Reappraising the Representation of the People Act, 1918 Conference, 14 September 2018

Contributed by Amy Cross, University of Central Lancashire The passing of the Representation of the People Act in February 1918 was a defining moment in British history. By extending the franchise to all men over 21 and women over 30 who met the qualifying criteria the Act transformed the electoral system in Britain, tripling the electorate to nearly twenty four million. To mark the centenary year of this landmark reform a one day conference, ‘Reappraising the Representation of the People Act, 1918’, was held at the University of Central Lancashire. Organised by Dr David Stewart, Dr Nick Mansfield and Dr Jack Southern, the conference drew on themes of gender, class, nationhood and local identity in its examination and reappraisal of the Act. Professor Karen Hunt from Keele University opened the first panel with an engaging paper on Class and Adult Suffrage during the Great War. The paper detailed how the war, and the rhetoric of freedom and inclusiveness which came with it, galvanised the fight for adult suffrage and encouraged many to move from campaigning for limited women’s suffrage to full adult suffrage. The paper concluded with a call for greater recognition of the important role played by adult suffragist organisations in the campaign for the extension of the franchise in order to counterbalance the heavy emphasis on women’s suffrage movements in the histories of this period. Dr David Swift followed with a paper that touched on similar themes, exploring the interaction between gender and class through the lens of working-class women of the Left and the vote. Focusing on left-wing working-class women who campaigned for the extension of...

Sue Smith shares with us her MA dissertation on ‘Conscientious Objectors and the Oxfordshire Military Service Tribunals in 1916’

The ‘Local Bigwigs’ and the ‘Cold-Footed Brigade’: Conscientious Objectors and the Oxfordshire Military Service Tribunals in 1916 This dissertation examines the conflict in 1916 caused by conscientious objection to military service in the First World War. Local Military Service Tribunals set up to hear appeals for exemption from military service were the location for power struggles. The objectors claimed moral authority, the Tribunals and the Army required patriotic duty. The Church was divided between respect for individual religious belief, and the demands of the state. The study seeks to establish how powerful figures from Oxford, an ancient university town, exercised national influence to achieve fair treatment for the conscientious objectors. . It suggests that the Oxford objectors had influence on national policy. It analyses if and how the objectors influenced public opinion. It assesses the different ways in which the Oxfordshire Tribunals treated the conscientious objectors differently according to religion, political views, social class and education, discriminating in favour of the ‘gown’ (the university) and against the ‘town’.  The study suggests that the history of conscientious objection should be viewed in a wider narrative, as part of a discourse about the development and the exercise of twentieth century individual human rights and what the state can legitimately demand of its citizens. There have so far been few local studies examining the connections between government policy and the treatment of conscientious objectors as it developed, and this study provides a contribution. For the full dissertation, click...

‘I remain your Loving Wife Lizzie’ – Letters in a Skip

I remain your Loving Wife Lizzie, transcribed, edited and with an introduction by Roger Jefferies (London: Greenwich Exchange, 2017) ISBN: 978-1-910996-15-7 www.greenex.co.uk The sub-title of this book, Letters in a Skip 1917-1919, sums things up neatly. Here is one of those accidental survivals from the First World War, casting a remarkable light on the experiences of ordinary people. Of the hundred or so letters found outside a house in Broadstairs, Kent, all but two were written by Lizzie Green from the Old Kent Road to her husband Tom, who served in India. Lizzie longed for Tom’s return and thought a lot about money, health and her child. She imagined sex with Tom and wrote enthusiastically about her new false teeth. The postal system was an everyday rhythm with global reach. Life was a round of work – Lizzie was a corset maker; Tom left a job as a sewing machine agent. The war comes home in bombing raids and rising food prices, but in so many ways the letters challenge familiar stories about the conflict. Tom did not hurry off to enlist at the start of the war but was conscripted in 1916; local men died, so did women. Lizzie’s opinion of the war in April 1918 might surprise some 21st readers acclimatised in the current centenary to a history of patriotism and sacrifice. War was rotten, ‘properly murder’ and endless: ‘Why should all men suffer and wives and children be parted from one another and not only that being killed at the same time just to suit the King’s greed’. This is profoundly political as a statement of...

