Tag Archives: First World War

Essex at War

We wrote recently about how glorious was the summer of 1914 and how those balmy days before the Great War seemed to reach on into the Autumn. (Revisit the article here…). We were lucky enough to be at the 1st World War commemoration event at Hylands House, sponsored by Essex County Council, on the weekend of the 14th September 2014.

The machinery of war in Hylands Park...
The machinery of war in Hylands Park…

The fields of the estate provided a glorious backdrop for families and groups to enjoy the late sunshine, to listen to martial music from a band on the terrace and to enjoy the military re-enactments and be-uniformed attendants, at a variety of regimental stalls scattered like a canvas billet around the great house.

The inside of Hylands House  afforded visitors the chance to meet and greet a variety of historically textured projects from the Essex area. Enjoying views of the landscaped gardens and lawns from the restored windows, of the horse-drawn charabanc and the 574 acre landscape designed by Humphry Repton. Read more about the history of this lovely house here, on the web pages of Chelmsford City Council.

Drawn through the grounds in some style...
Drawn through the grounds in some style…

On the first floor of Hylands House that sunny morning were members of  project called Chelmsford Remembers.

The Heritage Lottery Fund project, led by Fellows of the RSA, is a history project designed to capture ‘…the history and of Chelmsford and its people during The First World War’.

Below you can see what we discovered, at conversationsEAST, about this great project…

Chelmsford Remembers

The project will have a major exhibition in place, generously supported by High Chelmer Shopping Centre, that will feature the work of project volunteers and to enable residents to see the findings of the research…as well as contribute information about their own family members, we hope.

Empire Plaquette image...
With kind thanks to Freddy Slater of the project…

It is intended to to transform the central square of the Centre into a replica trench, with artefacts and displays of Great War material relevant to the area.

The display at the High Chelmer Shopping Centre has a particularly poignant centrepiece. A large Memorial Plaquette, or ‘Dead Man’s Penny’, which was issued to the families of all those service personnel killed as a result of the war.

Tragically, some 1,355,000 placquettes were distributed, consuming some 450 tonnes of bronze in their manufacture. We were lucky to meet with members of the project who gave us permission to use an image of their precious artefact. We thank them.

Would you like to get involved in the Chelmsford Remembers Project? You can.

Buy this book on Amazon.co.uk
Buy this book on Amazon.co.uk

All successful applicants to the project will get a free copy of Dr. Paul Rusiecki’s The Impact of Catastrophe, a book detailing his research into the people of Essex and the impact of war from 1914 to 1920.

You can join the team by making contact with Chelmsford Remembers.

emailIcon4  chelmsfordremembers@gmail.com

The project is looking for ten volunteer researchers who are passionate about uncovering the past of Chelmsford. The project provides free training and support and will also be involved in the forthcoming Ideas Festival.

Talks were given…

In the Pavilion, adjacent to the main house, the day was spent in listening and watching a variety of talks from researchers and authors on the theme of the war in Essex. The event was sponsored by the Essex Records Office and was chaired and the business of the day guided by Malcolm Noble FRSA. (Malcolm is the Chair of the Eastern Region RSA Fellowship).

Malcolm Noble FRSA making a point during the opening talk...
Malcolm Noble FRSA making a point during the opening talk…

We illustrate below two quick samples of the talks, which were well received by the respective audiences. Providing attendees in the Pavilion with access to new information and insights into the The Great War in Essex.

Stylistically different, the programme afforded the interested listener with a wealth of data, images and reflection on this momentous time in the County.

The Lights Go Out in Essex: August 1914

Dr. Paul Rusiecki delivered a short paper to the morning audience around the emergence of war into the summer sunshine of summer 1914.

Paul’s principal thesis was that ‘…war crept up by stealth on the people of Essex’. He cited Dedham Church Choir, so oblivious to the impending storm, that on the day preceding the announcement of hostilities, ‘…the singers took an overnight visit to Cambridge’.

As further evidence of civil society behaving as normal, there was reflection given during the paper to a strike in the County by agricultural harvest workers. There was significant unrest during August of 1914, with police marshalled and shots fired to suppress the protest. This dispute rapidly came to an end as wages were able to rise as a result of war measures to secure food production, we were informed. Ferment was also current in August 1914 with regard to the Irish Home Rule Bill, with all the consequent fears of uprising.

