The Great War: Responses and Reactions – A Symposium of Nine Talks and an Exhibition

 

17 - 19 October 2014

 

Lord Kitchener says:

“Men, materials and money are the immediate necessities. Does the call of duty find no response in you until reinforced… Let us rather say superseded by the wall of compulsion? ENLIST TODAY”

Other posters said the same thing. For example: “MEN… To delay is DANGEROUS When Your Country Needs You.  ENLIST NOW” and “Lend your strong Right Arm to Your Country: ENLIST NOW”, with an image of a muscular forearm. Two others, both showing men in uniform, read: “WHO’S ABSENT? Is it You?” and “FALL IN: ANSWER YOUR COUNTRY’S HOUR OF NEED”.

Note: Prime Minister HH Asquith introduced the Military Service Act in January 1916. It was passed through the Commons in March 1916, and imposed conscription on all single men aged between 18 and 41, exempting only the medically unfit. From 1908, enlistment (Special Reserves) had been the method of building up a pool of trained recruits. But before 1914, military service was entirely voluntary.

***

TRENCHES: St. Eloi

By Ford Madox Ford (1873-1939)

I

Over the flat slope of St. Eloi

A wide wall of sandbags.

Night.

In the silence desultory men

Pottering over small fires, cleaning their mess-tins:

To and fro, from the lines,

Men walk as on Piccadilly,

Making paths in the dark,

Through scattered dead horses,

Over a dead Belgian’s body.

II

The Germans have rockets. The English have no rockets.

Behind the line, cannon, hidden lying back miles

Behind the line, chaos.

My mind is a corridor. The minds about me are corridors.

Nothing suggests itself. There is nothing to do

But keep on.

***

There were nine talks in all, spread over Friday evening, then all of Saturday and Sunday.  This is a summary of the content of each, circulated in advance in a leaflet:

1. ORIGINS OF THE GREAT WAR

Professor Keith Robbins, former Vice-Chancellor, University of Wales at Lampeter

Historians have argued about the war from its start. Was it ‘the system’? Was it Germany or Russia? Was it ‘Balkan nationalism’? Was it ‘capitalism’? Was it ‘popular hysteria’? Why was Britain not neutral? Was Europe sleepwalking? Consensus in 2014 will no doubt remain elusive.

 

2. THE MANY FACES OF WORLD WAR ONE TRENCH ART

Paul Cornish, Senior Curator and Historian, Imperial War Museum, London

The varied artefacts which are commonly categorised as Trench Art represent a rich aspect of the material culture of conflict. They inhabit a potentially confusing space where human creative urges overlap with the objectification of memory, commercially and even in the area of medicine. Their resonance extends both spatially and temporally beyond the ‘trench’---where, indeed, few of these items were actually made.

 

3. GERMAN EXPRESSIONIST POETRY AND DRAMA 1914-1918

Professor Robert Vilain, Professor of German, University of Bristol

Expressionism as a movement in German literature and art began around 1908-9, rose to    its height in the 1914-18 war, and gradually evaporated in the early 1920s. It was a reaction against Naturalism, and strove to proclaim man’s aspirations, hopes and fears, in styles which were often intense, exclamatory, apocalyptic and frequently impersonal. This talk will introduce the main figures within drama and poetry, and their achievements.

Professor Vilain’s talk, in the event covered only poetry, so for the sake of completeness, a section has been added on German Expressionist drama, by Dr Robert Blackburn, Convenor for Literature and Humanities, Bath RLSI

 

4. MEDICAL IMPROVEMENTS FOR WOUNDED SOLDIERS DURING THE GREAT WAR

Dr Emily Mayhew, Department of Humanities, Imperial College, London University

This is the story of the men and women who rebuilt the military medical system from the ground up in response to the crisis in providing care for the wounded soldiers on the Western Front. The system that was created by their dedication, technical expertise and courage provided the foundation for the system that is used in Britain’s wars today.

 

5. THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN FRANCE AND BRITAIN DURING THE GREAT WAR

Professor Alison Fell, Professor of French Cultural History, University of Leeds

For some women the war was a transformative venture outside of their domestic role. For others, it was a case of changing one form of industrial labour for another. Drawing on case studies from France and Britain, this talk will illustrate the diversity of women’s roles and experiences of war.

 

6. SING WHEN YOU’RE WINNING?   THE GREAT WAR AND SONG

Dr Guido Heldt, Senior lecturer in Music, University of Bristol

From state propaganda to sarcastic comment, from simple ditties to finely-wrought art/song, that most ubiquitous of musical forms, held up manifold mirrors to the First World War. Using British and German examples, the speaker will look at some of the reflections and refractions they threw back.

 

7. THE QUICK AND THE DEAD; FAMILIES AND CHILDREN OF THE GREAT WAR

Richard van Emden, World War One historian and BBC documentary maker

THE Quick and the Dead is the story not only of the soldiers who went to war and did not return, but of the wives and children they left behind to mourn. It also looks at how the whole nation came to terms with its grief.

 

8. THE IMPORTANCE OF THE VERSAILLES PEACE TREATY

Dr Steve Wharton, Senior Lecturer in French and Communications, University of Bath

The formal conclusion of the War to End All Wars came with the signature of the Treaty of Versailles. The punitive reparations of this combined with real and perceived slights and a desire for revenge to set the stage for inevitable future conflict. This paper examines the ‘before, during and after’ of the Treaty.

 

9. THE FAMILIES WHO NEVER FORGOT; ARCAEOLOGY OF THE GREAT WAR AND THE PHENOMENON OF ‘THE MISSING’

Richard Osgood, Senior Archaeologist for the UK Defence Infrastructure (DIO), part of the MOD

The names of almost 60,000 ‘missing’ soldiers of the Great War are carved and commemorated on the Menin Gate in the Belgian town of Ypres. Although missing, the men were not forgotten. What did the phenomenon of having no known grave mean for the families, and what can an archaeological investigation of former battlefields add to both a study of the Great War, and to knowledge of the fate of those men?

 

Dr Robert Blackburn