THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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24 January 2017

‘We become crazy as lunatics’: Responding to the Bengal famine in Indian letters from the Second World War

Extracts from letters archived at the British Library, exchanged between the Indian home front and international battlefronts during the Second World War, become textual connectors linking the farthest corners of the Empire and imperial strongholds requiring defence against the Axis alliance.  Such letters map the breadth of a global war and plunge deep into the Indian soldier’s psyche, revealing ruptures in the colonial identity foisted on him.

Food dominates much of these epistolary conversations, with Indian soldiers reflecting on their army rations and diet abroad.  Rumours of a great and devastating famine sweeping India, and particularly Bengal, in 1943 reach them, despite censorship of news and letters.  A Havildar or junior officer, part of the Sappers and Miners unit, writes from the Middle East: “From my personal experience I can tell you that the food we get here is much better than that we soldiers get in India.  But whenever I sit for my meals, a dreadful picture of the appalling Indian food problem passes through my mind leaving a cloudy sediment on the walls of my heart which makes me nauseous and often I leave my meals untouched.”

1294231001

Representation of a family struck by the Bengal Famine of 1942 by Bangladeshi artist Zoinul Abedin. ©British Museum 2012,3027.1

The soldier highlights his solidarity with this imagined community of sufferers through images of his own body, and his reactions are expressed in physiological terms – he visualises the walls of his heart being covered with ‘cloudy sediment’ at the thought of food shortage in India.  In visceral terms, this is how he understands empathy.  The spectre of famine in India hovers, Banquo-like, before him every time he sits down to eat his rations carefully provided by the colonial British government; the projection of food deprivation in his homeland thousands of miles away reaches out and, almost literally, touches his heart, preventing him from eating.

© IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 2220) A 'Hindoo' kitchen in Syria by Edward Bawden

Edward Bawden, A Hindoo Kitchen: RIASC 8th, 10th and 12th Indian Mule Coys, Zghorta, Syria © IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 2220)

Another letter from a Havildar Clerk to relatives in South India relates the helplessness caused by famine to the extraordinary conditions of the wartime marketplace: “I am terribly sorry to learn about the food situation in India and it seems as if there is no salvation for me.  From my earliest days to the present time I have always been in this abyss of misery.  It was with grim determination to see you all free from poverty that I allotted my whole pay of Rs 85/- to you, but cruel Fate is determined to defeat me in all my purposes.  What is the use of money when we are unable to obtain the necessities of life in exchange for it?  The situation would drive even the most level-headed of us to madness and when we think of conditions in India we become crazy as lunatics.”

How can the soldier’s earnings help his family when ordinary people have been priced out of food because of soaring rates of wartime inflation?  The letter reveals both the economic bonds linking the Indian soldier’s participation in an imperial war, and the psychological despair of being unable to rescue loved ones from hardship – as traumatic for the soldier as the heavy fighting he witnesses on the battlefield.


Diya Gupta
PhD researcher at King’s College London

Further reading:
Middle East Military Censorship Reports: Fortnightly Summaries Covering Indian Troops, April-October 1943, IOR/L/PJ/12/655
Exploring emotional worlds: Indian soldiers’ letters from the Second World War

Find out more in this short film

 

19 January 2017

From Stats Man to Ad Man: Jesse Scott

The history of advertising is told via great men: in the early 1960s David Ogilvy wrote his Confessions of an Advertising Man and Winston Fletcher recently published his memoir-cum-history Powers of Persuasion. This blog tells of an untold life in advertising: that of a journalist turned statistician, Jesse Scott, whose periodical, The Statistical Review of Press Advertising, is often neglected by social and economic historians of modern Britain.

Contentspage

The Statistical Review of Press Advertising October 1949 - a problematic year of continuing austerity for the advertising trade when the Labour government sort to restrain proto-Mad Men! 

Jesse Scott migrated to the UK from the US and in 1928 set up a company to publish the American Legion magazine in Europe. This venture failed but his friends put a proposition to him. They noted that advertising in the UK was expanding fast and so manufacturers and the media required new sources of information: why did he not exploit this gap in the market by getting his company to counter all the ‘soft pedal and hush hush about expenditure’? (The Review, I, 1, October 1932.)

From 1932 to 1962 Scott’s company produced hard facts about the hard sell. The Review published figures on advertising expenditure by surveying quarterly all the space given over to display advertisements in national daily, evening and Sunday papers; provincial daily and evening papers; provincial and suburban weekly papers; and weekly and monthly trade and technical periodicals. From 1956 The Review also included expenditure on commercial television.

Example of data

The Review categorised data by product type, brand and firm: note that expenditure on Mars was the highest, and that this would have been a luxury product during the war and post-war austerity as sweets were rationed and expensive.
  

To compute an estimate of total expenditure, Scott multiplied his estimates of space given to adverts by standard market rates for advertising copy. From the 1940s and beyond, social scientists and the Advertising Association used these figures to calculate total expenditure on advertising, adding in non-mass media forms such as posters and direct mail (see Clayton for a critical evaluation of these methods).