Dr. Rusiecki informs his audience...
Dr. Rusiecki informs his audience…

The local Essex press made no mention of the assassination in Sarajevo, but by the end of August 1914 ‘…the cold hand of realism had fallen on Essex’. The air of unreality had dissipated, we were told. The early battles at Mons had led to an increase in the call for conscription in England.

By May 1915, Dr.Rusiecki enlightened us, attitudes to German and Austrians resident in the County had hardened. A shift in mindset driven by the sinking of the Lusitania, air raids over Southend and the publication of the Bryce Report, which detailed atrocities committed in Belgium during the early stages of the war.

phoneIcon(You can discover an animated film from 1918, about the sinking of the liner Lusitania here…)

A wonderfully lucid and well paced delivery, we thought.

Mobilisation and Land Defences in Essex

Clive Potter, a local county based historian, gave his audience a delightful visual and data festooned presentation. We were offered a variety of county maps, which showed us both the disposition of troops before hostilities and the numerous training grounds across the Essex landscape.

Strong visual presentation from Clive Potter, local historian...
Strong visual presentation from Clive Potter, local historian…

Similarly, Clive was able to reveal the likely landing places for small detachments of ‘enemy’ troops on the Essex coast. These visual elements were supported by notes and the detail from the 1914 UK battle plan, ‘The Land Defense of the United Kingdom (Eastern Region), which gave us detailed exposition on how our defense would be undertaken in the event of invasion.

Detailed maps were offered of inland defenses in the county, including a significant amount of trench works for troops to block advancing enemy forces. This was very enlightening, as we had always, as a ‘lay ‘audience, assumed that trench warfare was the sole remit of mainland European combatants.

Clive completed his image selection with a very interesting range of contemporary images from 1914 of troops in their billets. A strong section was presented on quartering troops under way in Witham and the various early training exercises undertaken in the hinterland of the town.

A refreshing story was told, that made the war in Europe a very local affair. We enjoyed it immensely.

In summary:

The band played on…a perfect backdrop to the activities…

This was a well planned and executed commemorative event for the people of Chelmsford and the county as a whole.

For the projects presented in Hylands House, the talks organised in the Pavilion, as well as the activities in the Park – all created some interest for every visitor.

We understand that nearly a thousand people entered Hylands House to engage with projects and that sixty visitors stayed on for the final talk of the day from Ivor Dallinger on the Stowe Maries Great War Aerodrome.

A great day in the last, lingering days of summer. Thank you.

Images by conversationsEAST, alternative sources as shown







We recently published details of the work of Fellows in Essex and their appearance at the Essex at War event at Hylands House. Their project, Chelmsford Remembers, will be part of this exciting day on Sunday, 14th September. (Revisit it here…)

Below are programme details for the event in full. Displays, re-enactments and research help will be delivered during the day. There will be an impressive range of talks across the day taking place in The Pavilion from 10.30am. (Our RSA Regional Chair, Malcolm Noble, will be officiating we understand…Ed).

Importantly, don’t forget to visit the Chelmsford Remembers RSA team, who will be available all day in the Hanbury Suite of Hylands House.

conversationsEAST will be there on the day, camera and notepad at the ready, so look out for a future, feature length article about the event and Fellow involvement in it.

Full event details below…        (interneticon locate Hylands House here).

Chelmsford Remembers Banner2 image
























We do hope you will come along and support the Fellow led project at Hylands House. This is a glorious setting for such a wide-ranging event. There’s a lot of history in Essex, some of it researched and supported by Fellows of The RSA.

pdfIcon4  Download the full event programme as a pdf file here


Chelmsford Remembers Banner2 image

Essex County Council has arranged a weekend of events for Saturday 13th and Sunday 14th September to commemorate the outbreak of the First World War.

On the Sunday between 10.00 and 16.00 there will be enactments and exhibitions at Hylands Park in Chelmsford.

There will be a conference on the Sunday focused on the impact of war on Essex held in Hylands House lasting from 10.30 until 15.00, Paul Rusiecki, author of The Impact of Catastrophe: The People of Essex And The First World War will be the opening speaker and Malcolm Noble RSA Regional Chair, conference chairman.

