Monthly Archives: July 2013

Announcing ‘The Great War and Global History’ conference, Oxford 9-10 January 2014

Great War and Global History conference poster

‘The Great War and Global History’ conference
9-10 January 2014
Maison Française, Oxford

A two-day conference hosted by the Oxford Centre for Global History, Changing Character of War programme and Maison Française d’Oxford.  Convenors: Hew Strachan, James Belich, John Darwin



Patrick O’Brien (LSE)
‘Warfare with Revolutionary and Napoleonic France and the Consolidation of British Industrial Supremacy’

Georges-Henri Soutou (Paris)
‘They Marched Singing into Bankruptcy: Finance in the First World War’



Dominic Lieven (Cambridge)
‘Imperialism, War and Revolution: a Russian Angle’

Hans van de Ven (Cambridge)
Title TBC



Hervé Drévillon (Paris)
‘Identities and Otherness as Agents of Globalization in Early Modern Wars‘

Tamara Scheer ((Ludwig Boltzmann-Institute for Social Science History, Vienna)
‘Habsburg Empire’s National Identities during World War One’



Jos Gommans (Leiden)
‘Fair Play in Early Modern Warfare’

Douglas Porch (California)
‘From Carnot to Reynaud: The Ascent and Disintegration of the French Nation in Arms, 1793-1940’



Margaret MacMillan (Oxford)
Title TBC

Stig Förster (Bern)
‘The Myth of the Short-War-Illusion in 1914. A Long-Term Perspective’



Tonio Andrade (Atlanta)
‘The Global Military Balance: A Long View, 900-1918’

Naoko Shimazu (Birkbeck)
Title TBC



Martin Ceadel (Oxford)
Title TBC

Karen Hagemann (UNC)
‘Women, War and the Nation: Gendering the History of the Wars Against Napoleon’

To register contact
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George Butterworth, Railways, and WW1

George Butterworth’s letters addressed to his father at NER offices must have landed here in his father’s in-tray.

Entrance, NER Head Office, York

Entrance to the former North Eastern Railway head office at York

Recently it was announced that the AHRC would be funding a PhD studentship, Britain’s Railways in the Great War, 1914-1918, to begin in September 2013. The project is to be managed by the Science Museum Group, and will address ‘six core inter-connected themes – political, administrative, economic, technical, cultural and social … to explore the basic questions of how, and how well, the railways coped’ (see the project outline).

Railways are frequently mentioned in the papers I have been researching for material for the Bodleian Library’s 2014 exhibition on the First World War, usually in the context of delays to journeys in England in wartime conditions, or transportation from the French coast to the front. George Butterworth, the composer, and alumnus of Trinity College, Oxford, was a lieutenant in the Durham Light Infantry. His papers include his wartime diary and letters to his father, Sir Alexander Kaye Butterworth, who was a general manager of the North Eastern Railway. Sir Alexander’s office was in the grand new NER headquarters at York, later the main offices of the North eastern region of British Railways, and my father’s own place of work from 1968-1983 (see the family railway blog, Memories of a Railwayman).  George Butterworth’s railway connection explains his wry comments about his journey from London to Bodmin, the depot of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry Regiment which he joined as a private in August 1914: ‘We decided unanimously that the transport arrangements were not creditable to the Committee of Railway Managers.’ He describes the train as ‘ordinary’ with the ‘space reserved quite insufficient, many having standing room only.’ Nevertheless, the journey was ‘a hilarious one—beer and singing ad lib.’

Once Butterworth had reached France in August 1915 with the Durham Light Infantry things did not improve. His battalion marched in the middle of the night to a railway where the men sat down and waited for a train to take them to the front: ‘the transport arrangements at this point were defective, as we had to wait about two hours by the side of the line, during which time some fifty trains must have passed us, mostly empty and returning to the base.’ Eventually their train turned up, comprising ‘three first class compartments for the officers and cattle trucks for the men, 40 in each.’ Rumours spread that they were heading straight to the front, ‘but after a few hours journey the train pulled up at a small wayside station’ and they were marched ‘five very hot and dusty miles’ to their billets in a village.

On 28 November 1915 Butterworth wrote to his father about his turn in the trenches.  At the end of the letter he mentions the pioneer battalion raised by the North Eastern Railway Company (the 17th Northumberland Fusiliers): ‘I hope the N.E.R. Battalion will have luck—it is rather thankless work out here, and our Pioneer Battalion has certainly had more than its share of artillery and machine gun fire.’


Memorial in York to the 2236 men of the NER who died in the Great War