Suttons in World War I

This, the centenary year of the First World War, has heightened many people’s awareness and understanding of the conflict. The anniversary has also been an opportunity for us to delve into our collections, looking to see what they tell us about the contemporary reactions to World War One. This fascinating extract is just one of those that has been discovered:

Extract from a leaflet in the 1915 Suttons Seed Catalogue (TR SUT P2/A75)

To Our Customers

The stupendous conflict in which almost the whole of Europe is engaged, and the constant vicissitudes of the war, have dwarfed many features of every-day life which under normal conditions would demand attention …business must be carried on in as complete a manner as circumstances will permit, and in no section of trade is this more true than in the case of the great industry with which our House has been so prominently identified for more than a century.

The immense importance of producing home foodstuff of all kinds, on as extensive a scale as possible, was realised at the outset and large quantities of vegetable seeds were supplied by us to clients throughout the kingdom in August last [1914?]

Economy with efficiency has been the basis upon which our vast business has been built up, and in compiling our catalogue for 1915 we have endeavoured to keep the cost of seeds as low as is consistent with that efficiency which is essential.  It is perhaps unnecessary to remind our patrons that ‘cheap seeds’ are invariably the dearer in the end.

Photograph of premises adapted for use by troops as recreation rooms.

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Suttons Seeds roll of honour (TR SUT P2/A76)

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For more information on the Sutton Seeds collections please click here.

For information on events which are taking place as part of our commemorations of the First World War, including details on our fascinating seminar series, please see MERL Seminars: The Great War and the countryside and Special events 2014.

Zoe Watson

Project Manager/Project Archivist, Reading Connections

 

MERL remembers WW1

 

You may be forgiven in thinking that all has gone quiet regarding the WW1 part of the Reading Connections project but, in fact,things have been busier than ever.

Since the beginning of the year, of course, there has been a significant appetite for commemorating the centenary of the First World War, most obviously, in the media. This interest has also been evident locally where attention has been focused on the impact of the conflict on Reading. Among those delving into this fascinating aspect of our local history have been the University’s History students who, last month, ran a WW1 Roadshow at MERL. This event, as well as showcasing the students’ research on the First World War and Reading, also invited members of the public to bring their WW1 documents, photographs and artefacts and show them to the students and to a panel of experts, including John Chapman of the Trooper Potts Memorial Trust (pictured).

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Of course, as can be seen in this photograph, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to display the Memorial Book and objects dating from the First World War in the MERL collections during the event.

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The Memorial Book is just one of the artefacts which has been selected for display in a free exhibition,  Reading University College: WW1 and Beyond, one of the highlights of the Reading Connections WW1 project. The exhibition was installed yesterday and, as with all installations, involved many hands on deck. The photographs below include Danni Mills (Reading Connections Digitisation and Data Officer) adding the final touches to the displays.

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Reading University College: WW1 and Beyond opened today and will remain on display until the 1st August in the MERL Staircase Hall. Its main focus is the University’s Memorial Book which features those individuals who had connections to the then Reading University College who lost their lives in the First World War. That said, it is a display which also examines how our collections relate to other conflicts. Among the more surprising and remarkable objects on display are a selection of tiles from Hiroshima which were donated to Special Collections in 2011.

Throughout the exhibition’s duration, our appeal to find out more about those individuals who feature in the Memorial Book still continues. Our appeal launched last Autumn and asks for the public to look at our flickr site where all of the individuals in the Memorial Book are featured and, if they can, to provide information on them. To access our flickr site please click here.

 

Phillippa Heath

Reading Connections Digital and On-line Engagement Officer.

 

MERL collections to be given a human voice

As you will have gleaned from previous posts, a really important aspect of the Reading Connections project is to make the MERL and Reading Museum collections accessible so that they have the potential to be viewed and used by as large an audience as possible. Partly this has been achieved through the creation of digital resources (such as the Memorial Book flickr site which details those who had connections with the Reading University College and who lost their lives during the First World War). As 2014 gets underway, however, an additional oral history strand will come into force which will provide another way for communities to engage with the collections.

