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So what has the BBC ever done for us?

Written by Sarah Girling

BBC trailer

I am a fan of the BBC, I don’t deny it. I enjoy Call the Midwife, Miranda, Dr Who, Sherlock… Yes, I’m a fan (and as you can tell, a woman of a certain age)…

Well, the BBC seems to have gone all out to ensure that everyone knows about the centenary of the First World War and as Tim Plyming, Executive Producer for the BBC has said in his blog:

“Central to the BBC’s ambition for the World War One season is the desire to reintroduce audiences to a war they think they know.”

So what has the BBC offered us, the viewers?

Firstly, there’s what will actually be on the telly. The trailer on YouTube is pretty good, including the song Pack up your Troubles, made popular during WWI.

Which brings me on to their second offer. BBC iWonder Guides are interactive guides designed for laptops, tablets and smartphones. One of the guides is Gareth Malone’s analysis ‘Why did Pack up your Troubles become the viral hit of WWI?’ and another looks at whether War Poetry has distorted our view of WWI.

If you came to the Researching the Great War day back in November 2013, you will have heard something about the BBC’s World War One at Home project from Stuart Woodward. I’m looking forward to hearing the 100 stories from across the UK.

There are podcasts and lots more, so I’ve signed up to their newsletter to stay informed about what’s coming up next…

There are links to other items on the website at BBC.co.uk/ww1  and you can read more about plans for TV and Radio by reading the blog of Adrian Van Kleveron, Controller of the BBC’s World War One Centenary.

Thanks for reading (and no I wasn’t paid by the BBC to promote this, I just think it’s jolly good!)

Understanding the First World War: Study Day

Loughton Festival 2014

Saturday 31 May 2014

10am-4.30pm, Lopping Hall

Leader: Professor David Stevenson

Professor David Stevenson

Professor David Stevenson

As the First World War centenary approaches, this study day will focus on a series of key questions about that terrible conflict: why it began; why it was not short but continued for over four years; how it ended; what was its impact; and how it has been commemorated. It will include Britain’s war experience, but the approach will be international and comparative, giving attention to all the countries involved. The presentation will highlight the new picture of the war that has emerged from recent historical research.

The day will consist of five separate sessions, each illustrated and allowing plenty of opportunity for questions. A hand-out will provide a guide to recommended further reading. Coffee and tea will be included in the price for the day of £15-00 per head (£12-00 concessions). Advance booking is preferable but not essential.

David Stevenson is the author of five books about the First World War, including

1914-1918: The History of the First World War (Penguin Books, 2004) and With Our Backs to the Wall: Victory and Defeat in 1918 (Penguin Books, 2011). He has been teaching and lecturing on the topic for more than thirty years.

For further details and to book, please contact David Stevenson, telephone 0208-508-2512 or email D.Stevenson@lse.ac.uk

Researching the impact of World War I on Braintree District

Taken from the Braintree Museum website (with permission)

Written by Curator, Jennifer Brown.

Braintree District Museum is one of the partner museums working with Essex County Council on their project ‘Now the Last Poppy has Fallen’. This project aims to research the impact of the First World War on the lives of individuals, families and communities in Essex. It will result in a touring exhibition reflecting on stories from the Essex Home Front, develop museum education sessions for schools and reflective school performances and commission artists to produce performances relating to these stories. The museum is very excited to be a part of this project.

The project group look at Braintree District Museum's World War I archive. Left to Right - Carl, Tony Morrison (Essex-on-Tour & Last Poppy Co-Ordinator), Mike, Jackie, Hannah and Chris

The project group look at Braintree District Museum’s World War I archive.
Left to Right – Carl, Tony Morrison (Essex-on-Tour & Last Poppy Co-Ordinator), Mike, Jackie, Hannah and Chris

