History of Propaganda talk review

By Judith Phillips and Jo Angell

The autumn season of First World War-related talks got off to a fine start on Sunday 18th September.  Professor Fox began by reading letters from an Army officer, Cecil, and his sweetheart Dora.  They did not want to rush into marriage as he was very aware that he might not return from the war.  Letters in wartime often have a much deeper meaning, even if censorship ensured there were no references in letters from the front to locations and specific battles.

Quite soon after the war began state propaganda programmes as well as private and patriotic organisations looked at ways to encourage men to enlist and women to support them.  Hatred and anger played a significant part in propaganda but so did love and sex – nothing seemed out of bounds.  Professor Fox illustrated her point by showing slides of government-approved postcards showing the importance of patriotism and faithfulness. 

The idea of possible infidelity could be a distraction from ‘service’.  Even popular songs showed an awareness of this: “Keep your eyes on the girl you love” and implying that to earn a right to happiness after the war, men had to enlist: “I am going to pin a medal on the girl I left behind”.  Women were encouraged to persuade the men they knew to enlist and men’s consciences were prodded by the need to protect their women from the horrors of war.

In propaganda conscientious objectors were considered outcasts with the notorious white-feather campaigns castigating them as cowards and thus unworthy of women’s love, and the same attitude was taken to deserters.  Professor Fox showed a short film produced to discourage desertion.  A working-class woman with a new baby hears a rumour that her husband has been killed.  She dreams that in fact he deserted and she rejects him.  But when she wakes up, she finds he is actually home on leave.

In war, separation of couples is inevitable, and the possibilities of new sexual relationships caused tensions in society.  Some girls were considered no better than amateur prostitutes in their willingness to provide sex for soldiers, while others wanted a ‘soldier-lover’ in the hope of feeding into the ‘soldier as hero’.  The war also provided an opportunity for women to formulate and state their sexual needs which were used in formulating propaganda.  Abstinence, if well-directed, was also seen as a propaganda tool, particularly to combat a rapid growth in venereal disease which hampered military operations.

Sensationalist propaganda used reports of sex crimes by enemy forces against civilian populations to justify war and to present the enemy as monsters.  The nation was frequently represented by a female figure, so ideas of violence against nations and women became intertwined.

Professor Fox ended with a photograph of the wedding of Cecil and Dora.

The next talk will be on Saturday 15th October at 2.30 in the Jubilee Room in the Museum when Andrew Marriott will talk about WWI North East Trench Art.  Tickets cost £3.00 (FREE with museum admission and for Friends of the Museum) which includes tea/coffee and biscuits.  You can book your tickets through the website www.thebowesmuseumww1.org.uk or by telephoning 01833 690606.

The Boys from Poor House Yard

By Judith Phillips

On 19th September 1916 Private Robert Smith of 1/6th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry was killed during the Battle of the Somme. He was the first of five sons of John and Margaret Smith of Bridgegate in Barnard Castle to die in the First World War. The sixth and youngest, Wilfred, was brought out of the front line following the intervention of Queen Mary after the wife of Barnard Castle’s vicar wrote to her. The story of Barnard Castle’s First World War ‘Private Ryan’ has been told many times and you can find it on the Internet. But it never stops affecting those who hear about it.

Last year the history teacher at Thrybergh Academy in Rotherham told her students about the Smith brothers as part of their preparations for marking Remembrance Day. The story inspired fellow teacher Chris Clayton to write a poem which he then turned into a song to music by Craig Harrison. Chris and students at the school have recorded the song and it is available to download at https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/boys-from-poor-house-yard/id1153519283?i=1153519291

Money raised from sales of the song will go to the Royal British Legion and Help for Heroes charities.

On 19th September 2016 – exactly 100 years after Robert Smith’s death – Chris brought students from Thrybergh Academy to The Bowes Museum to launch the song and, on this occasion, they were joined by students from Barnard Castle School.  Descendants of Robert and Wilfred Smith joined the mayors of Barnard Castle and Rotherham, the Lord Lieutenant of Durham, the Chair of the museum’s Board of Trustees and representatives of the charities for the occasion.  

After hearing the song everyone was invited to follow musicians from the Royal Dragoons to the war memorial in the museum grounds for a service of remembrance.  The war memorial records over 120 men from Barnard Castle who died in the First World War.  Among them are Robert Smith, George Henry Smith, Frederick Smith and Alfred Smith, as well as their brother John Stout who took his mother’s name.

The whole morning was a very inspiring and moving event for everyone.

Tanks in Action

15 September 1916 saw the first battle tanks in action at Flers-Courcelette. Contemporary accounts describe them as ‘huge mechanical monsters’ that caused fright and consternation in the British lines as well as the German trenches. 

But within quite a short time, the tank was being used for propaganda in many different ways. If you have seen the Toby jugs representing allied military and political leaders currently on display at the enhaigtrance to Café Bowes in the museum, you might have noticed that the jug representing General Haig is sitting on a tank.

A volunteer has kindly let us copy ‘Tanks In Action’, an illustrated storybook for children ‘passed for publication by the Press Bureau, Dec 6th 1916’.  The book is cut to the shape of the front cover which shows a tank advancing on the German lines.  This particular book was given to a boy called Kenneth by his Auntie Betty in 1918.

The storyline describes how the tanks overpowered a gun position, straddled a German trench and then machine-gunned the men in it, tore through woods and houses in the town of Fler and concluded: ‘Nothing could stop that Tank. The enemy surrounded it, and rained bombs on it.  The machine gun bullets rattled on its think hide like peas.  And it breathed death and destruction upon all who dared to attack it.

We haven’t yet identified any Teesdale men serving in the Tank Corps but perhaps we will find some as more and more information comes into us from checking through official sources and through the generosity of members of the public.

