Tag Archives: First World War

Genevieve Gwendoline Webb – a schoolgirl poet in the War Poetry Collection

Whilst researching local World War One poets whose works are held in the War Poetry Collection of the Library of Birmingham, one of my most unexpected discoveries was a slim volume entitled “Ten Short Poems”, written by Genevieve Gwendoline Webb. Female poets of World War One are far less well known than male ones, but what was particularly surprising about this booklet was that Genevieve had written these poems when she was a child. Her age, precisely recorded at the end of each poem in both years and months, ranges between 12 years 9 months and 14 years 9 months. Thus we can see that Genevieve was still a schoolgirl at the time the verses were written.

Using genealogical resources such as online local baptism records and the 1911 census, it is possible to establish that Genevieve Gwendoline Webb was born on 23rd July 1901. Her parents were Edward Joseph Webb, a sorting clerk at the Post Office and Annie Florence Webb. Interestingly Genevieve’s mother Annie was formerly Annie Le Brocq and she was born in St Helier, Jersey. Genevieve was baptised on 11th August 1901 at St Francis of Assisi Catholic church in Handsworth. The 1911 census shows Genevieve living with her parents at 17 George Street, Lozells. She had 4 siblings, Theresa Annie, Edward De Grunchy, Frances Helen and Josephine Mary. Her grandmother, Catherine Helen Webb, also appears on the census as living with the family.

The earlier verses in “Ten Short Poems” are written when Genevieve was 12 years old. War had not yet broken out, and Genevieve’s writing, whilst somewhat sombre in tone, reflects the usual concerns of a schoolchild with poetic leanings. In “The Lonely Willow” she celebrates the beauty of the natural world whilst at the same time recognising the cruelty that mankind can inflict upon it. In another poem “To a Favourite Teacher” she records her innocent attachment to one of her schoolmistresses and the sadness she feels at their approaching parting. This is because (and note her use of capital letters in the second line of the title!) her teacher is “ABOUT TO BE WED”. Nevertheless the poetess insists,

Though oceans part thee from mine eyes,
I’ll often think of you.

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Disability and the Great War

Wounded soldiers wearing their ‘convalescent blues’ on Victory Celebration Day at the 1st Southern General military hospital, Edgbaston, c. 1918-9 [Ref MS 4616]

This November, to mark the centenary of the armistice, Voices of War and Peace and the Library of Birmingham collaborated to organise an exhibition showcasing work about the First World War that has been carried out by local community organisations since 2014. Two of the projects displayed in the exhibition researched and presented information about injured and disabled soldiers. In honour of Disability History Month, and as Research Assistant for Voices of War and Peace, it seems appropriate to write about what I have learned about disability and the Great War.

The scale of the First World War was unprecedented and unexpected, putting a massive strain not only those on the front line but also on the home front. The injured soldiers returning home created a huge demand for hospital services. In Birmingham, Rubery Hill War Hospital opened in 1915, and then a second war hospital, Hollymoor, opened shortly after. As the war progressed, these hospitals were not enough to keep up with the need for medical services in the area. Large private houses across the Birmingham area were donated, such as Highbury in Moseley, to become treatment centres. The University of Birmingham buildings were also adapted for the uses of war, becoming the 1st Southern General in September 1914. Aston Webb was appropriated as a hospital, as well as ten other buildings on campus, and tents were also erected on the grounds. You can see archival images of the University and Highbury as treatment centres in the exhibition. By 1919, 125,000 patients from across the globe had been treated in Birmingham. These facts and statistics really give a sense of how many lives must have been completely changed by the war.

VAD nursing staff with wounded soldiers in the Great Hall main ward (Aston Webb building) of 1st Southern General military hospital, Edgbaston c. 1914-8 [MS 4616]

By the end of the war, about forty-thousand men had lost their arms or legs, leaving them permanently disabled. Many of them could no longer do the jobs that they had before the war, and some had to completely re-learn how to live independently. Immediately after the war, the war hospitals helped the men recover from their injuries. After serving the war, and literally giving part of themselves to the effort, the returning soldiers expected their country to now look after them in their time of need. Although there were schemes like the ‘Kings National Roll’ (1919) that were implemented by the state, they were mostly unsuccessful. It was charity organisations that provided ‘sheltered’ employment that helped the soldiers rehabilitate themselves. An example of ‘sheltered’ employment would be Thermega, teaching men how to make electric blankets. Another example is training men to be prosthetic fitters at Roehampton. It was charity organisations providing these services that gave these disabled servicemen a second chance after the war.