A Permanent Memorial to a Controversial Case

Contributed by David Hewitt Under tall trees, in a quiet garden, a memorial has been unveiled to a controversial case from the Great War. The memorial stands next to the Cenotaph in Thornton Cleveleys, on the Fylde coast, and its subject is Joseph Blackburn. He was a market gardener from the town, who was forced to fight even though he had already volunteered to do so. I have written about Joseph before, and also about an earlier, more transitory commemoration of his case. Joseph, the war, a strike and a maddening memorandum Two strikes, a hundred years apart Joseph had been made exempt from military service by five councillors in Thornton who accepted his own account of the job he did. But that exemption was taken away by the Central Tribunal, which sat in Westminster, was chaired by the fourth Marquess of Salisbury and was the final authority in cases of this kind. Lord Salisbury and his colleagues didn’t hear from Joseph, who said he couldn’t afford to travel to London, but that didn’t stop them from returning a damning judgment in his case. They said he wasn’t a market gardener at all, but “a mere hawker of fruit and vegetables”, and within days, Joseph was putting on a khaki uniform. The five councillors went out on strike because of the judgment in Westminster, and Lord Salisbury would eventually conceded that a mistake had been made. But that didn’t help the man himself. He died in the fields of Picardy, in the dog-days of the last summer of the war. For a while, Joseph was lost to history, but...

An information “black hole”: World War I in Africa

There are many unknown stories of how there were War and Home Fronts beyond Europe.  In this article, our guest author Marika Sherwood brings our attention to the information ‘black hole’ on World War I in Africa. Introduction There has been much commemoration on our television screens, on our web-sites and in our newspapers on World War I.  But where was the war fought? That World War One was also fought in Africa is usually relegated to a sentence or a brief paragraph in most books on the War. The BBC’s website, www.bbc.co.uk/history/0/ww1, for example, states that it was fought ’from the trenches and the Somme on the Western Front, to the collapse of Russia and the Ottoman Empire on the Eastern Front’. There are 19 films/videos, innumerable articles and speeches on http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-i , but no mention of Africa. On the Wikipedia website which many people would look at, there are c.19,000 words dealing with the war itself of which 90 are on Africa. (But, to be fair, there is a reference to a useful website.) In The Guardian newspaper’s archive on WWI (available on the web), there is nothing on Africa. Any reports published in the newspapers during the war in Africa are either a sentence in a general report on the war, or occasionally very very brief reports issued by the War Office.  South Africa merits a few more sentences. Thus information was very tightly controlled. The Times published one article by ‘Our East African Correspondent‘ on 22 January 1918:  ‘A Land of Promise: the possibilities of East Africa’, which deals with the problems being faced by...

A Journey into Russia

As the Käthe Buchler exhibition, Beyond the Battlefields, enters its final week, Jennifer Deakin writes about another woman photographer of the period: Florence Farmborough (1887-1978). Jennifer is currently writing her PhD on Farmborough at Canterbury Christ Church University. She was inspired by the Centre’s Witnessing War workshop in March to compare Farmborough’s work with Buchler’s, placing both women in their broader historical contexts. THE RED CROSS ON THE EASTERN FRONT, 1914-1917 (Q 107166) Nurse Florence Farmborough wearing her travelling uniform – dark brown dress, black apron with red cross and black veil. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205350049 In 1974 Florence Farmborough (1887-1978) with the encouragement of her family published the first edition of her diary, Nurse at the Russian Front followed by her Russian Album 1914-1918 in 1978.  At that time, she was living in a retirement home in Heswall, Cheshire and the shop where my mother was manageress ran a book promotion to coincide with the launch.  So, I subsequently acquired my signed first edition which I carefully put away to read for when time permitted.  In 2015 I discovered the diary again and this has led to my current PhD research. Florence had always wanted to travel and in 1905 left England, and took up the past as governess to the two daughters of eminent Russian heart surgeon Dr Pavel Sergeyevich Usov in Moscow. When war broke out she joined the Russian Red Cross after taking the necessary exams to enable her to serve at the front as a surgical nursing sister.  This was at a time when women were prevented from serving at the front...

