Untold lives blog

120 posts categorized "Conflict"

09 January 2020

Internment during the Second World War – Part One: the diary of a Jewish refugee confined by Britain

This blog is the first of a series on internment, highlighting the experiences of both civilians and military personnel detained across the globe in the Second World War.

In 1940, Winston Churchill ordered what he later referred to as ‘a deplorable and regrettable mistake’: the internment of men and women living in Britain from enemy countries.  This included Germans, Austrians, and Italians; among them were refugees who had fled Nazi persecution, including Jews.  One was nineteen-year-old Konrad Eisig, whose diary of internment on the Isle of Man and his voyage to Australia on HMT Dunera is held by the British Library.

The first page of the diary, noting Konrad’s arrest and journey to the Isle of Man The first page of the diary, noting Konrad’s arrest and journey to the Isle of Man – Add MS 89025 Noc

Konrad had escaped Germany on the eve of the War, settling in Leicester.  When he applied to travel to the Lake District for a holiday, the police showed up at his door in May 1940 to detain him. He entered the Onchan Internment Camp on the Isle of Man in June.  He worked as a cook, attended numerous classes, and was involved with the camp university and youth organisation. Writing to his girlfriend, he exclaimed: ‘I want to see you, I want to be free!…but we shall come together again.  We must’.

However, Konrad was transported to Australia on HMT Dunera, setting sail on 10 July.  The voyage was horrific, with more than 2500 men on board, 1000 over capacity - Jewish refugees, Nazis, prisoners of war, and Italian refugees who survived the sinking of the Arandora Star.  Konrad reported that British soldiers ‘robbed and plundered us’.  Detainees were kept in a hold which was not big enough, and were only allowed ten minutes of air and exercise each day.  One man committed suicide by jumping overboard.  Another was thrown down the stairs by soldiers for not taking his wedding ring off quickly enough, and another ‘got a bayonet into his back’ for daring to ask for permission to keep his prayer book.

The seventh page of the diary, showing Konrad’s journey to HMT DuneraThe seventh page of the diary, showing Konrad’s journey to HMT Dunera – Add MS 89025 Noc

A torpedo missed the Dunera by only 50-100 yards two days after setting sail.  The ship eventually arrived in Australia in September.  The internees were well treated by the Australians, who quickly realised most of the men were not the evil Nazis they had been expecting.  The men were taken to Hay, New South Wales, which was ‘much better than we expected’, though the climate was a vast change from England and Germany!  Konrad again attended many classes ‘in order to leave as little time for thinking as was at all possible’.

Konrad’s diary finishes abruptly on 1 August 1941.  The fear of German invasion by Nazis disguised as refugees had died down, and arrangements were being made for refugees to return.  Joining the Pioneer Corps gave priority.  However Konrad was disdainful of this option: ‘it is an insult, a crime against all justice’.  It appears that he waited for a later ship.

The final page of the diary, explaining Konrad’s misery and the effect of internment on his life expectancy The final page of the diary, explaining Konrad’s misery and the effect of internment on his life expectancy – Add MS 89025  Noc

Konrad had escaped persecution but then been unjustly incarcerated where he thought himself safe.  He says: ‘We were called “Refugees from Nazi Oppression”, we were used as England’s best advertisement.  Then suddenly “Intern the damned fifth columnists” and here we are’.

The diary covers a variety of themes: justice, mental health, anti-Semitism, homosexuality, and more.  It gives a unique insight into an experience which has not received much attention, reminding us that the War affected innocent refugees, even in Britain.

Jack Taylor
Doctoral researcher at the Open University. His CHASE-funded research explores sexual violence between men in the late 18th and 19th centuries.

Further reading:
Add MS 89025 – Letter diary of Konrad Eisig's voyage on HMT Dunera and his internment in Australia
Cyril Pearl, The Dunera Scandal: Deported by Mistake (1983).
Rachel Pistol, Internment during the Second World War: A Comparative Study of Great Britain and the USA (2017).

 

01 January 2020

A New Year card from MI5

This New Year Card was sent 100 years ago to Sir Malcolm Seton of the India Office by Colonel Sir Vernon Kell and the staff of MI5.  They wished him a happy and peaceful New Year for 1920.  The main message on the card is 'To Liberty and Security 1914-1919. Malevolence Imposes Vigilance 1920'.  The Great War had ended recently but threats to peace and stability continued.

