WW1 Book Club – 19th June 2018

By Jane Wilson

One of our group members started off our June meeting by bringing to our attention a newspaper review of a current exhibition at Tate Britain in London. Running until 23rd September 2018, ‘Aftermath – Art in the Wake of World War One’ marks 100 years since the end of the war, looking at how artists responded to the physical and psychological effects of war. More details and images of art on show available at www.tate.org.uk

A chance find on the shelves in the library in Barnard Castle was our first book selection for the afternoon, ‘Kitchener – Hero and Anti-Hero’ by C Brad Faught. Widely known for his iconic image on WW1 recruitment posters, and as Secretary of State for War, this biography takes the reader from Kitchener’s childhood in Ireland and follows his career as a soldier in the Sudan, Egypt, South Africa and India. During his military career, he was a celebrated and sometimes controversial character, and Faught provides enough detail in this biography for the reader to make their own decision about hero, or anti-hero.

‘British Posters of the First World War’ by John Christopher is a beautifully illustrated book, with over 200 images of commercial posters used during WW1, with messages aimed at recruitment into the services, as well as those aimed for the Home Front population. The recruitment posters include those used in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the Empire, often featuring iconic characters such as John Bull and St George, or with recruitment slogans aimed at particular groups such as rugby players, factory workers etc. Home front posters feature campaigns for rationing, promotion of war bonds and war loans, volunteering for the Red Cross and even fund raising for animals injured at the Front. The book demonstrates the power of a strong image and clear, precise message in the posters, and how some German and US recruitment posters were influenced by the British designs.

In our past few meetings, ‘Paths of Glory’ by Anthony Clayton has been a popular read and one of our group made a final comment that he felt, after finishing the book, how much the French troops had been squandered by their Army leaders. While the French Military learnt lessons and adapted where necessary, the death and injury statistics exemplified the marked differences when compared to the British Army and its military campaign.

Richard van Emden’s ‘Boy Soldiers of the Great War’ tells the stories of young boys who enlisted to fight for their country during WW1, well aware that they were under age and should not have been fighting abroad. From the youngest boy soldier, believed to be only twelve, Van Emden explores the exploits of many young officers and soldiers, their strong patriotic desire to serve their country, and that often a military life offered better prospects than the life they were leading. The final chapter tries to quantify in various ways the number of under age soldiers that had served during the war and summarises the opportunities and disadvantages for those young serving soldiers.

Our afternoon was completed by the recommendation of a book by G R Griffiths, ‘Women’s Factory Work in WW1’. The book follows the work of a committee set up in 1917 to create a record of women’s contribution to the war effort through their work in factories in 19 selected industries. Each chapter concentrates on the number of women to take jobs in each industry during the war, welfare and safety concerns, acceptance by the incumbent male work force and the effect on female numbers once war was over. Illustrated with many images taken from factories and down the country, women are shown working in industries as diverse as textiles, paper, chemicals, leather, wood and metals, and are shown playing an equal part in keeping those industries working and productive.

All the underlined titles are available from the Durham County Library Service.

Our next Book Group meeting will be on Tuesday 17th July at 2.30pm, and we welcome new readers to come and join us.