No Petticoats Here, by Louise Jordan

Link to video ‘Behind the Songs’ In this blog, Louise Jordan, talks about how she went about uncovering forgotten stories of women in the First World War for her song writing project ‘No Petticoats Here’ As a musician I am constantly touring (link to gig list www.louisejordan.co.uk/tour-dates/). In September 2014 I enjoyed a week performing in Holland, Germany and Denmark. One of the songs in my set was Lovey Warne which I had written about a female smuggleress from the New Forest, where I currently live. There was something about the combination of sharing local history through this song that seemed to resonate beyond cultural boundaries and I returned to the UK wanting to do more of this. Sometime after returning from this European Tour, I asked my husband what he would like to do for his birthday in November and he suggested a trip to the battlefields on the Western Front. We spent two and a half weeks around the Somme staying in Premiere Classe ‘hotels’. Yes; it was muddy and rainy, but we had a white van (R.I.P.), Wellington boots and a camp stove. Going back through my photos on my arrival home, I pulled out the handful of women’s experiences of the First World War that I had collected evidence of. Often referred to as the wives of soldiers (photo of Private Thomas Alfred Pemberton and his wife in Fromelles Museum) and the nurses (often anonymous) that cared for the injured men, I kept returning to the portrait of Louise de Bettignies’ (photo) which adorns the otherwise rather immaculate Basilica of the Notre Dame de Lorette....

The Police as Ploughmen

Serious recognition was only given to Britain’s food crisis around September 1916, when an increasing number of ships carrying food supplies to Britain were sunk by German submarines.    From 1913 Britain was importing around 81% of its wheat supplies with 36 million acres of British farmland devoted to livestock and only 3 million acres to crops such as grain and potatoes. From around this date, farmers produced all the nation’s milk and three-fifths of the meat, but only one-fifth of the bread, a staple foodstuff for the lower classes. Further adding to the country’s worries in the autumn of 1916 was the poor harvest worldwide, so that imports of grain ceased, and Britain only had sufficient stocks to last for 4 months normal consumption. The British potato crop, another staple item of diet, also became diseased and rotted in the ground due to the bad weather. A manpower crisis had also developed in British agriculture. Up to December 1916 the focus under the Asquith government had been on the increasing need to recruit sufficient soldiers and sailors to fight the war, so that agriculture lost many of its fit young skilled labour. This loss of men from the land began to be recognised in autumn 1915 when protection was given to skilled farm workers who were given the status of indispensable civilian workers, not to be called up into the armed forces, although they could volunteer and would then be placed on a waiting list. However, by late 1916 with the army’s continuing need to recruit more men to fight, fit young farm workers were being specifically targeted by...

David Littlewood, Military Service Tribunals and Boards in the Great War: Determining the Fate of Britain’s and New Zealand’s Conscripts, Abingdon: Routledge, 2017.

In this new book, David Littlewood, takes the story of the First World War Military Tribunal beyond Britain’s borders to their role in New Zealand. On 7 October 1916, Albert Walker, a blanket raiser from Dewsbury, explained why he should be exempted from conscription into the British Army. He was the sole support of his father, who had been injured in a textile mill accident, and a sister who looked after the family home. Three of his brothers were serving with the forces and two others had recently been called up. In view of this precarious domestic situation, and the sacrifices made by his family, Walker was granted a conditional exemption. Seven months later, Charles Sneddon made a similar plea at Hawera in New Zealand. As well as owning an 897-acre farm, he was working his father’s property 12 miles away, which carried 400 breeding ewes and 40 head of cattle. The proceeds from these two holdings provided for his mother and father, who were aged 80 and 71 respectively. On the strength of this testimony, Sneddon was awarded sine die (indefinite) relief from military service. Although they both had to renew their claims in the years that followed, Walker and Sneddon were successful in obtaining further exemption and thereby spent the rest of the Great War at home. These accounts exemplify a critical aspect of recruitment in Britain and New Zealand, but one that has not been fully analysed by historians. While a plethora of studies have discussed why so many men decided to volunteer, the experiences of those who were called up under conscription have received relatively...