Yesterday, Tony Morrison, Co-ordinator of the Essex-on-Tour programme and Project Manager of the Last Poppy project, and five local volunteers visited the museum to view our World War I archive. The group enjoyed looking through the highlights of our collection, including a nationally significant collection of documents and photographs relating to the East Anglian Munitions Committee. Led by Francis Crittall and Mr Stokes of Ransomes and Rapier Ltd., this committee steered a group of 42 local industries who between 1915 and 1918 produced a total of 5 million shells as well as many other important products for the war effort, and dramatically drove down the costs of production. This high turnover at low prices made a massive contribution to the government’s shell supply and helped to save the lives of many troops on the front line. Prior to the establishment of the Committee each gun crew was limited to 5 shells per gun, which led to the death of many of our troops. Below is a photograph of volunteer Chris holding one of the 18lb shells produced at the Crittall factory at Braintree. Other highlights include postcards sent from many different World War I battle zones, and ID papers of men enrolled on vital war industries locally and who were therefore exempted from military service.

Chris with a Crittall 18lb shell

Chris with a Crittall 18lb shell

Seeking Home Front Stories

The volunteers have chosen some exciting initial research topics, including first-hand accounts of the Zeppelin raid on Braintree in 1916 and the voluntary war work of Margaret Mercer, Ariel Crittall’s mother, behind the lines in France. However, we are still looking for more stories about life on the Home Front and the impact of the war on the people of Braintree District. If you have any information, artefacts, or stories to share please do get in contact with us.

You can contact the museum by phone, 01376 325266 or by email, info@braintree.gov.uk.

Searching for the ‘Lost Boys’ of Chadwell Heath

It’s interesting what you uncover when you start to research a subject or even people.  Nicky Scowen, a resident of Chadwell Heath, part of historic Essex, but now part of the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, was asked to research the 97 men who were commemorated on a brass plaque in St Chad’s Church.

Her story is told in her own words:

One sunny Saturday afternoon I agreed to help someone out, not realising that a simple “yes” would change my life so dramatically.  I was at a local history fair when I got chatting to a lady who mentioned, in passing, that the local history society wanted to research the WW1 memorial in the church.

The intention was to look at the then newly-released 1911 census, see where all the men lived and learn a little bit about them.  Without a second thought, I said of course I would help; Family history has been my “thing” for a number of years and as a subscriber to various family history related websites it wouldn’t cost me anything.  One thing that seems to define all local history societies is a combination of genuine enthusiasm and lack of funds!

I wasn’t expecting to be sent a list of 97 names, but off I went to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission lists looking for likely candidates.  The CWGC, the 1911 census, 1901 census, 1891 census… after all, once you’ve started it seems rude not to do the job properly.  Then there are army records, medal cards and war diaries. Oh, and electoral registers and church records and local newspapers; these men were starting to take over my life!  In a couple of cases I had to go backwards forty or fifty years to find a starting point before I could come forwards again.

Once I had information on most of the 97, it seemed only right and proper that I should try to find where they were buried, pay my respects and add photographs of their final resting places to the other information I’d found.  We had visited the battlefields and cemeteries of the Western front on several previous occasions, but had never done a trip quite like this before.  The coach company we went with on our first mission didn’t really know what they had let themselves in for; as is normal practice on these tours, we were asked if we were taking the trip to visit a particular grave or memorial.  When I said I had a list, it caused a few raised eyebrows, but by the end of the trip, as I clambered back into my seat after yet another unofficial stop, there were cries of “Did you find another one?” and the whole coach wanted to know the story.

Grand Seraucourt

Grand Seraucourt

What I hadn’t been prepared for was the difference between the beautifully manicured war graves of France and Belgium and the appalling destruction I would find at home.  I wandered in circles around one East London cemetery in tears at the sight of broken headstones and ruined graves.



One name was high on the memorial at Tower Hill so I co-opted a taller colleague to come and help me take a picture.  Some men are named on more than one memorial, so I’ve visited stations, schools, cathedrals and churches (having managed to convince the local clergy that I’m not there to steal the plate!)

After three years the research decided (on its own) that it should become a book.  The Imperial War Museum have accepted a copy for their library so the research will be available to anyone.  It is important that we don’t forget.

More on this story can be found on the Barking and Dagenham Post website.