Oral history (or the the conducting of interviews with people who participated in or observed past events and whose memories and perceptions of these are to be preserved as an record for future generations) has been increasingly used in museums as part of their interpretation.In particular the last 20 years, which has witnessed the reinterpretation and the democratization of museum spaces, has also seen an increased use of oral histories in heritage settings. For many museum professionals and visitors, this has been a welcome change. Mark O’Neill (Director of Policy and Research for Glasgow Life) describes that: “museums are places where people go to think and feel about what it means to be human”. Oral testimonies can provide a human voice, increase relevance and can capture aspects of life which are informal and unwritten and which might otherwise disappear without trace. We are now in a position where more museums than ever are taking notice of the things that people remember.

In MERL we are lucky to have an extensive Evacuee Archive which comprises, among other things, interviews conducted with evacuees during the Second World War. The interviews were carried out by the Research Centre for Evacuee and War Child Studies at the University of Reading. The collection mainly relates to evacuation schemes within Britain and the British children who were sent overseas to Canada, the USA, South Africa, and Australasia. As part of the Reading Connections project a group of volunteers have formed a Transcription Group and will transcribe the interviews in full. These transcriptions will then be catalogued and made publicly available. Also as part of the project, we will be conducting new interviews. These interviews will complement the different themes of the Reading Connections project including: Reading at War, Craft, Local Collections and Village Communities and we are set to interview a range of individuals from craftspeople to members of the Women’s Land Army. These will go far to further enhance our collections.

Phillippa Heath

Reading at War Project Officer, Museum of English Rural Life


University College Reading and The Great War

 

I should start by saying thank you to Verity Andrews and Caroline Gould for introducing me to this subject, encouraging my work and identifying many of the sources I have been examining.

The aim of the work was to try to add some detail to the names and photographs contained in the Memorial Album to gain a better understanding of the connection between the people concerned and the College.

From the College Calendars it was possible to see the examinations students had passed; the qualifications they had obtained; and whether they had won scholarships, gained prizes or become associates of the College. From details of the Student Union Representative Council and the committees of the various College societies it was possible to see the participation of some students in non-academic College life.

Once the war had started the University College Review included a list of those on Military Service. Starting with the December 1914 edition, it listed the names of those who had joined up with, where available, details of their unit and rank and the period when they had been at the College. People who had been members of the Officer Training Corps (OTC) were identified, as were those who were members of the College staff (both academic and non-academic). This list continued to be updated and appeared until the Review stopped being published after the December 1916 edition. The Review also published a Roll of Honour and obituaries of some of those who died.

Tamesis, the Student magazine, also published a Military Service list drawing on the same information used for that in the Review.

The Old Students’ Association produced its first News in November 1914. It also contained details of those On Service. The last edition published before the end of the war was dated December 1917 and the editions published until then provided more names to add to those obtained from the Review and Tamesis. From these and other printed sources, including local newspapers, it has been possible to compile a list of over 570 people, who were members of the armed forces or nurses and had a College connection; of these 146 lost their lives. The age range of those who died was 18 to 45, with the vast majority being 30 or less. Four of the deaths occurred after the Armistice, two in 1919. Whilst most of the dead had been students of the College, not all were. Some joined the OTC at the start of the war but were never students; some like Samuel Bruce McLaren (Professor of Mathematics) were members of staff; and Rex Lewin was both a former student and member of staff.

The first to die was Sergeant Herbert Westwick, who had been Instructor of the College’s OTC:

H Westwick photo Tamesis

He died on 14 September 1914 leaving a wife and three children. There was no photograph of him in the memorial album but we did find a drawing of him in Tamesis (above), which captured him in a moment of relaxation and has great warmth.

The College dead included three pairs of brothers: Herbert Charles and Leonard Leaver Hyde; Clifford Holt and Gerald Holt Rothwell; and Frank Wortley and Paul Emery May Simmons. There were also two brothers-in-law: Eric Baseden and Wilfred Drake. Herbert Melville Wright was the son of Francis Henry Wright, Registrar of the College, and Walter Thomas Lucking was the only son of George Lucking, the College’s Head Porter.

I had never heard of Ernest Denny but, having seen that he was a poet, we managed to find two books (Galleys Laden and Triumphant Laughter) in which his work appeared. The University has copies of both books, which were published after Denny’s death, and it would be interesting to know whether any of his poems appeared in print before his death in 1917.

