Tag Archives: First World War

50 objects 11: World War One as it happened.

John Hammerton & Herbert Wrigley Wilson, ed. The Great War: the standard history of the all-Europe conflict (London: The Amalgamated Press, 1914-19).


The first volume of this work was published in 1914, and sets the tone with the first sentence: “The greatest war of modern times, and perhaps in the whole history of the human race, was begun by Germany using the crime of a schoolboy in Bosnia as her excuse” [Volume I, page 3]. The work claims to be “a standard history” but, written so soon after the individual events it narrates, cannot give a truly balanced view as there was no way for the authors to be in possession of all the facts surrounding them.

The great interest of this work lies in its immediacy. It shows what the general public in Britain knew about the war during the war, and what they were encouraged to think. The tone and content reflect the attitudes and social structure of the time, as when prominence is given in lists of casualties to those men who were related to peers. Naturally the text is full of patriotic language – chapter titles make frequent use of words such as “glorious” and “triumphant” – and admiration for British troops’ bravery and skill, and for the design of their ships, planes, and weapons; but recognition is made of the German forces as a formidable enemy with admirable qualities.

Title page from Volume I

Title page from Volume I

The volumes are, as the title-page indicates, “profusely illustrated”. There are maps and plans to show defences and strategy; photographs of events and of key people; diagrams of submarines; illustrated spreads on forces joining the war from overseas; and, most poignantly, drawings of battlefield scenes based on sketches sent by eyewitnesses.

As well as the narrative of the war itself, there are chapters on broader topics including “Influence of the war on English Literature” [volume XII], and “Marvels of the British Transport Service on the Western Front” [volume VIII], to address wider and longer-term issues.

The twelfth and final volume, published in 1919, ends with a “roll of honour” detailing the numbers of men killed, wounded, and missing, with the numbers analysed in various ways; civilian casualties are estimated too, and a swift overview is given to show the range of men who died, and some of their talents and achievements in sports and professions.

The work that started with grandiose phrasing about “the greatest war” ends, fittingly, in tribute to those who bore the greatest cost: “To praise those who gave their lives for their country would be an impertinence, but they cannot be left entirely without a tribute of respect and thanks.” [volume XII, p. 600].


100 years ago today

Blog post by Kyra Bains, work experience student

I was with the E.14 through the Dardanelles

On the 26th March 1915, J. T. Haskins was first informed of the mission that would earn him a Distinguished Service Medal. He worked as the leading Stoker on the E.14 submarine, the first submarine to steer through the Dardanelles to the Sea of Marmara and back again. They went through enemy subs, torpedoes, minefields just to get to there.

Here in Special Collections you can read part of his diary that tracks the whole mission. The diary starts with him receiving orders “to prepare for long trip” all the way to the end of the mission and hearing about the Distinguished Service Medal.

The Dardanelles is a dangerous narrow strait in northwest Turkey that connects the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara. It separates Europe from Asia and, on a side note, also holds the site of ancient Troy. This mission was part of the Gallipoli Campaign of World War I. It was first conceived by Winston Churchill as a way of supplying the Russians through the Black Sea. In the same swoop Churchill intended to drive the Ottoman Empire out of the war. Unfortunately it was a loss.

The Campaign has now become one of the Ottoman Empire’s greatest victories and a major defeat for the Allied forces. Yet the success of Haskins’ Sub shows a glimmer of triumph for them leading Haskins to end his entry on the 19th May 1915:

“I was with the E.14 through the Dardanelles”

Haskins’ account is just one of the collection of working class autobiographies housed in Special Collections. We have other blog posts about the autobiographies and some about the First World War too.


Several of our collections cover the period of the First World War, and we have already had a series of blog posts highlighting some of them. You can find out more on our blog, and keep checking back as we post more updates.

German v British railways

Railways of the Great War

Are you looking forward to watching Railways of the Great War with Michael Portillo tonight on BBC2? Railways were crucial to the war effort, keeping the Western Front supplied with munitions and food, as well as transporting home wounded and dying men.

War timetableYou can find out more about the railways of the First World War in Special Collections. Our resources include railway timetables from the period, indicating the effect the war was having on railway movements.

We also have a range of books published around the time on various aspects of the war and railways.

Rise of rail power German v British railwaysThe rise of rail-power by Edwin Pratt looks at the railways between 1833 and 1914 and shows how they were able to meet the enormous strain placed on them by the outbreak of war.





Pratt’s earlier book, German v. British railways, published in 1907 compares the situation of the railways in Germany and Britain, whilst Darroch’s Deeds of a great railway (1920) tells the story of the London and North-Western Railway Company during the First World War.

Pratt’s two volume British railways and the Great War (1921) is a comprehensive history of all aspects of British railways during the First World War.

Find out more about First World War resources in Special Collections by reading our blog posts tagged First World War. Over the next few months we’ll be highlighting a range of our sources in more detail.

Deeds of great railway British Railways and the Great War

When corpses fell from the Nottinghamshire sky…

One of our autobiographies from the Burnett Archive recently featured in the Independent’s series on A history of the First World War in 100 Moments. When corpses fell from the Nottinghamshire sky  is based on the account of Lottie Barker, who worked in a munitions factory in Beeston, Nottinghamshire during the war. She was one of the ‘Canary Girls’, who made shells in the factory and for whom repeated exposure to toxic chemicals turned their skin orange-yellow like a canary.

On the day of the explosion she wasn’t on shift, but was at home washing up, and felt the house move and saw a huge column of smoke. The explosion caused the loss of 134 lives, although the full extent wasn’t made clear at the time as the news was suppressed. Lottie’s account includes details of the aftermath of the explosion.

Look out over the next few months for more accounts of the First World War from Special Collections.

100 years ago today

the First World War was sparked off by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, on 28th June 1914.

These are some of the range of resources about the First World War that you can find in Special Collections:


 Between 1914 and 1919 John Hammerton and Herbert Wrigley Wilson edited a periodical entitled The Great War: the standard history of the all-Europe conflict. Hammerton would later be responsible for popularising the V for Victory sign in the Second World War, but in the First World War he  worked on the periodical.

Published during the war, it’s an interesting example of British propaganda, for example, the first volume justifies Britain’s entry into the war, and acts as an encouragement to men to sign up to fight.  



You can find out more about First World War resources in Special Collections by reading our blog posts tagged First World War. Over the next few months we’ll be highlighting a range of our sources in more detail.