicates a continuation of pre-war ideals. Something, that Waite argues remained relatively unchanged upon the end of the war. This demonstrates that in terms of military service, change and continuity actually combined within the disruption to society caused by the First World War.

Moving from new to lost roles, it is important to recognise the subsequent high levels of unemployment in the interwar period as a consequence of the conflict. On Armistice Day in 1922 around 25,000 unemployed Londoners attended the official ceremony carrying a wreath that read ‘From the living victims – the unemployed – to our dead comrades, who died in vain’. May explains this demonstration symbolised the anger felt by the mass unemployed in the aftermath of the First World War. According to May, the high levels of unemployed owed much to the impact of the war on the decline on trade and key industries such as coal and cotton, the latter of which all but collapsed after India developed it’s own domestic production. By 1938, British exports to India had fallen to less than one-tenth of pre-war levels indicating a decline within industry. According to Hopkins, the First World War provided an opportunity for the United States of America and Japan to usurp British overseas markets while Britain was distracted by war. He agrees with May that despite a brief post war boom, economic downturn was dominated the majority of the interwar period. Darwin, Holland, Porter and particularly Hyam have separately discussed the deterioration of the British Empire in the interwar years. Their considerations have also linked the decline of empire and industry, and therefore the decline in employment, to the impact of the First World War. Yet, while a causal link between decline and the conflict of 1914-18 is implied, Hyam also points to what he considered to be dysfunction imperial policies that both proceed and occurred after the First World War. This indicates a continuation of pre-war disrepair and tempers the argument that the First World War, solely as a period of change, impacted on the decline of empire and by proxy, employment. Again the impact of the war appears disruptive combining change and continuity rather than acting an agent for one or the other.

Moving to consider women, during the war elements of change certainly occurred for women within the work sphere. Braybon refers to women gaining access to economic and professional opportunities through the adoption of previously male dominated roles in factories, administration and industry. However, traditional women’s roles such as nursing also expanded dramatically. Hallett argues that some women viewed nursing patriotically as their closest equivalent to combat. The joining of these services brought women closer to the front line than ever before. Both professional nurses (QAIMNS and QARNNS) and volunteer nurses (VAD) served in causality clearance stations and hospitals within striking distance of enemy shells and air attacks – sometimes with fatal consequences. However, Jones argues that despite the risk and arduous nature of the role, there is no evidence that military nursing had any lasting impact on pay, benefits or the conditions experienced by nurses after the war. From Jones’ perspective any perceived increase in importance was a temporary benefit owing to the disruption of war. This lack of long-term change post war was not unique to the field of nursing. Throughout the war, women’s movement form domestic roles into industry and skilled work, particularly dangerous munitions work, to offset the absence of men. Rabinbach indicates that the climate of war led to significant reform within the work place under focuses on efficiency. Up until 1914 there had been little consideration of a science of working. By the end of the war experts on the Health of Munitions Workers Committee had fought to reduce working hours, introduce breaks and holidays and indemnity rudimentary health and safety. These changes, encouraged by the advent of war, would ultimately benefit both men and women within the work place.
At the end of the war the traditional role of women within British society as a wife/mother or working in domestic / servant orientated roles, was reasserted within public perception. As the armistice was declared, many women were dismissed from their positions. Within the British press a volte-face occurred as women workers ceased to be presented as heroines but traitors who stole bread from the mouths of war veterans. Women who sought work outside of traditional roles were publically criticized. Women who choose unemployment over traditional roles were regarded as “holidaying” on public money from the state provided ‘out of work donation’. In March 1919 women’s unemployment stood at 494,000. In November official figures recorded only 29,000. Braybon argues that this drop was recorded as women were removed from the register. With the temporary climate of change ushered in by war absolved, Braybon argues that a continuation of pre-war values were applied to either force women out of work completely or to adopt traditional domestic roles.
Women Workers
(Women munition workers finish small arms cartridges in Small Arms Cartridge Factory No.3 at Woolwich Arsenal, London, during the First World War. Image taken from, accessed 26/03/15)