The Fellow led Chelmsford Remembers project team will be present in Hylands House.

They will explain to Chelmsford residents and other attendees how the project will unfold over the next two years and the ways in which the general public can contribute. Fellows living anywhere in Essex will be particularly welcome. If you are able to join us even for a short time, please introduce yourself to members of the team.

The team will include Frederick Slater, Project Co-ordinator, Annabel Brown FRSA, from the Young Explorers Group, Mick McDonagh FRSA, Manager of the High Chelmer Shopping Centre, Andrew Begent, Manager of the City War Memorial Website, plus representatives from the Marconi Heritage Group and the Chelmsford Civic Society.

Chelmsford Remembers is a Heritage Lottery Fund project that will tell the story of Chelmsford during the First World War. It is a Chelmsford Civic Society project: partners being Essex Record Office, the RSA supported Changing Chelmsford Ideas Hub, the High Chelmer Shopping Centre and the Essex Chronicle.

Chelmsford city centre display
Shopping Centre display…August 2014

The photograph shows the projects launch at the High Chelmer Shopping Centre for the 4th August centenary date.
Any queries to Malcolm Noble Project Director at mnoble3211@yahoo.com




The weekend of June 28th 2014 marked the centenary of the death of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo, at the hands of Gavrilo Princip. Arguably sparking the events that put in train the First World War.

This reflection revealed a surprising and diverse range of resources about the Great Conflict. Many, perhaps, at odds with the perceived understanding of the war and its consequences. Remarkable in as much that so much is yet to be discovered, even after a century has passed…

Image: A single German war grave near Ypres, commemorating over 40,000 of their lost combatants…

The weekend in East Anglia in 2014 was fresh, warm and sunny, as it was across England on that weekend in 1914. (You can see a detailed weather forecast from The Meteorological Office for June 1914 here  pdfIcon4…Ed.) It is unlikely that Princip, in his passion to undermine Austrian dominance of his culture, was thinking of the words of Thomas Hoccleve, see below.

His ambitions were arguably localised, national, but the outcome of his act  was trans-continental. With the destruction to come, the terrible devastation of war, linked to and having an unfortunate long echo back to the previous tumultuous tragedies in France during the 15th Century. The anguish is contemporary still.

Allas! what peple hathe your werre slayne!
What cornes wastede, and doune trode and shent!
How many a wyfe and maide hathe be forlayne,
Castrels doune bete, and tymbered houses brent
And drawen doune, and alle tortore and rent!
The harme ne may not rekened be ne tolde;
This werre wexethe all to hore and olde…

Thomas Hoccleve, Poet & Clerk, London
‘An appeal for Peace in France’ (1412)

Princip, part of a team of six Bosnian-Serb radicals dedicated to their plan,  was standing outside a cafe in Franz Josef Street, reflecting on an earlier failed assassination attempt upon the Austrian Archduke by a co-conspirator that day. When, seeing the royal vehicle, engine stalled  after taking a wrong turn, he leapt forward with his revolver, and from a distance of five feet, changed history.

This story of ‘cataclysm by happenstance’ continues to provoke debate and divide about how the next few months saw progress into war, but also about the wider legacy of Princip’s actions, even after a hundred years has passed. The narratives still differ, both historic and contemporary, often in surprising ways.

Modern Sarajevo remains a divided city, politically and culturally, to this day. With Princip seen as hero or devil depending upon the view of historical events taken from the city centre. To mark the Sarajevan centenary Andrew MacDowall, in The Guardian newspaper, has written an interesting and insightful article on how stands the political front-line concerning Princip.

You can discover MacDowell’s article on-line here…

In Eastern Sarajevo, from the view point of the Serb Republic, Princip is a national hero,. His actions freeing the city from Austrian dominance. However, for the Bosnian Muslim population Princip’s actions bought about an end to a golden era of Austrian administration. The Muslim population look to the grand edifices of civil society, schools and railways of the Austrian Empire as evidence of their argument.

Even after a hundred years, residents of a strife torn city cannot agree on a single, conciliatory view of their history. This set us thinking about that sunny day in 1914. What were, or what did, contemporaries to Princip think about the coming events and their out turn?

