This Month at HLF
Presented by historian Dan Snow and produced by History Hit, the 30-minute programme, titled ‘Untold Stories of World War 1’, looks at some of the research projects that have been carried out over the past four years.
The projects that feature are:
Updated news 3rd December 2018
FWW at Sea Conference- National Maritime Museum
Author: Clare Ablett – Living Legacies 1914-18 Project Officer and National Museum NI Curatorial Assistant
The First World War at Sea conference: Conflict, Culture and Commemoration took place 8-10 November at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. It’s aim was to explore the conflict at sea through a wide range of themes from the Royal Navy and the merchant marine, as well as placing the experience of the maritime war within the historical context of the years preceding and following the conflict. Living Legacies 1914-18 engagement centre was presenting through their collaborative work with National Museums NI on an archive of paper ephemera recently donated to their collection related to local naval man Bredin Delap.
First World War at Sea conference
The First World War at Sea conference: Conflict, Culture and Commemoration took place 8-10 November at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. Working in partnership with Gateways to the First World War, an Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded centre, it’s aim was to explore the conflict at sea through a wide range of themes. There was a focus on both the Royal Navy and the merchant marine, as well as placing the experience of the maritime war within the historical context of the years preceding and following the conflict.
Living Legacies 1914-18 engagement centre was presenting through their collaborative work with National Museums NI on an archive of paper ephemera recently donated to their collection. This archive consists of hundreds of letters that were sent to local officer Bredin Delap during his time in the Royal Navy from 1913 to 1923 providing a vital link to the experiences of sailors during WWI. We have undertaken a project to piece together his naval career through ship communications, naval training manuals, photographs and diaries.
The Delap family have given us the opportunity to delve deeper, allowing us to 3D scan personal items, including his uniform as well as giving permission for students to study the letters from family and friends. Through these exchanges we are able to gain personal insights into issues surrounding the aftermath of war from the difficulty in finding employment to emigration.
Bredin Delap naval uniform
Image courtesy of Living Legacies 1914-18 Engagement Centre
Bredin was the eldest son of eight children, born in 1895 in Strabane, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. He began his career in the Navy on the 15th September 1913 at the age of 18. When WWI broke out, he was stationed on board HMS Southampton and by the end of 1914 he had been moved to HMS Vanguard and was by this stage a midshipman.
One of the first things the family told me about Bredin was that he had fought at the Battle of Jutland. A story that had been passed down through the generations told of Bredin, as a sub-lieutenant, having to take over control of the ship due to the fact the Captain had lost his mind. Initially in my online research and going through his naval records, I had narrowed down the ship he was possibly on during Jutland to HMS Onslaught. As the control tower of Onslaught had been fired upon during the battle killing the Captain and his immediate officers leaving the Sub-Lieutenant to safely bring the ship back to harbour.
Image courtesy of Delap family
Delving a little deeper into the story though, more came to light through contacts with First World War Lives and the Royal Naval records. It turned out that Bredin had not in fact been at Jutland having joined HMS Onslaught 3 weeks after the battle took place. So where did this family story come from?
The mystery grows when I came across a letter from one of his friends noting
I suppose it was very exciting ‘at the Jutland show’ as you call it, it is a great thing to have been in the biggest Navy battle the old world has ever seen…
This highlights an interesting narrative which is rarely explored when discussing the end of the First World War and the soldiers and sailors who returned home. Those who took part in the war perhaps felt a pressure to say they were involved in the larger battles to maybe justify their role in the great fight or to make their contribution appear more significant.
Bredin Delap as a young Naval officer
Image courtesy of Delap family
HMS Onslaught would probably still have been under repair when Bredin joined it and no doubt the old hands would have been regaling them with stories of Jutland. As a 20-year old Sub Lieut, he probably repeated some of these stories to friends and family, and its easy to imagine some of them getting (or being given) the wrong end of the stick.
As well as giving us an insight into Bredin’s life, these letters are also a valuable primary source for general events during the Decade of Centenaries, an important time in Northern Ireland’s history between 1912 and 1922, when events such as the Easter Rising and the Battle of the Somme took place.