Some of those who died had left Britain, at least temporarily, to pursue careers abroad. When war broke out some joined the forces of the countries they had moved to (Canada and New Zealand), whilst Basil George Hope Maclear returned to Britain from South Africa, where he had been farming since 1904.

One woman is amongst the dead. Florence Faithfull was born in India in 1891, the daughter of an officer in the Indian Army. Whilst we could not find her in the 1911 census her four siblings were living in Redlands Road. She served as a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurse throughout the war until her death in January 1918 when she was drowned in Basra.

There are one or two mysteries. Why do the names of Francis Pearse and Wilfred Owen not appear on the Clock Tower Memorial, and who was H Turner? His name appears both in the album and on the memorial, but without a Christian name it is proving hard to discover more about him.

Not all who went to the war died; some returned to the College to resume their studies and others returned to resume their academic careers. Randolph Chell wrote about the war in With the 10th Essex in France (London 1924). Post-war editions of the Old Students’ News include details of the marriages of some of those who returned, and the subsequent birth of their children, and details of their subsequent careers. But I cannot help but wonder how many of those who did survive returned with physical or mental scars and how they managed to resume a peacetime existence. The post-war deaths of two former students are attributed, at least in part, to them having been wounded or gassed.

Jeremy Jones

Reading at War Project Volunteer

Reading Connections – the half way point

The project has reached the half way stage and the project team have achieved a lot so far:

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Phillippa Heath and, project volunteer, Jeremy Jones have been to talking to Tony Blackburn on BBC Radio Berkshire, and have been interviewed by the Reading Post about the World War I Memorial book held by the University.  People have been discovering the Flickr site and adding more information on the people in the memorial book enriching the information already held.

Zoe Watson and Danni Mills hosted a visit from the Berkshire World War I project.

The Evacuees Archive is now available for research use.

Project intern Laura Farrell has been researching using the Evacuees Archive, and Huntley and Palmer archive for performance pieces by Dr Teresa Murjas.

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Ian McDonnell Jessiman evacuated to Vancouver, Canada in 1940 (D EVAC A/2/23)

Village Communities

Dr Ollie Douglas and with Dr Bridget Yates recently gave a talk entitled Looking for Lavinia: An American collector in 1930s in Berkshire, which generated good feedback and some new leads to follow up on.

Craft

Greta Bertram recently gave a successful talk to Southcote Library.  She has now finished cataloguing all clay, leather, metal, stone and straw crafts (leaving just textiles and wood crafts to go), and has enhanced craft catalogue records by adding images to them.

Historic World Objects

With photography work completed over the summer, all 600 objects selected for the online catalogue now have at least one high quality photograph. Research is well underway, with project officers Felicity McWilliams and Adam Koszary having fully researched 120 of the 600 objects so far. Plans are also underway for museum ethnography specialists to visit the collection and offer advice about its potential for further research or community engagement.

Local collections

Danni Mills has reached the milestone of digitising 4000 images, and has catalogued 2 500 images from the Collier collection.  Sophie Fitzpatrick has been working on Reading Chronicle glass plate negatives, and approximately 500 images have now been researched and prepared on MODES out of approximately 2000, with the help of project interns Sarah Beattie and Evelyn Williams.

We are looking forward to achieving even more by the end of the project.

Zoe Watson 

Project Archivist/Project Manager

Intern Laura Farrell writes about her research


I have spent the last few weeks at MERL carrying out research for two unusual exhibitions which are to be mounted by MERL in collaboration with Reading Museum in the Spring/Summer of 2013. The exhibitions, which will involve elements of film and/or live performance, will be produced by Dr Teresa Murjas (Associate Professor in Theatre & Performance), James Rattee (PhD film-maker) and Sonya Chenery (PhD performance-maker) from the Department of Film Theatre & Television at the University of Reading. The research I am carrying out will form the basis for their two interactive, installation-based pieces.017

Postcard from child – D EVAC

My first area of research is the Evacuee Archive – MERL holds a very large collection of film, photographs, press reports, correspondence and documentation of all kinds relating to the evacuation of civilians during World War 2, as well as hundreds of interviews with evacuees (and, occasionally, with those who played host to them, taught them or otherwise played a part in the vast and complex operation of evacuating over three million people).