We turned to the Project Gutenberg on-line library. Looking through the project’s World War 1 bookshelf we discovered, amongst the usual, deeply moving and contemporary military narratives, a surprising and very different view of events and understanding of the ‘culture’ of war, particularly of conflict in other places.

This writer did not know of a Mills and Boon, Kiplingesque  literary  oeuvre developed around events of the war. Deeply at odds with the first person narrative of other, military writers, but perhaps born of a then contemporary optimism for Empire, incomplete knowledge and the heady ‘home by Christmas’ approach.

The Gutenberg archive also makes available to the general reader a selection of European political writing on the Great War. We found the account of pre-war diplomacy and events from Viscount Haldane both disturbing and revealing about political attitudes and actions towards European conflict. See more here…

interneticon  You can discover the Gutenberg Project library World War bookshelf here…

Red Cross Girls cover picMargaret Vandercook in her The Red Cross Girls with the Russian Army, (John Winston Co., Philadelphia, 1916)  writes about war and combat as a sort of Mills & Boon romance adventure. Dashing young men in foreign places, capturing the swooning hearts of kindly young women. Published in 1916, it arguably represents a canon of juvenile fiction, that was blind to, or unknowing of the true horror of warfare at any front-line.

There is a sort of breathless, adventure story pace to the book, at odds with the newsreel and written narratives we have come to know about the Great War and other conflicts in the 20th and 21st centuries.

There is in this bookshelf collection a fascinating insight into the power of Empire and the loyalty created in military service.

In Talbot Munday’s Hira Singh – When India Came to Fight in Flanders  lies the fictionalised story of a group of Sikh soldiers captured by the German army in Flanders and transported back to ‘Constantinople’, who then escaped and marched overland to Kabul in Afghanistan to rejoin the British Army in their fight in Europe again.

One hundred Indian troops of the British Army have arrived at Kabul, Afghanistan, after a four months’ march from Constantinople. The men were captured in Flanders by the Germans and were sent to Turkey in the hope that…they might join the Turks. But they remained loyal to Great Britain and finally escaped, heading for Afghanistan. They now intend to join their regimental depot in India, so it is reported.
New York Times, July, 1915 (Talbot Munday)

Although fiction, with some of the language jarring by modern cultural norms, and being written by a European,  the story none the less provides insights into the nature of leadership, how men who were accomplished warriors from another culture, might have seen the conflict in Europe with empathetic eyes.

The archive does not contain any reflection from Indian sources, but when looking at the contribution of the Indian Army and Marine service to the conflict, there is little doubt that support there was.

How profound, prompted a look at the detail of the contribution of the Indian Army in the Great War? Details of the 1 million Indian troops who served in France, Mesopotamia and other battle zones can be found on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission web pages. interneticon  See more here…

Closer to home are a range of projects and community activities to remember the Great War in detail.  One such is the work done by Fellows in Chelmsford, as part of a Heritage Lottery funded  project – Chelmsford Remembers,  and which will be launched as part of the Essex Remembers event, which involves both Essex County Council and Chelmsford City Council, to held at Hylands House on the weekend of 13th/14th September.

We look forward to supporting Fellows in the project by delivering a ‘web special feature’ about this exciting social history journey of discovery. (You can find the Chelmsford War Memorial web site here – this is a wonderful resource, with images and detailed biographies of the 359 men commemorated on the Great War Memorial in Chelmsford, Ed.)

Even after one hundred years, the local and social is as telling and moving as ever. Princip would probably still recognise the physical landscape old Sarajevo, if not the political one, whilst great new discoveries and insights lay waiting in the family archives of Chelmsford we suspect.

Newer on-line resources for The Great War

interneticon The Google Cultural Institute – The First World War

A new web resource, dedicated to the art, politics and history of the great conflict. Referencing major UK museum collections, but also providing insights into history from a surprising variety of sources.

 interneticon  Europeana Exhibitions – Untold Stories of the First World War

A  new resource offering insights into how ‘… it was the ordinary men and women who were affected the most. This exhibition gives those personal accounts from across Europe for the first time, based on stories and items contributed by the public’.


Image credit:

News Desk image by Markus Winkler, Creative Commons, Unsplash...