Unexpected Information

The Reference Library and Archives Reading Room was open on Friday 9th September as part of the heritage Open Days scheme.  We took the opportunity to publicise the First World War project as well as the library and archives, and it was great to find that some people had come particularly to find out more about the project.  And – an added bonus – a visitor from Northumberland told me she has photographs, medals, postcards and information about three Teesdale men involved in the war which she is happy to share with the project.  A quick check on the Roll of Honour on the project website www.thebowesmuseumww1.org.uk shows that there are entries for at least two of the men but with very few details, so this additional information will be very useful.  We are always pleased to receive extra information to add to the Roll of Honour database – it all helps to build up a picture of how the war affected Teesdale and its people.

Another generous offer recently has given us the opportunity to copy photographs of another Teesdale man serving in the First World War – Fred Henderson. We have some information about him, thanks to the extensive research done by Peter Wise into the names on the Barnard Castle parish church Roll of Honour, published in 2014.  But, until now, we didn’t have any photographs and it’s quite surprising, and moving, how much more poignant an entry is when there’s a relevant photograph to go with it.  We have a bit of a backlog at the moment inputting images onto the website Roll of Honour but they will all eventually be added.

You might remember that, some time ago, we reported the discovery of some German postcards from the trenches. They had been found in abandoned trenches as the British forces pushed through in 1917 and were sent to Owen Scott, the Museum’s curator.  We’ve recently been given the opportunity to copy another German postcard, dated 15 September 1916 – almost exactly 100 years ago.  As you can imagine, it’s not very easy to read or translate (we’re working on that) but it was written by a German soldier to his wife in Wiesbaden.  Sometimes it’s important to remember that the war affected families across Europe and beyond in 1916.

‘I’m gonna pin my medal on the girl I left behind’

Love, Romance and Sex in First World War Propaganda

Sunday 18th September at 2.30pm – The Bowes Museum

As part of The Bowes Museum’s HLF funded First World War project, “To Serve King and Country”, a series of four illustrated talks will take place this autumn on subjects as diverse as romance and propaganda, North East trench art, music and musicians of the First World War and how women’s fashion responded to the War.

Join us for the first talk on Sunday 18th September at 2.30pm, which considers how romance and love were woven into propaganda to deliver strong emotional messages.

Love and sexual attraction are among the most powerful human emotions. Like hate, anger, fear and hope, these emotions were mobilised during the First World War by propagandists on all sides.  Propagandists used love and the prospect of love to suggest that participation in war increased romantic possibilities: a man in uniform could be assured of the love and respect of a ‘good’ woman who would provide a stable family life upon his return. Such idealistic notions were complimented by the propaganda of sexual desire.

In this talk, Jo Fox uses newspapers, postcards, posters, songs and film to explore the propagandistic currency of love and sex in the First World War, from the emotional pull of the promise of romance, to publicity surrounding dangers of sex on the front lines. She will discuss how propagandists used information emanating from the occupied territories about sexual war crimes to underscore justifications for war, and how the need to protect wives and sweethearts anchored notions of barbarism and civilization so prevalent in wider wartime narratives.

Jo Fox is Professor of Modern and European History in the Department of History at Durham University. She is the UK’s foremost scholar of comparative propaganda. Her publications include Filming Women in the Third Reich (2000), Film Propaganda in Britain and Germany: World War II Cinema (2007), Justifying War: Propaganda, Politics and the Modern Age (ed. With David Welch) (Palgrave, Basingstoke, 2012), and ‘The Propaganda War’ for the Cambridge History of the Second World War (2015). She is Honorary Director of Communications, Fellow and Council member of the Royal Historical Society (RHS) and a National Teaching Fellow. She frequently contributes to television and radio programmes in the UK, Canada, Australia, and the United States. 

This lecture will take place in The Jubilee Room at the Bowes Museum at 2.30pm on Sunday 18th September.

 Entry is £3 for Adults OR free with Admission to the Museum and for Friends of The Bowes Museum

Our stories need YOU!

Fancy writing a short article (200-300 words) for the newsletter? We have so much information about people and events that researchers on the project have unearthed and we’ve been given by members of the public.  But we haven’t been able to find time to write up all these stories.  Once they’ve appeared in the newsletter, they go onto the project website and are sent to the Teesdale Mercury, the local weekly newspaper, so the stories are a great way to publicise the project.

We have a stock of potential stories – now we need people to write them. It’s not meant to great ‘literature’, rather a ‘good story’ to catch readers’ attention.  So don’t think you have to be an experienced writer – why not have a go?  If you’re interested, just get in touch and we’ll take it from there.

Cockfield School Roll of Honour

By Judith Phillips


A year or so ago, staff at Cockfield School unearthed an illuminated Roll of Honour recording the names of staff and old boys who had served in the First World War. There were seven members of staff (present and past) and forty-two old boys.  One member of staff and eight old boys were marked as having died.  This discovery, and the stunning poppies installation at the Tower of London, inspired pupils to create ceramic poppies that now surround the Roll of Honour on prominent display in the school.

The Roll of Honour also inspired teacher Rachel Wood to find out more about the people named on it. She has painstakingly looked at online national records, such as census returns and military papers, as well as using local records, such as newspapers.  The local community, including local historians, was a great help, providing photographs and family histories.  Now Rachel has put together all the information she has found about the forty-nine men on the Roll of Honour (and others connected to the school who are not mentioned on the Roll of Honour,) and she has extended her research to include staff from Cockfield Church of England School. 

Rachel has generously given a copy of her booklet, with lots of illustrations of people, places and records, to the Museum and it is now in the Reference Library (ref. L.355/WOO). It is sure to be of great use and interest to people with a Cockfield connection, and it is also a great example to follow in future research, showing as it does how much can be found out.