What has struck me most is the diversity of the evacuee experience. Like many people, I have long been familiar with the classic image of evacuation – large groups of small and bewildered children, probably from the East End of London, shepherded onto trains with gas masks in hands and labels tied to their coats to be billeted with strangers at an unknown destination. Delving into the MERL archive reveals the experience of less well-documented evacuee groups – the many who were “privately” evacuated to family and friends both in Britain and overseas, those sent overseas as part of the government’s CORB (Children’s Overseas Reception Board) scheme, the smaller children evacuated with their mothers, and the many who spent the war in temporary boarding-school -style “camp schools”. The evacuees’ stories range from the touching (happy days helping on the farm, lifelong friendships made with loving ‘second families’) to harrowing accounts of neglect and abuse, and everything in between.

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My second area of research is the archive of Reading’s famous Huntley and Palmers biscuit factory, with particular reference to their role as a major supplier of army biscuits to the forces during World War 1. Reading Museum has an intriguing collection of original army biscuits (some still in excellent condition after a hundred years, which gives some idea of their hardness) which were carved, decorated, painted, written on and sometimes sent home as mementos, love tokens and even picture frames by bored Tommies at the front. The Huntley and Palmers archive at MERL sheds light on the manufacturing processes involved in producing thousands of tons of the biscuits, with handwritten recipes, correspondence with the War Office, and a great deal of documentation showing how the company struggled to fulfill their orders as ingredients and even packaging became more and more scarce and a significant proportion of their workers left to join the forces.  I hope the exhibition will shed light on this period of Reading’s industrial history, as well as giving the public a chance to see some truly fascinating objects.

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Laura Farrell

Reading Connections Intern

The word spreads about ‘Reading at War’… even Tony Blackburn’s talking about it!

At this time of year many of us will reflect on those who have fought for their country and, in particular, on those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

As we approach Remembrance Day,  the local press have taken a keen interest in the Reading at War aspect of the Reading Connections project, part of which aims to highlight the stories of the 146 individuals who feature in Reading University College’s Memorial Bookall of whom tragically lost their lives in the First World War. We are delighted that the Reading Post and BBC Radio Berkshire have been keen to focus on some of these incredible stories.

During their visit, two reporters from The Reading Post met myself and project volunteer, Jeremy Jones, and were shown the Memorial Book. They were introduced to some of the individuals who feature in it and explored the project’s designated flickr site. The flickr site is a fantastic resource as it not only allows people to view those individuals but it also contains, where known, further biographical details about them and their connections to Reading University College. These details are just the tip of the iceberg and, of course, we are appealing for anyone who has more information about, or photographs of, any of the individuals to get in touch.

Although we were unable to take the Memorial Book with us for our BBC Radio Berkshire broadcast, it was still very much the main focus of our discussion.

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Phillippa Heath, Tony Blackburn and Jeremy Jones at the BBC Radio Berkshire Studio  

There, Jeremy and I were interviewed as part of  Tony Blackburn’s show. Tony was incredibly enthusiastic and interested in the work we are carrying out. Not only was it a fantastic opportunity to promote the project, but it also brought to the fore the heart-wrenching stories of some of those students who gave so much.

If you missed the broadcast, it should be possible to ‘listen again’ at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01jryvj (the interview took place at 10.50 am on 07/11/13). All being well, the project will also feature in the Reading Post on 8th November, and a short edited video about the project will feature on their website. Our media coverage of the project will continue on Sunday, 10th November at 9 am when Guy Baxter, University Archivist, will also be interviewed on BBC Radio Berkshire about the Reading at War project.

 

Phillippa Heath

Reading at War Project Officer, Museum of English Rural Life

Berkshire in The First World War History Project visit to MERL

Danni Mills (Reading Connections Digitsation/Data Officer) and I recently hosted a visit from Berkshire in The First World War History Project group .  They were keen to see the sort of archives we have here relating to the First World War.  At first I thought we might be a bit limited on material, but once we started looking at the online database we started to find a few interesting items including  the War Memorial Book and material from Suttons Seeds Ltd, Huntley and Palmers, and the books Berkshire and the war : the “Reading Standard” pictorial record 1917-1919

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There was also a PowerPoint presentation of local images for World War I from the Collier Collection and Sulham House Collection.