New Year card MI5 1920

MI5 Greeting card from the Papers of Sir Malcolm Seton, India Office official 1898-1933 - India Office Private Papers Mss Eur E 267/10B Images Online

 

We wish our readers a happy and peaceful New Year 2020.

 

12 December 2019

Emma Ewart Larkins' last letter from Cawnpore

On 9 June 1857, Emma Ewart Larkins, the wife of an artillery officer in Cawnpore, composed a letter to family and friends in England.  Along with about a thousand others, she, her husband George, their three youngest children, and Munna, their cherished family ayah, were sheltering from bombardment under appalling siege conditions, and behind hopelessly inadequate defences.

 Letter written by Emma Larkins in Cawnpore 9 June 1857 and smuggled out by her AyahMSS Eur F732/1 Letter written by Emma Larkins in Cawnpore 9 June 1857 and smuggled out by her Ayah


Addressing a sister-in-law in London, Emma began: ‘I write this dearest Henrietta in the belief that our time of departure is come’.  She explained: ‘the whole of the troops rose here & we took refuge in a Barrack We are so hemmed in by overpowering numbers that there seems no hope of escape’.  Emma was right: death was staring her in the face.  But Munna would take the dangerous decision to attempt to slip away, and she successfully carried the letter with her.

Portrait of Emma Ewart Larkins, India, 1840Emma Ewart Larkins by L. Power, India, 1840. © Rebecca Gowers.

Months later it somehow reached England.  Within it were individual messages for Henrietta and several others, including Emma and George’s four oldest children, sent ‘home’ for their education.  One of these, Alice Shaffalitzky Larkins, then aged 11, was my great-great-grandmother; and I was brought up knowing that my own life depended on the fact that she had avoided the Cawnpore Massacre.  Emma’s last letter was kept by the family in a double-sided picture frame so that it could be read front and back, though the crossed writing made it incredibly hard to decipher.  My grandmother showed it to me as a child.  But four years ago, when I found myself wondering about it again, I realised I no longer had any idea where it was.

Photograph of George and Alice Larkins 1851George Larkins, Artillery Commander, Cawnpore, 1857, here with his daughter Alice: daguerrotype, India, Christmas 1851. © Rebecca Gowers.

I looked idly online, and found the letter selectively quoted in a number of books on the Indian Mutiny.  The British Library held a rough transcript, but where was the original?  While I tried to solve this question, I stumbled on an outré, unproven theory: that another of the four children to survive, Henry Thomas Larkins, also addressed in Emma’s letter, just might be the same person as ‘Major Harry Larkyns’, a mysterious, louche character murdered in 1874 by the famous photographer of galloping horses, Eadweard Muybridge.  To my surprise, this was a theory I found myself able to verify almost at once.  And it has led to my writing a book about Harry’s genuinely extraordinary exploits.  Setting about this project, I badgered numerous relatives about boxes in their attics that might contain Larkins-family archive, with the particularly gratifying result that I ended up being given not only Emma’s final letter, but others that had preceded it too.  This reassembled correspondence forms a total of about a hundred letters whose terrific details I could only hint at in my book.

It was a great pleasure for me recently to donate the whole collection to the British Library, where I hope they will be of interest to other writers and historians.  Emma's last letter was in a frail state indeed, but it has now been conserved, and digitised as well, meaning that this pitiful survivor is now available for all to see.

Rebecca Gowers
Writer

Further reading:
MSS Eur F732 Papers of Emma Ewart Larkins (d. 1857), wife of Major George Larkins (1807-1857), Bengal Artillery
Rebecca Gowers The scoundrel Harry Larkyns and his pitiless killing by the photographer Eadweard Muybridge (2019)

 

03 December 2019

Marine Society boy to master mariner to pauper – Part 1

We met George Byworth in our story about the East India Company and Marine Society boys.  He was given as an example of a boy apprentice who made good of the opportunity offered by the Marine Society.  Here we look at his interesting life in more detail.

George was born in London, the son of watchmaker Thomas Byworth and his wife Mary.  His baptism record at St James Clerkenwell from March 1807 gives his date of birth as 23 February 1807.  This tallies with the age given on his death certificate.  However records from the Marine Society and the Board of Trade say George was 14 in March 1823 and 15½ in September 1824, suggesting he was born in 1809.  Why the discrepancy?

