Archives for First World War

#FamilyHistory… Was your relative a nurse in the Great War? #nursing

Diaries, notebooks and sketchpads are dynamite for family history researchers as an insight into the lives of an ordinary people in your period of interest. If you are interested in filling in the life of a relative who served in a VAD [Voluntary Aid Detachment] during World War One, autograph and memory book of Cheltenham VAD nurse Dorothy Unwin may be of interest. Held at The Wilson art gallery and museum, it provides a very personal view of the war. The book includes photographs of herself, the wards she worked on, soldiers and staff. Most poignant are the comments given to Nurse Unwin by patients. Some soldiers write only their name, number and the date but some offer more information. Private Clapton of the 1stGloucestershire Regiment was ‘wounded in shoulder’. Percy Bedford of the 14thCanadian Battalion was ‘blown out of trench at Ypres 25 April 1915’. Many messages are of thanks. Patients are pictured playing sports and performing in plays and revenues. It offers a powerful insight into the men who fought in the Great War and also the daily life of FAX nurses. Vera Brittain [below left], who would go on to write Testament of Youth, was reading English
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Categories: Family history research and On Researching.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘Winter Song’

I came first to the war poets when I studied English Literature at university in London. We read them all: Owen, Sassoon, Graves, Brooke. I think it’s fair to say that in my early twenties I didn’t ‘get them’, not really. Wilfred Owen [below] composed his war poems between January 1917 when he was first sent to the Western Front, and November 1918 when he was killed. Only four of his poems were published during his lifetime. He is agreed to be the finest of the English poets writing about the First World War. Instead of his most famous poems, ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ and ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’, I have chosen ‘Winter Song’. Written in October 1917, it immediately conjures up for me a Paul Nash painting [below] called ‘We are Making a New World’, painted in 1918 and on display in London at the Imperial War Museum. ‘Winter Song’ The browns, the olives, and the yellows died, And were swept up to heaven; where they glowed Each dawn and set of sun till Christmastide, And when the land lay pale for them, pale-snowed, Fell back, and down the snow-drifts flamed and flowed. From off your face, into the
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Categories: Book Love and Poetry.

Book review: The Mysterious Beach Hut

This is a traditional children’s tale centred on a beach hut on the seafront at Brighton which is the doorway to another world. The Mysterious Beach Hut by Jacky Atkins is a time-travel tale in which sisters Holly and Beth find themselves on Brighton beach as England stands on the brink of the Great War. Brighton today is recognizable, but as soon as the girls step back into 1914 it is a radically different place. The costumes, the games, the speech, the West Pier in all its glory, the things that people are talking about. The sisters struggle to come to terms with what their eyes are seeing but their brains can’t process. “Something had changed. The light was different. Just for a moment, it felt as if they were looking at a heat mirage when the bottom of the picture you see becomes slightly waxy and hazy. It was almost as if, for a split second, time had stood still.” The sisters meet Marjorie who becomes their new best friend and guide to this strange world. But being a time-traveller is difficult. Holly, the older sister, knows something of the history of World War One from school, and finds it
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Corners of the Globe

Very fast-moving sequel by Robert Goddard with a Scotland to London train chase complete with spies, a captured German warship, murder, kidnapping, secret codes and jumping on and off trains which would rival The 39 Steps [which Goddard playfully has one of his characters read in the restaurant car of one of the trains]. The first book in ‘The Wide World’ series by Robert Goddard [below] left me wanting more, and I turned straight to The Corners of the Globe to continue the story. A plane flight from Spain to the UK and a stint in the doctor’s waiting room ensured that I flew through it. You really do need to read book one first [see the link below for my review], although there is a little exposition at the beginning in the form of a Secret Service report, but to be honest it functions more as a recap for the reader who has read the first book than as an introduction for a newcomer. Goddard is a consummate storyteller and sells millions of books worldwide, the majority of his books have made the UK’s Sunday Times Top 10 Bestsellers lists. I failed to guess the ending of the first book, did I
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Ways of the World

I was a fan as soon as I read Robert Goddard’s first novel, Past Caring, published in 1986. He is a hard-working author, producing regular novels, and I admit I got out of the habit of buying them. Until The Corners of the Globe. I started reading, realised it was part two of a series, and promptly ordered book one on Kindle, the quickest way of getting it. The Ways of the World didn’t let me down, not for nothing is Robert Goddard called ‘the king of the triple-cross’. In buying the book, I inadvertently read the reviews on Amazon, something I always try to avoid if I plan to review a book on my blog. I’d rather make up my own mind. Some of the reviews were mixed but I have to say I didn’t find this slow-going at all, perhaps it can be explained by the fact that this is the first of a series and therefore the plotting is intricate. The first book in a series must always include a fair amount of ‘setting-up’, what Christopher Vogler calls ‘The Ordinary World’. Perhaps the reviewer who thought the book slow-going didn’t get beyond that Ordinary World. Goddard, though,
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Categories: Book Love.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘Lost Acres’

I often read poetry, often in the bath, so this is the first of an occasional series sharing with you my discoveries. I often read them aloud, which for some reason seems to aid my understanding and stress the rhythm of the language. My first poem is by Robert Graves [1895-1985] a writer known in the UK for his First World War poems and his war memoir Goodbye to All That. His novel I, Claudius won literary prizes and has been turned into numerous television series and films. Graves [below] was Professor of Poetry at Oxford from 1961-1966. My favourite is ‘Lost Acres’. Because of copyright restrictions I am unable to reproduce the poem in full, but please search it out in an anthology or at your local library. ‘Lost Acres’ These acres, always again lost By every new ordnance-survey And searched for at exhausting cost Of time and thought, are still away. This makes me think of rural Yorkshire where I grew up in The Sixties, roaming the fields free to explore, never thinking about lines on a map or county boundaries. For more about this collection of Graves’ poems, click here. ‘Selected Poems’ by Robert Graves [UK: Faber]  Read
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Categories: Book Love and Poetry.

Book review: Stay Where You Are and Then Leave

I’m sure this will be the first of many books about the First World War which I will read over the next two years, and what a one to start with. Written by John Boyne, probably best known for The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas [now released as a film] this is a touching story of a boy’s determination to help his soldier father. Destined to become a children’s classic, it is a tough tale with a tender touch. Boyne doesn’t shy away from the difficult subjects of enemy aliens, conscientious objectors, loss, injury, death and fear. On July 28th 1914, war is declared. It is also Alfie Summerfield’s fifth birthday. His biggest wish is to go one morning with his father Georgie on the milk cart with his horse Mr Asquith. Life changes for Alfie and his mother without Georgie. As the years pass, Alfie stops believing the grown-ups who say the war ‘will be over by Christmas’. Then his father’s letters stop arriving. Alfie’s mother says Georgie is ‘on a special mission and cannot write’ but Alfie doesn’t believe her. He doesn’t like being treated as a child, so he decides to do something about it. This is a
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Categories: Book Love.