Advertisement

The Review generated revenue via subscriptions and from adverts placed by media organisations, such as newspaper groups and advertising agencies as illustrated by this page promoting G. S. Royds Ltd.

By the mid twentieth century expenditure on advertising had become a controversial subject: scholars, politicians and cultural commentators alleged that vast sums were being wasted on puffery. In 1953, for example, Aneurin Bevan, a Labour MP, ex-cabinet minister and de facto leader of left-wing faction within the Party, provoked delegates at the Advertising Association conference by labelling advertising as “evil’—a trade that created a consumer who was “passive, besieged, assaulted, battered and robbed” (Sean Nixon, Hard Sell, p. 164).

Make_Do_and_Mend_Art.IWMPST14924

Make do and Mend - The government also advertised and The Review counted this expenditure which, as in this case of a wartime propaganda poster, presented the anti-thesis to the message of private sector adverts: consume more branded goods.

Scott disagreed with this socialist critique and he used his editorials to argue that advertising had social value: it was, he argued, a means by which consumers gained information about products, and thus a vital component of a dynamic capitalist economy. As an American he was ideally placed to promote advertising, which in the US had become, he claimed, ‘an indispensible element in sustaining economic activity’. Scott believed that if British firms were to compete at home and overseas they had to adopt American methods of selling, and embrace advertising wholeheartedly. Jesse Scott, Stats Man, had become Ad Man, an advocate for advertising.

David Clayton
University of York, UK

Further reading:
The Statistical Review of Press Advertising October 1932-December 1962 British Library General Reference Collection P.P.1423.clr.
Clayton, D. (2010) ‘Advertising expenditure in 1950s Britain’, Business History, 52, 651-665.
Nixon, S. (2013) Hard sell: Advertising, affluence and transatlantic relations, c. 1951-69 (Manchester University Press, Manchester).

 

17 January 2017

Major new digital resource for the India Office Records

A major new digital resource has just become available for researching the East India Company and the India Office.  You can now take an online journey through 350 years of history, from the foundation of the East India Company to Indian Independence.

Adam Matthew Digital has digitised four series of India Office Records -
IOR/A: East India Company: Charters, Deeds, Statutes and Treaties 1600-1947
IOR/B: Minutes of the East India Company’s Directors and Proprietors, 1599-1858
IOR/C: Council of India Minutes and Memoranda, 1858-1947
IOR/D: Minutes and Memoranda of General Committees and Offices of the East India Company, 1700-1858

I have selected some documents to give you just a taste of the kinds of records you can view in the digital collection..

IOR B 1 f.6
IOR/B/1 f.6

Let’s start with the list of the first subscribers to the Company drawn up in September 1599. Differing amounts of money were pledged as investments in the proposed venture to trade with the East Indies.  The Lord Mayor of London heads the list followed by Aldermen and members of the City Livery Companies. Queen Elizabeth I granted a royal charter to the Company on 31 December 1600.

 

IOR B 2 f.20 Instructions to Henry Middleton cropped
IOR/B/2 f.20

Next is an extract from the instructions given by the East India Company to Henry Middleton before he sailed as General of the Second Voyage in 1604.  The Company hoped that Middleton would be able ‘to bringe this longe and tedious voyadge to a profitable end’.  Sailors were to be disciplined for blasphemy and ‘all Idle and fillthie Communicacion’ and banned from unlawful gaming, especially playing dice.


 

IOR B 26 p.278

IOR/B/26 p.278

Here are the Court Minutes for 1 August 1660 which discussed the business affairs of Robert Tichborne, an East India Company Director who had signed the death warrant of King Charles I.  The newly restored King Charles II was taking action to seize Tichborne’s property, including his investments in the Company. Tichborne was tried as a regicide in October 1660 and sentenced to death. He was spared but spent the rest of his life in prison. 

 

IOR D 7 p.876 cropped
IOR/D/7 p.876

In February 1821 Dr George Rees sent a note about patients placed at his mental health asylum by the East India Company.  Lieutenant Felham was very dangerously ill and the use of wine was absolutely necessary for him. Frederick Haydn was to have a violin provided for him. 

 

IOR C 121 3 Mar 1931 
IOR C 121 3 Mar 1931 - 2 cropped
 IOR/C/121

On 3 March 1931 the Council of India recommended that Lord Willingdon, on his appointment as Viceroy, should be allowed to take out to India five motor cars at a total cost of £3450 instead of one good Rolls Royce and 3 other cars.

 

IOR A 1 102
IOR/A/102 Instrument of Abdication

We finish with the Instrument of Abdication, one of six that Edward VIII signed at Fort Belvedere, Windsor Great Park, on 10 December 1936. The document is signed by Edward VIII and his three brothers. An Act of Parliament effected the King’s abdication on the following day, ending a reign of less than a year. India received this copy by virtue of the King’s position as Emperor of India. The document was delivered to the Secretary of State for India.

East India Company, Module 1: Trade, Governance and Empire, 1600-1947 is available online from Adam Matthew and there will be access in our Reading Rooms in London and Yorkshire.  Modules II and III will be published in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

Happy hunting!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:

East India Company: Rise to Demise
Human Stories from the East India Company