Sailor Boy on the lookoutSailor boy on the look-out from Mark James Barrington Ward, The Round World (London, 1890) Shelfmark 10004.f.7.  BL flickr  Noc

From March 1823 to May 1824 George served in the East India Company ship Scaleby Castle on a voyage to Bombay and China.  He sailed with nine other Marine Society boys, one of whom fell overboard and drowned.  They were paid a monthly wage of 10s. 

List of Marine Society Boys on the Scaleby CastleList of Marine Society boys from IOR/L/MAR/B/34-O Journal of Scaleby Castle Noc

Captain David Rae Newall’s journal of the voyage sheds light on how vulnerable these young boys were.  On 1 April 1823 seaman Thomas Barnes was confined in irons for making attempts ‘to commit an unnatural crime on some of the Marine Society Boys’.  On 13 August 1823 a court of enquiry found seaman James Russel guilty of an ‘unnatural attempt’ upon George Byworth.  Russel had a cut on the back of his hand which George said he had made with his knife.  Russel was punished with three dozen lashes.

 In September 1824 George was bound as a merchant navy apprentice to William Shepherd for four years.  He petitioned the East India Company in September 1827 to be granted free mariner’s indentures for India.  This was approved and he spent some time in Calcutta as a merchant officer in the intra-Asia or ‘country’ trade.

George then based himself in Australia undertaking convict and sealing voyages.  Questioned about provisions on sealing vessels in 1834, he described an allowance of pork, bread, flour, coffee, sugar and spirits, supplemented by gathered food such as fish, penguin eggs and petrels.

Map of KerguelenMap of Kerguelen from John Nunn, Narrative of the Wreck of the 'Favourite' on the Island of Desolation (London, 1850) Shelfmark 10460.e.23. BL flickr  Noc

In March 1832 George was the chief officer in the Adelaide when she was sent to Kerguelen, or Desolation Island, to rescue five shipwrecked men.  The Adelaide met with Captain Alexander Distant who reported that he had already taken the men to St Helena.  George went on board Distant’s ship for some supplies but a violent gale prevented him from returning to the Adelaide.  He was obliged to sail with Distant to St Helena.

View of St Helena from the seaView of St Helena from the sea from John Charles Melliss, St. Helena: a physical, historical, and topographical description of the island (London, 1875) Shelfmark 10096.gg.15.  BL flickr Noc

On 14 August 1833 George wrote to the Governor of St Helena telling his story and asking to be paid the cost of clothing provided by Captain Distant plus the rate allowed by the British government to wrecked mariners.  The St Helena Council granted him a daily allowance of 1s 6d.   George wrote again on 9 September expressing his thanks for the island’s kindness, and asking for £12 for his passage on the Lord Hobart to the Cape of Good Hope where he could pick up a ship to return to Tasmania.  The East India Company was repaid George’s expenses by the Admiralty in March 1834.

Part 2 will tell what happened next!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
IOR/L/MAR/B/34-O Journal of Scaleby Castle and IOR/L/MAR/B/34DD Pay Book of Scaleby Castle.
IOR/B/180 pp.398, 406 Petition of George Byworth to the East India Company to be granted free mariner’s indentures September 1827.
The National Archives BT 150/1 Merchant Navy apprenticeship September 1824.
IOR/G/9/24 Cape Factory Records.
IOR/G/32/96 St Helena Factory Records.
Trove newspapers.
Thierry Jean-Marie Rousset, ‘Might is Right’. A study of the Cape Town/Crozets elephant seal oil trade (1832–1869). A dissertation submitted for the degree of Master of Arts in Historical Studies. Faculty of the Humanities University of Cape Town. 2011.

 

26 November 2019

Sending sad news from India in 1858

A letter reporting the death of a friend in India in 1858 was donated earlier this year to India Office Private Papers.  Alfred Eteson of the Bengal Medical Service wrote from Camp Amorka Gorruckpore on 4 April 1858 giving an account of the death of Dundas William Gordon, Bengal Artillery, who was killed at Lucknow on 8 January 1858 during the Indian Uprising. 

