On the 28th of January and 4th February 2016 Elizabeth Crooke (CI Living Legacies) delivered two workshops to the A'level students at St Michael's College and Portora Royal School (Enniskillen) undertaking the Peace Studies programme. This programme was first established in 1978 to foster good relations between the school. The workshops delivered by Elizabeth focussed on the legacies of the First World War and the Easter Rising, considering why we commemorate, how commemoration is expressed in public spaces, and the potential role of museums and their collections to exploring associated issues. In week one discussion began by looking at a World War I Princess Mary embossed brass gift box. Filled with small gifts, it was given by the Princess to those serving overseas. Week 2 concluded by watching the BBC iWonder Guide about George Irvine and his Fermanagh neighbour, Jack Carrothers http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/z3q6v4j. During both weeks the participants shared their opinions on commemoration. The end result of the school project is an exhibition at Fermanagh County Museum. With thanks to the participants, teachers at St Michael's and Portora and Catherine Scott (Fermanagh County Museum).
- 28/01/2016 - St Michael's College and Portora Royal School Peace Studies 2015-16
- 27/01/2016 - Omagh at War 1913-1919: Exhibition and Launch
- 21/01/2016 - Lecture Series 2016 - 'The Archaeology of a Decade of War'
- 14 to 15/01/2016 - 3rd Connected Communities Heritage Network Symposium
- 01/01/2016 - Only a miracle saved my dad in the Battle of the Somme, says son 100 years on
The Mellon Centre for Migration Studies, Ulster American Folk Park, January 27, 2016 at 7:30 pm, sponsored by the West Tyrone Historical Society. Guest speakers: Drs Haldane Mitchell, Brian Lambkin, Patrick Fitzgerald and Johanne Devlin Trew.
A public launch and lecture event was held by the West Tyrone Historical Society to showcase the photographic exhibit, Omagh at War, a collection of First World War era photographs, most of which were taken by Norman Holland and presented by Dr CJ Haldane Mitchell BEM, Omagh’s pre-eminent local historian, in his well-known Images of Omagh book series (21 volumes) published by The Rotary Club from 1990-2015. Dr Patrick Fitzgerald opened the event in the exhibition gallery by providing an overview of the Omagh at War project. This was followed by Dr Mitchell, who was on hand to present a fascinating and lively presentation about the photographs. As a local GP, Dr Mitchell developed an intimate knowledge of Omagh and its community over many years. The photographer Norman Holland was a solicitor based in Omagh who had a passion for photography and has left a wonderful visual record of Omagh at war. Many of the photographs in the Omagh at War exhibit have appeared in the Images of Omagh volumes, courtesy of William Porter, local auctioneer and estate agent, who has acted as custodian of the collection since Norman Holland’s death. The presentation by Dr Mitchell was followed by a lively discussion with the West Tyrone Historical Society members who demonstrated great enthusiasm and indeed gratitude to the above named individuals for their roles in preserving and presenting this rich visual archive of Omagh at war.
For the second part of the evening, the location moved from the exhibition gallery across to the Mellon Centre for Migration Studies where Dr Brian Lambkin provided a demonstration of a new online exhibit of the photographs entitled, Omagh at War, 1913-1919. The website positions the photographs on an interactive map and includes captions and audio clips of interviews that provide additional context for each of the photographs. The project has been developed by the Mellon Centre for Migration Studies at the Ulster-American Folk Park, Omagh and the Scotch-Irish Trust of Ulster in partnership with Living Legacies 1914-18 First World War Engagement Centre. Application development is by Lorraine Barry, GIS Research and Teaching Unit, Queen’s University, Belfast. The event concluded with a presentation by Dr Johanne Devlin Trew, Ulster University and co-investigator with the Living Legacies, about the First World War documents and artefacts contributed by the community for digitisation in 2014-15 by the Living Legacies team.
Captions for photographs:
- Entrance to Omagh at War exhibition, Ulster American Folk Park visitor’s gallery
- Dr Haldane Mitchell with Dr Brian Lambkin
- Exhibition gallery with Dr Haldane Mitchell presenting
- Dr Brian Lambkin demonstrating the Omagh at War website
- Dr Johanne Devlin Trew, Living Legacies
Lecture Series 2016 - 'The Archaeology of a Decade of War'
The National Museum of Ireland Archaeology department, kicked off their 2016 Lecture Series last Thursday (21st January); "The Archaeology of a Decade of War" with a great first talk by Dr Tony Pollard (Director of the Centre for Battlefield Archaeology at the University of Glasgow), entitled Touched By War: Reflections on the Archaeology of Conflict.