Bredin Delap at sea
Image courtesy of Delap family
This archive also provides us with first-hand accounts from people who fought in the trenches and their experience of the conflict.
‘he was buried by shells twice in the trenches and is now on light duty. He said the bombardment was terrible and I don’t think he will ever be able to face it’
Post-war Bredin retired himself from the Navy as the prospect of him gaining promotion appeared unlikely. He eventually found a job on the cable ships laying cable across the Atlantic. He went on to marry and have two daughters and the family emigrated to Canada during WWII. Bredin died at the age of 75 from lung cancer and Tuberculosis. It is clear from the letters that he had a very close relationship with all of his family no matter how scattered across the globe they were.
A personal archive such as Bredin’s helps us to engage people with the war’s deeper social history and look beyond its military aspects and operations. This is just the beginning of exploring this archive in greater detail and it is hoped more will be revealed about this remarkable family and the events they lived through. Presenting this new material at the ‘War at Sea’ conference at the National Maritime Museum conference demonstrates the importance of the human stories that lie behind the naval conflicts of WW1, and also highlights, importantly, the particular effects the naval war had on those living in Ireland at this time. For their experience of naval warfare was, after all, quite a different compared to those living in Great Britain, a point underlined by looking at the Bredin story.
The Linen Hall Library (LHL), the Antrim & Down branch of the Western Front Association and the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) present a FREE morning conference to share stories from the Great War discovered and researched by community groups, local projects or individuals over the centenary period (2014-2018).
Updated News November 2018
Throughout the month of November, Living Legacies in partnership with National Museums NI and Clanmil Housing delivered nine drama sessions to participants in the Treasure House project. Treasure House is an HLF funded project that aims to tackle social isolation amongst the elderly. The scheme has been running for four years and involves bringing groups from Clanmil Housing residences across Northern Ireland to the Ulster Museum, Ulster Folk Museum and Ulster Transport Museum. Once a month they hear about a different part of the collections and engage in associated activities.
As November marked the centenary of the end of the First World War, National Museums NI commissioned Living Legacies Project Officer Michelle Young to create a drama around the theme of the Armistice encapsulating the realities of life for those returning from military duty. We heard about the difficulties in finding employment, the empowerment of women, the loss of limbs through injury and the advancements in medical technology that occurred as a result. The session took place in the Modern History gallery at the Ulster Museum and participants had an opportunity to reflect on their own family stories amongst objects associated with the period.
The groups enjoyed the drama sessions immensely as it highlighted the human experience behind the historical facts and put into context some of their own family stories as well as providing a human connection with the artefacts.
‘The actors gave the impression you were on the battlefield, in the field hospital or home after the war’
‘The two characters at the door made you think you were entering into another era and with the drama piece- very authentic and very enjoyable’
‘Learning about some of the things that happened had a real impact on me especially as my grandfather was gassed during WWI’
‘The tragedy of the numbers killed and maimed in the First World War had an impact on me’
‘The legacy of WWI was very interesting- its easy to think everything went back to normal’
‘I learnt how hard it was for the soldiers when WWI ended’
‘I learnt about the hardships suffered by the returning troops and about the fact that women were pushed back into service jobs. How lost the soldiers felt after the ceasefire’
‘Sad when I realised what the men in the war suffered and had to just get on with life with very little help’
‘Didn’t realise how cumbersome the artificial limbs looked compared to the technology today. Finding out how many men lost limbs and still felt phantom pain’
‘it’s lovely to have younger people interacting with older people’
‘Everything is very inclusive and tenants are encouraged to participate’
‘Treasure House has been and is a brilliant opportunity for growth and knowledge’
‘Very visually emotional’
‘The drama was interesting and learned a lot. Enhanced my knowledge about World War’
‘Opened my eyes how hard it was for those injured in the war and what they suffered after surviving it.’
‘We have a lot of talk about ‘The War’ but todays then made us think of ‘The Return’ and the difficulties individuals/ families/ couples faced.’
‘The actors got into the role and I almost believed they were there. Thank you for the energy put into the drama’
To see more about Clanmill Housing Association please click here