Belgian Refugees in Birmingham (1914-1919)
Jolien De Vuyst, Ghent University
‘Black is typical of the terrible days through which our country is passing, and the depth of sorrow into which we have been plunged; red, is the blood that has been shed; but golden is the kindness of the British people, and never can the Belgians forget the generosity and warmth of their reception’. Belgian refugee priest, referring to the colours of the Belgian flag. (War Refugees’ Committee, 1914)
Emily Linney, University of Worcester
Between the months of September and December 1914, 250,000 Belgium refugees entered Britain fleeing the German invasion of their homeland; this was the largest flood of people into Britain to date.
Adrian Blackledge, University of Birmingham
During the Great War sphagnum moss played an important part as a substitute for cotton gauze dressings, as it was found to absorb liquids about three times more quickly than cotton, retain liquids much better, and distribute the liquids more uniformly. It was cooler, softer, and less irritating than cotton, and could be produced more rapidly and more cheaply.
Paul Huddie, Queen’s University Belfast
One prominent feature of the British home front campaign of the Great War was the boom in wartime charities. So great was the expansion of charitable (or allegedly charitable) endeavours during and after 1914 that the War Charities Act 1916 had to be passed in order to regulate them. However before that great charitable rage took place, at the outbreak of the war, a number of such organisations were already well-established. One such charity was the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Families’ Association (SSFA).
Marcus Morris, Manchester Metropolitan University
Patriotic rallies, songs and flag waving, along with long lines of men volunteering to fight, are images that we traditionally associate with the outbreak of war in August 1914. A patriotic fervour and war fever seemingly gripped the nation, with whole cities turning out to cheer on their boys and show their support for Britain’s war effort. Yet this was by no means the only response to the growing threat of war or upon its outbreak, even if we are much less familiar with these images. Read more…
On January 31, 1916, in the second year of the Great War, nine airships left their bases in Germany with orders to bomb Liverpool and in so doing shock the British by the long- range of the attack. The year before zeppelins had raided London, but it was considered impossible for them to reach as far north as Merseyside. As it was the enemy did not make their target. Instead they dropped their bombs on several English towns mostly in the Midlands. Chief amongst them were Tipton, Wednesbury and Walsall in Staffordshire.
Is it something deep in the English national soul, that fascination with valiant defeat in battle? It is a trait bound up inextricably with others such as doggedness in the face of superior odds; a determination not to bow down to an aggressor, no matter how mighty he may be; a resolve to stay loyal to our pals and not abandon them when endangered; and a refusal to cry for quarter even when outnumbered and facing certain death.
Chris Upton, Newman University, Birmingham
Kristallnacht – the Night of Broken Glass – was that fateful 24 hours in November 1938 when the German people (some of them, at least) turned on their Jewish neighbours. Families who had lived peaceably next door to each other for years became divided forever.
Such can be the effects of war and politics, and their handmaidens propaganda and hatred.
A heavy haze overlaid the Somme Valley early on July 1, 1916, but as the morning strengthened so the mist vanished. The clear sky beckoned the sun, which waxed in strength as the hours went on. After a week of thunderstorms, heavy rain, cloud and high winds, at last it looked set for a fine day of weather. A fine day that would become ingrained in the consciousness of the British people as the worst of days; a fine day that would witness the deaths of tens of thousands of fine men; a fine day when the youth of whole towns and districts were slaughtered; a fine day that became a bloody, tragic and shocking day from which so many families would never recover.
The Kaiser was certain that his great army would sweep in to the sea that small force of British soldiers sent to help the French when war with Germany broke out on August 4, 1914. So sneering was he of the British Expeditionary Force that he commanded his forces to ‘exterminate first the treacherous English and walk over General French’s contemptible little army’.
In Memory of Bill Furse
Henrietta Lockhart, Birmingham Museums Trust
During a trip to Northern France in June 2014, I visited the graves of some men whose stories we are featuring in an exhibition about Birmingham and the Royal Warwickshire Regiment during the First World War.
Post Office Shop
To mark the centenary year of World War 1 and the release of a range of collectible stamps and coins to commemorate this, the Post Office Shop blog team has been researching the role of the General Post Office during the Great War.
By the spring of 1915, the hoardings in Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and other great cities were plentifully bespattered with Lord Kitchener’s posters calling for skilled workers to register for employment in munitions factories. One of the most striking was headed “the man the army wants now” and had an illustration depicting big guns in action with a workman engaged on a lathe in the foreground.
The bonfire for a European conflagration had been building inexorably for over a generation before the outbreak of the First World War in the summer of 1914. Over that period two great and hostile alliances had come together, tentatively at first but then more determinedly. As they did so they ever more fiercely cast grievances, ambitions, suspicions and hatreds at each other, so much so that language of diplomacy was increasingly abandoned for the rhetoric of conflict.
Library of Birmingham
The National War Savings Committee was always keen to discover new ways of fundraising for the war effort and they soon latched on to the public desire to see the new charismatic war machines – tanks. In March 1918, a battered tank recovered from the battlefield was put on display in London and drew in huge numbers of visitors to not only witness the machine, but to part with their money and buy their war bonds from the Tank Bank.
Birmingham its people, its history draws upon the city’s unique and world class collections to bring Birmingham’s history to life. There are five galleries to explore, tracing the development of Birmingham from a small medieval settlement to a city of global significance.
Wolverhampton Art Gallery holds a range of objects that relate to the First World War, from embroidered postcards that kept a connection between the Home Front and the trenches, to paintings and drawings that reflect upon it both immediately and many years after its end.
Library of Birmingham
Plans for military hospitals in Birmingham were made by the 13th Territorial General Hospital well in advance of war breaking out. Birmingham University was used as the 1st Southern General Hospital, with the first wounded soldiers arriving on 1 September 1914, and 1,000 beds provided by early 1915. As casualties increased many other buildings became hospitals, such as the Poor Law Infirmary on Dudley Road in 1915, the Monyhull Colony in King’s Norton in 1916 and school buildings in Kings Heath and Stirchley. Rubery Hill and Hollymoor hospitals were also used.