EtesonMss Eur F731 Letter from Alfred Eteson at Camp Amorka Gorruckpore 4 April 1858, giving an account of the death of Dundas William Gordon

Eteson asked a friend, Mrs Barnett, to pass on the sad news to the Gordon family: ‘I think it is incumbent on every survivor in these troubled times to send home if he possibly can, any account of those who have fallen, more particularly if he has been at all intimate with any one of them’.  From clues in the letter, I have identified the recipient as Eliza Barnett, wife of medical practitioner Henry Barnett, living in Blackheath, Kent.  Her son James was serving as an officer in the Madras Army - Eteson reported that he thought he had caught sight of him in Burma.

Alfred Eteson and Dundas Gordon had lived in the same house in Burma from November 1854 until May 1857.  They then travelled together to Calcutta where they separated in July. Eteson went with Major Vincent Eyre to Arrah whilst Gordon was disappointed to be left in Ghazipur to guard the opium in the warehouses. 

The young men were reunited in September 1857 and went on together to Allahabad.  Eteson then stayed behind, ill with fever, and that was the last he saw of his friend.   He wrote to Gordon several times but the letters may never have reached him as the post was so uncertain at that time.  Eteson received no reply.  He only heard of Gordon’s death when he met up with two sergeants of their old battery a few days before he wrote to Mrs Barnett.

Gordon had been in charge of an 8-inch howitzer gun at the Alambagh in Lucknow.  He was leaning over the parapet, looking through his glasses, when a stray round struck the top of his head killing him instantly. Eteson said he felt full of hatred and vengeance at losing an old friend in this way.

Gordon never told Eteson anything about his family and so he did not know their address or even if the parents were alive.  Eteson had found out by accident that Gordon knew his friends the Barnetts.  When talking about batting, Gordon mentioned that he had been a pupil of ’Felix’ at Blackheath – Nicholas, or ‘Felix’, Wanostrocht was a schoolmaster and famous amateur cricketer.  Eteson then asked if he knew the Barnetts of Blackheath.  Gordon said he did and that he had just received a letter saying that his sister had gone to a ball with Miss Barnett.  

Eteson wanted to pass on to the Gordons £30 which was his friend’s share of the house in Burma.  He had instructed his agents to keep this money separate from his estate should anything happen to him meanwhile.  He expressed his willingness to do anything necessary in Bengal for the Gordon family. 

The letter ends with him sending good wishes to the Barnetts although he added: ‘I can scarcely flatter myself by supposing any of the younger ones remembering me after so long an absence’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Mss Eur F731 Letter from Alfred Eteson (1832-1910), Bengal Medical Service, at Camp Amorka Gorruckpore 4 April 1858, giving an account of the death of Dundas William Gordon, Bengal Artillery, who was killed at Lucknow on 8 January 1858.  Kindly donated in 2019 by Lucy Henley, great great niece of Dundas William Gordon.

 

21 November 2019

Hostility to the Census of India in 1880

In 1872, the British began the decennial Census of India, as part of the continuing work to survey India and its people. The next census was carried out in 1881, and every ten years after that.  The collecting of data for the census was sometimes looked on with fear and suspicion by local people.  One such instance is described in a report from the Santal Parganas, an area in the Bengal Presidency, where local people objected to the recording of names and the numbering of houses.

Santal Parganas - detail from a Forest Map 1908 Santal Parganas - detail from a Forest Map  1908  IOR/V/27/450/37

The hostile reaction to the collection of census data was reported on by W B Oldham, Deputy Commissioner of the Santal Parganas, on 14 December 1880.  He described being informed of a meeting held at Narayanpore where anti-British sentiment was strongly expressed.  Oldham immediately set out to find and arrest the ringleaders.  Arriving at Jamtara, he was confronted by a man named Gulia who informed Oldham that he would not permit any names to be taken as part of the census.  Gulia was arrested on the spot, and later that day Oldham tried and sentenced him to six months rigorous imprisonment.

Government of India orders about the 1880 censusGovernment of India orders  IOR/L/E/6/54

As wild rumours circulated, a panic spread among the non-Santal and British residents who feared escalating violence.  The Deputy Magistrate at Jamtara, W Rattray, was so nervous he sent his wife away by the afternoon train to ensure her safety.  His fears were not without foundation as that evening he awoke to find his bungalow on fire.  The building was quickly consumed by the flames, although Mr Rattray escaped, and the Government records and most of his furniture was saved.  Oldham wrote that there was no possibility of the fire being accidental.