This is not to argue that all women were forcibly removed from their wartime professions. Some women, particularly in the middle classes were aware that their presence was temporary and even relieved when their contribution was over. Some married women with children whose husband returned as the main wage provider also appreciated a return to normality. Yet, what is clear is that the role of women within society shifted after 1918 as it had in 1914. With the completion of war the environment that had necessitated change in women’s working status evaporated. Attempts to return women to the roles they had occupied prior to war however proved problematic. The disruption of the war, Braybon argues, had demonstrated to women their worth and capability. This emboldened many of them to seek more fulfilling employment whilst simultaneously reasserting elements of pre-war divergence between some women and the state.
For employment, it is clear that the First World War, for both men and women was a period of both change and continuity, as opposed to being singularly a climate one or the other. The disruption of war was evidently a factor of this combination that allowed for both improvement and state involvement in employment. Yet, to argue that the First World War was the primary impetus for change after 1918 would be fallacious. Politically, it is clear that enfranchisement both for the working classes and for women had been making progress since before the war. Men and women’s roles in society were already transforming as part of the change in production and industry. Yet, undoubtedly war introduced new roles for both.
Ultimately the answer to the question was the First World War a period of change or continuity for employment in British society is more complicated than a simple designation of change or continuity. Ultimately this paper argues that overall the First World War should be considered primarily as a disruptive element with British society. The war was an all-encompassing event. The recovery from which required the combination of both continuity and change as part of the convalescing period after 1918.

J. Keagan, The Face of Battle Kindle Edition (London, 2004), loc. 3444.
H. Cunningham, The Volunteer Force – A Social and Political History (London, 1973), p.155.
H. McCartney, Citizen Soldiers – The Liverpool Territorials in the First World War, (Cambridge, 2005), p.122.
B. Waites, A Class Society at War, England, 1914-1918 from the Library (New York, 1992).
T. May, An Economic and Social History of Britain 1760 – 1990, (Longman, 1996), p.376.
Ibid, p.367.
E. Hopkins, A Social History of the English Working Class (London, 1997), pp.208-9
For a detail examination of the relationship between the decline of the British Empire and its economic and social impact see – J. Darwin, Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain (London, 2013), R. Holland, Blue-Water Empire: The British in the Mediterranean since 1800, Kindle Edition (New York, 2012), R. Hyam, Britain’s Declining Empire: The Road to Decolonisation, 1918-1968 (Cambridge, 2007) and B. Porter, The Lion’s Share: A History of British Imperialism 1850-2011 (Harlow Gate, 2004).
Hyam, p.2-5.
G. Braybon, ‘Winners or Losers; Women’s Role in the War Story’ in G. Braybon (ed.), Evidence, History and The Great War, Historians and the Impact of 1914-18 (USA, 2008), p.101.
C. E. Hallett, Veiled Warriors, Allied Nurses of the First World War Kindle Edition (Oxford, 2014), loc. 495.
Ibid. The history of nursing is fascinating. It’s transformation within British society predated the First World War and included the creation of the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) in 1909 as part of the Haldane reforms. The VAD accompanied the current military nursing services, the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS) and the Queen Alexandra Royal Naval Nursing Service (QARNNS), which had been created in 1902.
H. Jones, Women in British Public Life 1914 – 50 (Great Britain, 2000), p.40.
A. Rabinbach, The Human Motor: Energy, Fatigue and the Origins of Modernity (California, 1992), p.274-5.
G. Braybon and P. Summerfield, Out of the Cage: Women’s Experiences in Two World Wars, (Routledge, 2012), pp.123-4.
Ibid. pp.119-20.
Ibid, p.122.

In Defense of Academic Writing

judgmental observer

Academic writing has taken quite a bashing since, well, forever, and that’s not entirely undeserved. Academic writing can be pedantic, jargon-y, solipsistic and self-important. There are endless think pieces, editorials and New Yorker cartoons about the impenetrability of academese. In one of those said pieces, “Why Academics Can’t Write,” Michael Billig explains:

Throughout the social sciences, we can find academics parading their big nouns and their noun-stuffed noun-phrases. By giving something an official name, especially a multi-noun name which can be shortened to an acronym, you can present yourself as having discovered something real—something to impress the inspectors from the Research Excellence Framework.

Yes, the implication here is that academics are always trying to make things — a movie, a poem, themselves and their writing — appear more important than they actually are. These pieces also argue that academics dress simple concepts up in big words in order to exclude those…

View original post 1,995 more words

Is the Imperial War Museum Library really that important?

Essentially this could be a really short first blog piece, because surely the answer must be yes. Absolutely yes! No question. Thanks for reading goodnight!

Maybe I should expand on my answer a little, just in case it is a little vague. As a first year PhD Student at the University of Strathclyde who is currently researching military medical history, I will admit to being a little bias. Yet, my interests aside I still argue that the IWM, both its collections and its library, is essential, particularly for public engagement with history.