The lecture provided a thought provoking insight into Dr Pollard's varied career in conflict archaeology. Dr Pollard presented examples of his work from a variety of projects illustrating how archaeology can shed new light on conflicts from, medieval warfare to the very topical world wars of the 20th century. The lecture was attended by Heather Montgomery.
For more information regarding the Lecture Series 2016 - 'The Archaeology of a Decade of War', please visit this link or click the image to the right
Living Legacies were delighted to participate in this comprehensive and timely event, which brought together academics, practitioners and communities to critically reflect upon and engage with existing work under the AHRC's 'Connected Communities' theme, which "seeks not only to connect research on communities, but to connect communities with research, bringing together community-engaged research across a number of core themes, including community health and wellbeing, community creativity, prosperity and regeneration, community values and participation, sustainable community environments, places and spaces, and community cultures, diversity, cohesion, exclusion, and conflict."
The two-day symposium featured lively and thought-provoking presentations from a number of people working across various disciplines, whose focus was working with, not on, communities. Presentations were followed by stimulating discussions about the new, emerging methodological turn which sees the experiential knowledge and expertise of local communities placed alongside more traditional, academic expertise.
The changing role of museums as sites of community and academic learning was one of the dominant themes of the event, as researchers detailed their experience of working with museums to broaden their focus and expand their reach to incorporate local projects and operate as a space where resources can be drawn upon and transformed.
We wish to thank the organisers for a memorable symposium, and all the contributors for sharing their fascinating and impactful work. We look forward to future events.
For a copy of the presentation, please clink on the slide to the right
The first day of the horrific World War I battle saw the British Army lose 200,000 men – but 16-year-old officer Reginald Battersby survived being shot
Carnage: British soldiers go over the top towards the waiting machine guns
At dawn on the first day of the Somme offensive , platoon commander Reginald St John Battersby had no need to shave. The fresh-faced officer was only 16. He should have been getting ready for school.
But at 7.30am on July 1, when the front line whistles blew, Lt Battersby fearlessly led his men – many old enough to be his father – over the top.
From the relative comfort of their muddy dug-out, they climbed ladders over the trench parapet and into a blizzard of German machine gun fire.
This was day one of the Battle of the Somme, the most catastrophic loss of life in a single day in the British Army’s history.
By approximately 7.35am, Battersby, the youngest commissioned officer in the First World War, was badly wounded – shot in his side, his back and his left arm.
So young: Platoon Reginald St John Battersby was only 16 when he was wounded
Lying beside him were comrades of the 11th Battalion of the East Lancs Regiment, better known as the Accrington Pals.
At the start of the day, the battalion was 724-strong. In the first hour of battle 235 had died, and 350 were seriously injured.
This year will mark the centenary of that day – and for many the sacrifice of their forebears is more poignant than ever.
Later this year Britain will fall silent to remember the 420,000 British casualties mowed down in the Somme for the centenary of the five-month battle, which raged until November 1.
Among the most poignant of the commemorations will be attended by members ofthe Royal Family at the Thiepval monument to 73,000 missing victims of the battle in northern France.
Battlefield: The approximate point where Lt Battersby was shot
For Lt Battersby’s son Anthony, 72, the story of his father’s survival remains a miracle. If it were not for a German machine gun jamming, his dad’s name would probably be one of the inscriptions at Thiepval, and he would never have been born.
Anthony tells me: “He was hit on the side, in his back and left arm by a machine gun that was swinging from left to right.
“Fortunately for him it then jammed and didn’t then swing back again. Had it done so he probably would have been killed.
“He was sufficiently wounded for that to be the end of the battle so far as he was concerned. He was immobilised having also been hit in the upper leg. He was taken back to England to recover.”
General Douglas Haig’s master plan for an Allied breakthrough ended with the futile loss of tens of thousands of young lives for no gain.