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The Southern Cross – The Journal of the 1st Southern General Hospital R.A.M.C.T. Birmingham

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham is now well-known as the home of the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine providing specialist care for wounded members of the armed forces. The treatment of war casualties in Birmingham has a long history dating back to the First World War when wounded servicemen from all over the world were treated here.

One of the largest war hospitals in the city, and the first to open, was the First Southern General Hospital which was housed in the buildings of the University of Birmingham in Edgbaston. Following the declaration of war on 4 August 1914, the Royal Army Medical Corps Territorial Unit received orders to mobilise and the following day beds and mattresses began to arrive at the University buildings. The first convoy of 120 sick and wounded men arrived on 1 September, and by the end of 1914 the First Southern General had 800 beds and had received 3,892 patients.

First cover of The Southern Cross, Issue No. 1. January 1916. [Ref. MS 2046 (1985/093)]

The Southern Cross was a monthly journal produced by patients of the hospital, with the first edition being published in 1916.  Through written articles, illustrations and anecdotal jokes, the journal proved to be a reflection of the day to day life in the hospital and to act as a ‘reference in years to come when it is wished to refresh memories – pleasant but possibly not untinged with sadness – of what the reader or his friends did for their country in the greatest war the world has ever seen’ (MS 2046 (1985/093)).

Caricature ‘Till the Boys Come Home’ from The Southern Cross, Issue No. 8 p. 173. [Ref. MS 2046 (1985/0930)]

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Creative responses to First World War archives: For King and Country

 

Our last in the series celebrating Explore Your Archives week again is a creative response from the Creative Writing workshop held in the Wolfson Centre in September. Written by Margaret Lyons, it is inspired by letters received from employees of W. Canning Materials Ltd. who were serving in the Forces during World War One (ref MS 2326/1/19).

 

 

Those pills came yesterday with a note from his mother.

“Dear Kathleen, please find enclosed”- (she’s very proper is Tom’s mother) – “Dear Kathleen, please find enclosed a month’s supply of the tablets I mentioned last week.  He’s to take two a day and I’m happy to send for more- if he finds them agreeable.  Mrs Dawson at church bought some for their Jack and she said he was like a new man after 2 months.”

I looked at the leaflet in the packet; “Out of Sorts? More dead than alive?  Cassell’s tablets for the nervous and wasted – can cure stomach troubles, loss of appetite, loss of flesh, trembling and nervous debilitation, restores strength and fitness.”

I’ve told his mother, it’ll take more than pills to sort Tom out, but she can’t see it, or doesn’t want to.  It makes me that mad; she comes over once a month, sits in the front parlour in her Sunday furs, sipping tea from our best china.  Tom wouldn’t sit down with us last week, made some excuse to keep busy.  She saw my face; “well he always was a restless boy Kathleen… a proper fidget… did I ever tell you about the time…” and she rattled on with some story.  Tom’s a story teller too, stories for his mother, stories for our friends, for the neighbours, about the food, the lice, the rats as big as kittens, how he and the lads used them as target practice.

The truth is, he won’t sit down with the china because he can’t trust his hands not to shake. You never know when it’ll start.  A sudden sound that catches him off guard, the whistle of a train, the hooter for knock off at the cotton mill, even the kids screaming, and they’re only playing…

What did she say to me at the door?  “We’ve got to give him time Kathleen, Tom’s done his duty for King and Country and now we must do right by him.”

We?  She doesn’t see him when he’s raging at the kids or the nights when the terrible dreams come, drenching our bed with his sweat, moaning into his pillow.  He’s only really at peace these days when he’s out the back, digging over the veg patch.

I watch him from the kitchen window but he never sees me.  Sometimes his spade hits the soil so hard, as if he’s giving it all the rage he can muster and then the tears come, for the misery of it all, and I’m glad of that.

Creative responses to First World War archives: a letter to my dear Sister

 

As part of 2018’s Explore Your Archive campaign and following on from Monday’s blog post, another creative response from the Creating Writing workshop was inspired by the letters of Elizabeth Cadbury (MS 466 FN:466/433 (1916)).

 

 

 

Margaret Hale wrote the following:

January 1915

My dear Sister,

I am writing this letter to you while sitting nearly on top of the fire, that is  because the weather here is so very cold and it is trying very hard to snow.

Our new home, which we moved into before Christmas does not seem as warm and friendly as the old one, but I am having a large number of friends visiting probably to be inquiring in a nosey sort of way to tell me their news.

Mrs Freda Smythe called yesterday to tell me that Mr and Mrs George Brown’s son Frederick George Brown, do you remember him? He was at school with our cousin Michael Arthur Jones, they were at Upton together was killed last week. Then Mrs Ursula Thomas came to tell me that her daughter Mary, who you remember married Simon Albert Hall, also at Upton with Michael has had a baby daughter Flora Mary.