Public engagement is one of the best parts of researching history. Even within my limited experience, the chance to share the little knowledge I have gained is wonderful. My suffering wife and small children are now used to my quasi lectures about a particular First World War soldier or an outbreak of typhoid. They weather the strain well whilst not really listening. However, when I take my four year old to a museum he is suddenly much more attentive. We have yet to make the journey to the IWM together, but in museums such as the Glasgow Transport Museum (Riverside Museum), wonder shone from his eyes. As both a parent and a researcher, to have your child pull you over to an exhibit and say ‘tell me about that daddy’ is a wonderful feeling.


I remember that feeling. As a child, not much older than my elder son is now, my grandfather took me to the IWM. I remember the marveling at the size of the building. Being impressed with the ‘massive guns‘ outside and the planes inside. Uniforms, weapons and soldiers, it was an amazing playground. I remember the agony of choosing to continue to stare intently at a collection of rifles or move on to the scary looking gas masks. This is a very important decision to a 6 year old.


Within this fairly sentimental comparison of my childhood to my sons is the point I am trying to make about engagement. For both my son and I, museums are a place of wonder. As an adult, whilst I admit to feeling a similar excitement in my youth within museums, no longer does a big plane or artillery leave me speechless. As a researcher I need to know more. It is here that the value of the IWM library returns.

As a Masters student, I spent a week in the IWM collections room researching soldier’s diaries and testimonies as I explored their reactions to First World War anti-typhoid inoculation. As I sat in that hushed room, surrounded by papers belong to people who wrote them almost a century before I could read, the magnitude of what I was doing would occasionally hit me. Now, I am not saying I was conducting groundbreaking research (you never know though) but more that I touching the lives of people long dead. People who had experienced things that no matter how much I read, reached or imagined I would never fully comprehend. As I looked up at the rows of books on the sidewall, the wonder that had struck me as a child returned. The same mix of excitement and awe, which encourages me to keep learning and researching. The IWM gave me that feeling and I am grateful.


The IWM facilities allow for any member of the public to experience that level of wonder. Be it from the archives or from its library. The collection began in 1917 and has amassed a wonderful collection of books. Both academics and the public can use this collection to engage with the past and learn. According to an article in the Telegraph (2014) interest in the museum has never been higher. The article states that ‘the IWM attracted 433,000 learners in 2013-14 and 256,000 children took part in its on and off-site educational programmes.’ Obviously interest exists. There is so much to learn and as the centenary continues a new generation can be introduced the rich history that is stored within the walls of the IWM.

Prospect have organised a petition against the changes within the IWM and noted academics and public figures have raised their voices in alarm to save this national institution. They are right to do so. Diane Lees, the museum’s director general, was quoted yesterday in an article from as saying

“The continuation of the Library service, Research Room and Explore History, in light of financial constraints, will necessitate practical changes to the way the public will access these services, but the most crucial thing is that these services will continue.”

Yet, questions have to be raised about if the quality of service will remain. Certainly this is an uncertain time for a establishment which is very dear to my heart and I will be following this transition closely.

This simply leaves the matter of the opening question. Is the Imperial War Museum Library important? Yes it is. Its important to me personally and professionally. It’s important for all of us, for public engagement, for research and for respect of a building which stands in honour of those who fell so long ago.

So not to repeat myself but… absolutely yes. No question, thanks for reading goodnight!

References –

All images are taken from

Articles cited –

Martin Chilton, ‘Imperial War Museum Library petition gathers strength’ (11/11/2014) accessed (03/02/15) at

Sarah Shaffi, ‘IWM confirms library cutbacks’ (02/02/2015) accessed (03/02/2015) at

Key links for further interest

Petition for IWM Library:

IWM Website –

Glasgow Transport Museum (Riverside Museum)

University of Strathclyde

For more information about Simon Walker – PhD Student in Medical Military History at the University of Strathclyde –

A new project!

Hello Future Reader,

As part of my research and investigation into the history of military medicine I am lucky to review many sources of interest.  This blog will present some of the interesting and note worthy things I stubble across.

Through out the blog there will be brief notes on sources or historical facts, reviews on texts or articles and thought provoking considerations of key themes from within my discipline.

As continual development is always an important facet to my career, I would hope that other would choose to engage with my writing and general offerings and I invite critique and suggestions on improvements and interesting subjects.

I hope that if you decide to read and engage with my blog that you enjoy it.

Si Walker.