Contributed by Ciara Meehan, University of Hertfordshire
So, that’s it. After almost eighteen months of planning, Voices of the Home Fronts at The National Archives has come to an end. It’s been an extraordinary three days. When the organising committee put the programme together, we tried to group the papers by theme as best we could, but I don’t think anyone realised the extent to which connections would be made across the papers and throughout the sessions. Owen Davies will reflect on this more in the coming days in another blog post summing up the conference.
I began the morning by chairing the Legacy and Aftermath session. Running parallel to that were sessions on Personal Stories and on Local Histories. The witty nature of all three speakers in the session got us off to a great start; there’s nothing quite like beginning a day of papers with laughter (of a good kind!) First up was Justin Dolan Stover (pictured right) who offered a transnational view of the Irish Revolution, and he talked about how the memory of the First World War allowed Ireland to situate the campaign for independence
within the broader narrative of self-determination. He was followed by Rosalie Triolo from Australia who gave a fascinating account of how Australian schools responded to the War, either through enlistment or getting creative with their supplies to keep classes going. She explained, for example, that due to a paper shortage, test questions were written on a blackboard and students returned to using slates — something that wasn’t particularly popular! Our third speaker was Calum White who explored opposition to cinema building in Britain in the aftermath of the war. Housing shortages had been a problem even before 1914, but people had tolerated it during the war. Once peace was declared, however, that patience began to run out and the construction of cinemas, which were seen to be using valuable supplies, was largely opposed.
The session was followed by the final keynote address of the conference, delivered by one of the members of the Everyday Lives in War centre. Explaining that he wanted to work outwards from the solider, thinking about everyday life and its cultural context, and not just war trauma, Michael Roper brilliantly blended a family history with a broader narrative about wartime experiences.
Michael told us about his grandfather, Robert Henry Roper, who was born in Australia 1896 and was one of eleven children. He left home at the age of 12-and-a-half and moved around for work for a while. His wanderings came to an end when he enlisted on 24 April 1915 and he was sent to Gallipoli where he witnessed 1000s of casualties. He returned to Melbourne in September 1919 and was invalided out of the army. He subsequently met his future wife in Victoria; she had two brothers who served in the war and two of her best friends has also married returning soldiers. In later life, Robert Roper burnt his war diaries, but he did also write three memoirs. Michael noted that his grandfather framed his war experience in context of the bush legend. He concluded his talk — which included a look at life in suburbia in the years after the war — by expressing the hope that the audience would be able to draw connections to other individuals’ accounts of the war.
Over lunch we were treated to an excerpt from Cap-a-Pie’s upcoming production of The Important Man, a story of fortune-telling and prophecy in the First World War that draws on the work of centre member Owen Davies. It asks the question, in the most desperate of situations, what would you put your faith in? The full play, which has been commissioned by the University of Hertfordshire, will be touring in schools later this year. Below is Brad, the artistic director with Cap-a-Pie, introducing himself in character.
— FWW Everyday Lives (@FWWLives) September 10, 2016
After lunch, I headed to the Tribunals, Opposition and Conscientious Objectors session, which I was keen to hear, having live-tweeted a workshop on Military Service Tribunals that the Everyday Lives in War centre previously ran. Together, James Daly’s, Paul Hughes’, and John Hinshelwood’s papers offered a multi-layered insight into the reasons why people opposed or objected to war.
I finished off the day by chairing one of three parallel sessions on international communities. Jane Chapman (left) outlined a new project on war cartoons. She was followed by Claudia Sternberg and David Stowe whose paper on the Lofthouse Park Internment Camp really captured the imagination of the audience. The day’s proceedings were brought to a close by Helen Boak who delivered a fascinating exploration of pro-natalism and German women’s responses between 1914 and 1923. Quoting from a speech by Hitler, she referred to the fact that Jane had mentioned Bismarck and quipped that German history had been summed up in those two papers!
And so came to an end our conference. A big thank you to everyone who gave papers, asked questions, and tweeted (especially Fionnuala Walsh, Lucie Whitmore and Justin Dolan Stover who, along with some of the Everyday Lives in War centre team, tweeted on behalf of our centre). Remember, you can search through all the conversation on twitter using #HomeFrontVoices. We’ve archived all the tweets from day three here. To learn more about the work of the Everyday Lives in War centre and for details of upcoming events, visit our website. For now, I’ll leave you with the thoughts that a few of our delegates shared on twitter.
V. much enjoyed the #HomeFrontVoices conference with a fantastic variety of papers & it was brilliant to meet great researchers & scholars!
— Richard Batten (@Richard_Batten) September 10, 2016
Thanks to all who organised #HomeFrontVoices & all the speakers. Had a great day of fascinating talks from diverse speakers. Great project.
— Calum W. White (@CalumWWhite) September 10, 2016
Fascinating keynote from Michael Roper talking about his grandfather's WW1 experiences & their effects on post-war life #HomeFrontVoices
— Kim Simpson (@AmatoryAnon) September 10, 2016
Inspiring to hear about the work taking place to engage local communities in their history #homefrontvoices
— Fionnuala Walsh (@Fionnuala88) September 10, 2016
— ISU War Studies (@ISUwarstudies) September 9, 2016
— Hanna Smyth (@hannamsmyth) September 10, 2016
Originally posted on the 10th September, 2016