Peacetime: Young Anthony with his father
For a week before the attack, British and French artillery had pounded the German lines with1.6 million shells.
Haig and his fellow commanders were mistakenly confident of swift success, instructing infantry battalions to walk slowly towards the enfeebled Germans.
But the Germans had simply moved underground during the bombardment.
When the shelling stopped, the enemy returned from their bunkers to their fortified positions and simply waited for the attack to start firing their machine guns.
Haig’s strategy lacked stealth and surprise and saw him dubbed the Butcher of the Somme. By the end of the first day, the British had suffered 60,000 casualties, of whom 20,000 were dead: their largest single loss.
Some 60% cent of all officers involved on the first day were killed. That makes Lt Battersby’s survival even more statistically unlikely. The German front line was only 500 yards ahead of the spot where Lt Battersby and scores more were mown down. They were sitting ducks.
“He was extremely lucky,” his son continues. “As soon as you got out of your trench you were completely exposed because you were going downhill with the Germans on the opposite side of the valley firing straight at you.
“He was in C Company, mostly made up of men from Chorley. They were at the extreme end of the British front line.
“The battalion was effectively wiped out. There was no way the losses could be hidden. It was effectively all of the eligible young men from the town. So many getting killed would have been very apparent.”
The Somme was a baptism of fire for Britain’s many new volunteer armies made up of mates, brothers and cousins from the same towns. Many of these Pals’ Battalions had enlisted together to serve together at the outbreak of the war in 1914 but they did not see frontline action until the Somme.
Waste: The first day of the Somme was the British Army’s darkest hour
They nearly all suffered catastrophic losses, with the Accrington Pals being one of the worst affected.
Recruiting had been initiated by the mayor following Lord Kitchener’s call for volunteers and it took him only 10 days to raise a complete battalion.
As well as Accrington, the men came from other Lancashire towns such as Blackburn, Burnley and Chorley.
They were part of the 31st Division, whose task was to attack the village of Serre and form a defensive flank. It was a total failure. A signaller, observing from the rear, reported: “We were able to see our comrades move forward in an attempt to cross No Man’s Land, only to be mown down like meadow grass.
“I felt sick at the sight of the carnage and remember weeping.”
For weeks after the initial assault, papers in Britain and Ireland were filled with lists of dead, wounded and missing.
Horror: British soldiers cross the shell-cratered battlefield
Meanwhile, Lt Battersby, who had initially joined the Army as an enlisted private, recovered from his injuries. By August of 1916 he was declared fit enough to return to France.
Lt Battersby rejoined the Accrington Pals, made up almost entirely of new faces as 75% were wiped out on July 1. Renewed attempts to capture Serre proved as futile as the first assault on the German stronghold.
Torrential rains in October turned the battlegrounds into a quagmire.
In mid-November the battle ended, with the Allies having advanced just five miles. As well as the horrific British and Irish casualty lists, France suffered 195,000 and Germany around 650,000.
Lt Battersby, meanwhile, simply moved on to the next challenge. Having been so determined to sign up when he was only 14, he was not going to let the bloodiest combat in the history of armed warfare stop him.
He was in a trench that suffered a direct hit by a German shell in March of the following year. Doctors decided his left leg had to be amputated.
Undaunted by his disability, he remained a serving officer attached to the Royal Engineers until 1920, refusing to retire.
Remembrance: The Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme
After the war, Lt Battersby studied theology and was ordained as a priest, eventually becoming a vicar of a village in Wiltshire.
Father of two Anthony, the war hero’s only child who joined the marines before working in the health sector, recalls his father expressed no bitterness about the Somme.
“I’ve always thought in retrospect he was so young that for him in a way it was all a great adventure,” he insists. “I never heard him say, ‘What a complete waste’. He was a soldier and that was the battle plan. Simple as that.”
Anthony will remain for ever thankful for the “miracle” that saved his father.
Lt Battersby organised his local Home Guard in the Second World War . He died aged 77 in 1977 and is buried in his churchyard at Chittoe, near Devizes.
This year, his father’s legacy will be particularly poignant in Anthony’s mind – although he knows he will never fully understand what happened that day.
Anthony says: “He never really talked about it.”
Silence seems a fitting remembrance. Few words could have described what these young men saw.
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