I have had a very busy week apart from all the visitors I have been asked to help Chair the Woodlands committee for helping the wounded, Mrs Duncan Cadbury is the Deputy Chairman and the Lord Mayor and the Bishop of Birmingham are also on the committee. The first one was on Monday morning and Mrs Cadbury had to leave us early because her son Edward had come home on sick leave and she wanted to be with him.

At church on Sunday the preacher was the new Curate, the Rev Gordon Harvey-Jones quite an elderly man for a curate I thought, his sermon was good but quite short so John and I walked home in the wintery sun.

John is very busy at the factory going in most days, he had to go to the Ministry in London, and unfortunately the train was slow and late. I think he is missing going to Torquay this year. Our Cousin Ada and her husband Victor, you know the one who talks a lot, wrote to say that the weather is dreadful and most of the hotel has influenza and she was not enjoying it.

I am thinking about colours for the morning room, I have been to Worcester and picked some china that I like and I think it looks quite nice on Mother’s old side board.  Do you remember how we were forbidden to open the drawers and cupboards?

I am still writing Christmas replies as the move has taken up so much time. I have written to our cousin Sarah in Calcutta, her husband Roger Michael Cadwell is now in charge of the plantation and they now have four children, Mollie, Olive, Walter and Freda. It must be lovely to be warm all the time. I have heard from Aunty Beatrice and she says that her sons, Andrew, Arthur and Albert, are all away at war.   Victor, her husband, thinks the War will be over by Christmas this year.

I went to a Concert by the London Symphony Orchestra which was nice, but some people did not stay till the end.

I do hope that you will be able to come and stay with us at Easter, and we can see the spring flowers together in our new garden. I hope that you will be able to have some time off from the hospital.

Your ever loving sister.

Creative responses to First World War archives: Men Beat the Walnut Trees

On Friday 14th September 2018, here in Archives & Collections at the Library of Birmingham, we held a Creative Writing workshop using First World War archives.

This was a free hands-on Creative Writing session hosted by Birmingham historical novelist and biographer, Fiona Joseph, and Corinna Rayner, the Archives & Collections Manager. Archive material at the Library of Birmingham had been specially selected by Fiona and Corinna to inspire the writers, and it provided a unique opportunity to explore some of the many archival treasures themed around Women at War (Home Front, Industry) and Conscience at War (Quakers, patriotism and pacifism). We had so much material out, including family letters, photographs, posters, postcards, news items and memorabilia from the period which participants could use as a springboard for their own creative responses. Writers at any level, including beginners, were welcomed. For this year’s Explore Your Archives week we thought we’d share some of the wonderful creative responses to the archives which were produced as a result of this session.

First up is Men Beat the Walnut Trees by Lindsay Martin, inspired by a photograph of women working in a munitions factory from MS 4616 War Collection (Local Studies) and a collection of letters in the Central England Area Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends archive (SF) from Birmingham Quakers about their varied experiences during the First World War. You can listen to a recording of Lindsay’s piece here and the transcript is available here.

We’ll share another contribution with you on Wednesday!

The Legacy of War

The First World War signified a change in the conduct of war. War was now waged on an unprecedented scale against both military forces and civilian populations. The mass mobilisation of military firepower led to untold devastation on the battlefields, campaigns which left millions dead.

Emerging from this ‘total war’ were cases of shell shock, soldiers psychologically affected by the harsh reality of 20th century warfare. Still a relatively new diagnosis, the first use of the term shell shock was believed to have been recorded in the Lancet in 1915 when Charles Myers, Captain in the Royal Army medical Corps, published his article ‘A Contribution to the Study of Shell Shock. Being an Account of Three Cases of Loss of Memory, Vision, Smell and Taste, Admitted into the Duchess of Westminster’s War Hospital, Le Touquet.’

Order for the Reception of a Dangerous Lunatic Soldier. [HC AS]

There are only a handful of surviving records from the psychiatric hospitals in Birmingham dating from the First World War. In the records of All Saints Hospital are reception orders for those admitted to the hospital. These include ‘Service’ patients who were members of the armed forces who had experienced attacks of a psychological kind that had left them with symptoms including those of hallucinations, apathy, loss of memory or understanding, restlessness and the inability to answer simple questions.  In some cases, these men already had pre-existing conditions. In 1917 one soldier, whose cause of attack was unknown, was described as ‘… deluded imagining his food is poisoned. He told me that he was surrounded by enemies who wished to take his life.’ [MS 344/15/14]. We don’t know the full details of this soldier’s condition, however the effects of war seem to be obvious.

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