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There was interest in this image from the Collier collection of Reading Football Club.  There is a chance we might be able to identify more people as a result of expertise in the visiting group.  Hopefully we will be able to add information to our catalogue on this photograph, and the group will be able to find further information here to add to their research.

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If you are curious about the First World War or any other aspect of our Special Collections, we are always keen to welcome individuals or groups to explore our Archives. Do not hesitate to contact us on merl@reading.ac.uk.

Also, if you haven’t done so already, don’t forget to look at our flickr site which shows those people who feature in the University’s Memorial Book who fought and  lost their lives in the First World War

Zoe Watson

Project Archivist/Project Manager – Reading Connections

War poets at the University of Reading

The WW1 memorial book at the University Reading is full of fascinating stories. The book has been digitised and can be seen on our Flickr site. Over the next few months we will be looking at some of the lives of these men and women in more detail.

To start we are going to look at two men, both who were War Poets.

Ernest Denny (1889-1917). 

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Ernest Denny

Ernest Denny was a Yorkshire man by origin, born in West Wisling to parents Robert William and Ellen Hannah Denny. He trained as a teacher and during his attendance at the Reading University College he was a notable presence not only in the sporting sphere but the academic and political as well.

Denny was Deputy Tennis Captain for the years 1914-1915 but did not limit himself, as in the same year he was a member of the Student Union Representative Council, on the committee for the Debating Society, Vice President of Shells, Cofferer of the Gild of the Red Rose and Sub-Editor of Tamesis, the student magazine.

Denny was also a poet and his book ‘Triumphant laughter: Poems, 1914-1917’ was published after his death. During the war he served with the 15th battalion London Regiment and died of his wounds in Belgium. He is buried in Dozinghem Military Cemetery. Click here to see his page on our Flickr site.

Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)

One of the most famous names in the book, Wilfred Owen. Unlike Ernest Denny’s clear connection to Reading University College, Wilfred Owen’s connection is much more tenuous. Despite appearing on the list of service-people with links to the university he does not appear on the memorial itself. It appears that he first studied Botany and Latin but was encouraged by Professor Edith Morley of the English Department to change his studies to English. At this time he was a lay assistant at Dunsden.

A great deal is, of course, already known about Wilfred Owen and is well known as a war poet. He was born in Oswestry in 1893 to Thomas and Harriet S Owen (known as Susan), Wilfred was a teacher by trade. He served in the First World War as a Lieutenant in the 5th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment and was killed in action on the 4th November 1918 at the age of 25. He was awarded the Military Cross for bravery at Joncourt in October 1918 a mere month before his death. Click here to see his page on our Flickr site

 

Reading at War – WW1 commemorations and Flickr

By Hayley Whiting – Digital Content and Online Engagement Officer

A key theme of the Reading Connections project is Reading at War. The University of Reading holds in its archive a volume put together to commemorate those servicemen and women who fell during WW1 who were connected to the then Reading University College. It contains photographs of many of those listed on the war memorial built on the London Road Campus and those images have now been digitised and made available on Flickr.

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At team of volunteers, myself and Ceri our intern have researched the service history, personal details and connections with the College for all those listed in the memorial book. This information, with the photographs, is now available on a dedicated Flickr site. The aim is for others with connections to these servicemen and women to add any information they have and the process will be one where others can gain from our research and us from them! All the information will be transferred to our online catalogue.

There are so many fascinating stories behind the photographs and the research has revealed that the College had connections with war poets, Wildred Owen and Ernest Denny, artists, eminent mathematicians, teachers and more. Each name in the volume reveals a huge sacrifice and the research has been heart-wrenching at times. There are some names for which we have not been able to discover the connection to the College, such as Francis Edward Bradshaw-Isherwood, the father of the writer Christopher Isherwood, and the Flickr site provides a way of reaching those who may be able to add vital information to aid our research.

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The end result of this project will ensure that the contribution of those connected with the University of Reading who lost their lives in WW1 will not be forgotten.  Explore the Reading Connections Flickr site to learn more.