Account by Mr Rattray of the fireAccount by Mr Rattray of the fire  IOR/L/E/6/54

In his account of his escape Rattray wrote: ‘At about 12.30am, I was startled by hearing the crackling of timber.  On awaking, to my utter astonishment, and at the moment in utter bewilderment, I found the north-west corner in flames.  My first thought was that I had been surrounded by the Sonthals, so I wished for my gun, which I kept loaded resting against the wall, some six feet from my bed, but could not reach it as the roof had already fallen in.  I then made a rush for the bath’.  Rattray went on to claim that he believed the Sonthals had made up their mind to kill him, and being unable to get into his bungalow had set it on fire in the hope of burning him.

Report by Mr OldhamReport by Mr Oldham  IOR/L/E/6/54

On this point Oldham commented in his report: ‘Mr Rattray was naturally much frightened.  There are no other grounds for this belief.  Mr Rattray is too nervous and fidgety an officer to deal with an occurrence like the present; but will no doubt be able to carry on the census satisfactorily, when he is in a position to deal with opponents to it’.  Oldham was sceptical that the Santals were responsible, but felt that stringent measures against those opposing the law, with a corresponding strengthening of the police would put a stop to any further agitation.  The Government of India ordered that the numbering of houses could be dispensed with, and the registering of males by name relaxed, if it would help allay the apprehensions of the people.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further reading:
Correspondence regarding the state of public feeling in a part of the Sonthal Pergunnahs [Santal Parganas] in Bengal in respect to the Census, December 1880 to February 1881 [Reference: IOR/L/E/6/54, File 98]  
 

24 October 2019

The General Strike 1926

Whilst cataloguing a new acquisition to the India Office Private Papers, I came across some interesting items relating to the General Strike of 1926.  The Garrod Papers consist of the family archives of William Francis Garrod, a Chaplain in the Indian Ecclesiastical Establishment from 1930 until 1947, his wife Isobel and their four children.  The collection also contains letters between Garrod and Isobel before they got married and moved to India, and it is in these letters that Garrod described his experience as a volunteer policeman during the Strike.

Oxford Daily Strike BulletinOxford Daily Strike Bulletin 10 May 1926 (Garrod Papers) - Copyright of heirs to proprietors of Oxford Monthly (discontinued 1972)

Emergency Bulletin 10 May 1926Emergency Bulletin (shelfmark Mss Eur F142/82) - Copyright of heirs to Chandler & Co

The General Strike was one of the biggest industrial disputes in British history.  It started with a dispute over the pay and working hours of miners, and spread to workers from other industries who came out in support of the striking miners.  Between 4 May and 12 May 1926, thousands of bus and train drivers, dock workers, print workers, and workers in the gas, electricity, building, iron, steel and chemical industries went on strike.  Protests by strikers took place in towns and cities around Britain, often coming into conflict with the police.  The Army was mobilised to protect food lorries and volunteers began doing some of the work of strikers, such as driving buses. 

Recruitment poster for volunteers during the General StrikeVolunteer recruitment poster (shelfmark 1851.d.30.) - Copyright City of Westminster

The Government’s efforts to find volunteers to fill jobs temporarily is clear from a file in the India Office Records.  The India Office’s Military Department put together lists of Indian Army officers who happened to be on leave in Britain at the time, and who could be called on to temporarily fill civilian jobs.  A letter was sent to everyone on the lists stating that they were at liberty to offer their services to the local authorities during the ‘present emergency’.  However, they were not to wear their uniform, and any volunteer employment was not to be allowed to interfere with their return to duty in India at the end of their leave.

List of Indian Army Officers on leaveList of Indian Army Officers on leave (shelfmark IOR/L/MIL/7/12530)  Noc

 

Circular letter to Officers on leave Circular letter to Officers on leave (shelfmark IOR/L/MIL/7/12530) Noc

In four letters to Isobel, Garrod describes travelling from Oxford down to Southampton docks.  At 10am on Tuesday 11 May, he was sworn in as a Special Constable along with a number of other Oxford men.  Equipped with an armband and a truncheon, the men patrolled the docks in two 12 hour shifts, and were garrisoned on the cross-Channel steamer Alberta.  Garrod was on the night shift patrols and described it as ‘frightfully boring’.  He wrote that the docks were busy, with very little likelihood of any trouble, and that he got a cheer from some strikers when he walked through the dock gates. 

