Category Archives: news

News related to the Centenary, in particular where relevant to the Oxford World War 1 Centenary programme

First World War Display at the Oxford Central Public Library

As we reflect upon the 98th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, there could be no better time to explore the wealth of literature (both fiction and non-fiction) centred on the Great War of 1914-1918. If you would like to extend your knowledge on the conflict and/or explore a new and interesting perspective then take some time to visit the Oxford Central Public Library as it is currently running a display of its First World War books, DVDs and music CDs (level 1). There is also a range of excellent reference works available for study in the Reference Library (level 2). All the items on display are available for loan during opening hours and if you would like to find out more about the library, please see the Oxfordshire Libraries Website for further information:


Solider reading in the trenches © National Library of Scotland

lib Ox

New WW1 themed display at the Oxford Central Library

Strategic funding for Oxford’s First World War Centenary

We are pleased to announce that the Van Houten Bequest has awarded funds to support the University in its First World War Centenary commemorations and activities. A joint bid submitted by the Public Affairs Directorate and IT Services department (who have a strong history in delivering digital WW1 collections) had over 15 supporting letters from across the collegiate University. Funds will be used to provide:

(1) A centenary web site (currently in beta) with editorial highlighting relevant events, activities, research and resources from within the University.

(2) The Oxford at War 1914-1918 Community Collection. Crowdsourcing the history of Oxford in the First World War, this specially built web site will invite colleges, museums, archives and members of the public to upload stories and digitised material relating to town and gown.

In addition support is available in the following areas:

  • Use of central channels to share research, teaching resources, archival materials, projects and events over the centenary
  • Training in using digital technologies for impact, outreach and public engagement
  • Models to engage teachers, cultural heritage and the wider public
  • Help in writing funding applications (that include a technical / digital output or digital engagement)

To contact us email:

Alternatively, for all press inquiries and events listings please visit:

The Great War: Personal Stories from Downing Street to the Trenches, 1914-1916 [Bodleian Exhibition 2014]

This is an update on earlier posts about the First World War exhibition at the Bodleian Library. The final title has been agreed. It will run from 12 June until 2 November 2014.

JJ Poster 80

Parliamentary Recruiting Committee Poster no. 80, from the John Johnson collection.


Using letters and diaries of politicians, soldiers and civilians, all in some way connected with Oxford University, the exhibition will relate contemporary experiences of the Great War. It concentrates on the years 1914 to 1916, from the outbreak of war to the end of the battle of the Somme and the fall of Asquith. One of the themes of the exhibition is the challenge of leadership during wartime, and it will feature a variety of manuscript and print materials revealing different experiences and perspectives.  It includes letters of three Oxford-educated Prime Ministers: H.H. Asquith was brought down by the war, and Harold Macmillan’s experiences in the trenches were the foundation of his political career.  Clement Attlee fought at Gallipoli. Private papers of politicians relate stories from the Cabinet where aims and strategy were debated, detailing arguments and personality clashes not noted in the official record.  Letters of Oxford alumni who served as junior officers in the trenches on the western front and in far flung parts of the empire convey not only their experiences but also their ideas and beliefs about the war.  In Oxford academics engaged in fierce public debate about the war, while in one Essex village, the local rector compiled a diary to record the impact of war on his community, forming a chronicle which he passed on to the Bodleian Library at the end of each year. The rich print resources of the Library, including trench maps, posters, pamphlets and books, many acquired during the war, provide a backdrop to the personal stories.

The exhibition is part of a series of three different but connected exhibitions in three countries looking at ‘War in the Archives’. The Bodleian exhibition is the second of the three, between August 1914 Literatur und Krieg at the Deutsches Literaturarchiv, Marbach,  which opened last week, and 1914, La Mort des Poètes at the Bibliothèque nationale et universitaire de Strasbourg, which will open in the Autumn of 2014.  At the core of the partnership is the German expressionist poet Ernst Stadler, born in 1883 in Alsace, then part of Germany, educated at Strasbourg and Oxford where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He was killed by a British shell at Zandvoorde in October 1914 in an action noted in the diary of brigadier Ernest Makins now among the Bodleian’s collections. In the Bodleian’s own archive there is an entry in the register for Ernst Stadler of Magdalen College, admitted to the Library to study English literature in November 1906.

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