Garrod letters (Garrod Papers)Letters from the Garrod Papers Noc

Garrod’s time as a Special Constable was brief; the strike was called off on 12 May and he returned to Oxford a few days later. 

City of Westminster poster about coal and light restrictions and the resumption of household refuse collectionsCity of Westminster poster 17 May 1926 about coal and light restrictions and the resumption of household refuse collections (shelfmark 1851.d.30.) - Copyright City of Westminster

The Garrod Papers will be available to view in the Asian & African Studies Reading Room from next year.

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
Garrod Family Papers [Collection reference: Mss Eur F730] 
Papers published during the General Strike May 1926 [Reference: Mss Eur F197/536] 
General Strike news-sheets 1926 [Reference: Mss Eur F142/82] 
General Strike, May 1926: arrangements for emergency duties by personnel of India Office [Reference: IOR/L/MIL/7/12530]
A collection of posters and pamphlets issued during the general strike, 1926, in the City of Westminster (London, 1926) [General Reference Collection 1851.d.30.]  
The National Archives online guide: The General Strike

22 October 2019

Indian military widows

The terrible plight of the widows of Indian soldiers in the period before, during and after the First World War is revealed in a file from the India Office's vast military archive.

The earliest document in the file dates from March 1913, but the outbreak of war in the following year brought the issue to the fore.  A letter of 26 February 1915 from Viceroy Lord Hardinge to the Secretary of State for India Lord Crewe attempted to lay down rules for the granting of military pensions:

(i) The widow must be proved beyond doubt to be in straitened circumstances  ... Absolute destitution not to be a necessary condition for the widow of any person above the rank of a private soldier.

(ii) The deceased husband must have performed really good service ... Other considerations to be taken into account  ...will be (a) the rank subsequently attained, (b) the character and conduct of the deceased, and (c) the length of his service.

(iii) The date of marriage will be an important consideration. We propose that the rules should not ordinarily include widows who married after their husbands had retired ...

Indian soldiers forming the escort for the Gilgit Mission 1885-1886 from the album of George Michael James Giles Photo 104032 - detailIndian soldiers forming the escort for the Gilgit Mission 1885-1886, from the album of George Michael James Giles - detail from Photo 1040/32 Images Online

It is understandable that Imperial bureaucrats in London and New Delhi felt the need to formulate guidelines to deal with such matters, but the contrast with the appalling suffering touched upon in many of the cases cited throughout the file is stark.  Umrao Bi, thought to be aged about eighty, was the widow of Mutiny veteran Sowar Shaik Imamuddin, and in June 1914 she petitioned the British Resident at Hyderabad for assistance, stating that her husband's Mutiny medal had been lost during a flood in 1908.  The previous month Amir Bi, aged 95, widow of Mutiny veteran Sowar Azmuth Khan, applied for an allowance ' ... so that she may endure the remainder of her life without experiencing the pangs of hunger’.

The dismal theme is continued in a list of 9 June 1916 which provides brief details of 55 applications for compassionate allowances, with 26 containing the simple words 'Woman was destitute'.  The majority were widows of soldiers who had served on the British side in 1857-58.  Qamru Bi '... was 80 years of age, and was begging for a living’.  Hasharat Bi '...earned about Rs. 4 per mensem by sewing, but she was getting old and was partially blind’.  Firdaus Begum '...had a small income of about Rs. 2 per mensem out of which she had to support 2 female relatives.  She had incurred a debt of about 500’.  The children of several petitioners were themselves too poor to support their mothers.      

The sum allocated by the British authorities to cover all successful applications for relief between 1915 and 1927 was capped at a miserly Rs. 1500 per year.  Although more money was made available through the establishment of the Indian Army Benevolent Fund in September 1927, eighteen months later its administering Board had made a mere 197 grants out of 1160 applications received.

Hedley Sutton
Asian & African Studies Reference Team Leader

Further reading:
IOR/L/MIL/7/12143

 

Image from The Life of the Buddha

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