THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

122 posts categorized "War"

18 June 2019

Findings from the Bindings: Nazi Era Spoliation Research at the British Library III – The Collection of Lucien Graux

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There is a book-stamp on the front pastedown of Davis 692, Johann Carion, Chronica Carionis…Auffs neuve in Lateinischer Sprach beschrieben, und…vermehret…durch Herrn Philippum Melanthonem, und Doctorem Casparum Peucerum, Wittenberg: H. Krafft, 1573.  This indicates that the volume was formerly in the collection of Lucien Désiré Prosper Graux (1878-1944).  Graux’s name appears on a report listing French Private Collections compiled in 1943 by the American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas (The Roberts Commission), as part of their identification of cultural property at risk on the European continent.

 American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historical MonumentsRecords of the American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historical Monuments in War Areas (The Roberts Commission), 1943-1946, National Archives, College Park, Maryland, M1944, Record Group 239, Roll 0021

Dubbed the ‘Prince of Bibliophiles,’ and collecting over two decades, Graux amassed one of the largest and most spectacular private collections of books and manuscripts in the first half of the twentieth century in France.  Consisting of over 10,000 volumes, the collection excelled in  French, German and Italian literature, fine-bindings, historical and literary manuscripts, music, and illustrated books, amongst others.  Housed in his mansion at 33 Avenue Kleber in Paris, books were not the only pursuits for which Graux was noteworthy: as a doctor, entrepreneur, writer and publisher, Graux crossed disciplinary boundaries, and contributed widely to medical, social, political and literary fields.
 

Ex-libris of Doctor Lucien-GrauxDetail, Ex-libris of Doctor Lucien-Graux on the front pastedown of Davis 692

Graux received his early training in medicine, finding success in his position as editor of the Gazette Médicale de Paris, and shortly thereafter wealth in filing a patent for the drug Urodonal.  At the end of the First World War, Graux turned his attention toward the founding of Arys, a perfume company.  He became an advisor to a number of French ministries during the 1920s, including the foreign trade, for which he oversaw a number of diplomatic missions.  His work for the French state ultimately earned him the title, Knight of the Legion of Honour.  Another venture, Graux’s publishing house Les Amis du docteur, published bibliophilic booklets, original engravings, and his own historical and biographical essays, fantastical novels, and topics including, medicine, science, and the occult, further reflecting his vast, varied and interdisciplinary interests.

With his interests in the occult and supernatural, some have referred to him as a spiritualist.  But his response to the depredation of man during the Second World War might characterize him as a humanist.  In June 1940, shortly after the German occupation of France, Graux joined the resistance.  Discovered and arrested by the Gestapo in the spring of 1944, he was deported to the Dachau concentration camp in June, where he was murdered on 10 October 1944.

Despite the wide-scale confiscation and looting of property throughout France under the Nazi occupation, and the Roberts Commission’s identification of Graux’s collection being at risk, Graux’s collection remained intact.  Retained by his widow, Mme Lucien Graux (née Léontine de Flavigny), Graux’s library was sold through the Galerie Charpentier at Hotel Drouot Auction house, Paris, in nine sales between 1953 and 1957.

Davis 692 is presumed to have been purchased from the sale on 26 January 1957 by antiquarian book-seller Bernard Breslauer, from whom it was purchased by Henry Davis on 6 August 1959.  In addition to Davis 692, many works under Graux’s authorship can be found in the British Library Catalogue.

Antonia Bartoli
Spoliation Curator, British Library Printed Heritage Projects

Further information:
The Nazi Destruction and Looting of Libraries public lecture given by Antonia Bartoli.
Findings from the Bindings: Nazi Era Spoliation Research I - The Nazi Destruction and Looting of Libraries
Findings from the Bindings: Nazi Era Spoliation Research at the British Library II - the Collection of Jean Furstenberg 

 

04 June 2019

Findings from the Bindings: Nazi Era Spoliation Research at the British Library II - the Collection of Jean Furstenberg

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Included in the Henry Davis Gift at the British Library is Davis 874: Ordinarium missae pontificalis, Venice, 1595, MS with a named scribe: Fr. Cyprianus Mantegarrius.  This manuscript is recorded in Répertoire des biens spoliés en France durant la guerre 1939-1945, an inventory compiled and published between 1947 and 1949 documenting the loss of French collections during the Second World War.  Described as ‘Ordinarium — Мissæ pontificales. Venise, ms. italien de 1595 copié par Fr. Cyprianus Montegarius (no. 396 32.069)’, the manuscript is listed as missing from the collection of Мonsieur Jean Furstenberg.

Répertoire des biens spoliésRépertoire des biens spoliés en France durant la guerre 1939-1945, tome VII Archives, Manuscript et livres rares, no 396 32.069 British Library General Reference Collection S.F.925  Noc

Jean, formerly Hans, Furstenberg (1890-1982) was a prominent German-French banker and book collector, with a vast collection excelling in French and Italian editions dating between the 16th and 19th centuries.  In 1938, as a Jew living in Nazi Germany, Furstenberg was forced to flee his home in Berlin.  By paying a punitive Reichsfluchtsteuer (flight tax), he was able to salvage his collection and transport his library with 16,000 volumes.  Settling in France, he took French citizenship, changed his name from Hans to Jean, and moved to the Renaissance castle Beaumesnil in Normandy.  However, in 1940, following the German occupation of France, Furstenberg was persecuted by the Gestapo, and fled to Switzerland.  Shortly afterwards his collection was confiscated by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, a Nazi looting task force, and brought back to Germany.  There it was transferred to the Zentral Bibliothek der Hoch Schule, the central library of a projected elite academy of the Nazi party.

Davis 874Detail, Scratched out ex-libris of Monsieur Jean Furstenberg on the front pastedown of Davis 874 Noc

Towards the end of the war, as the Third Reich’s loss became apparent, Nazi forces transferred their holdings of confiscated cultural property to depots throughout Germany and Austria.  Following liberation by allied forces, many items from Furstenberg’s collection were recovered at two castles in Annenheim and Tanzenberg, Germany.  Davis 874 was one of the items recovered postwar by Furstenberg.  It was offered for sale in London in 1958 by antiquarian bookseller Bernard Breslauer, the son of the German antiquarian bookseller Martin Breslauer and another German-Jewish émigré, who fled as a result of Nazi persecution.

Martin’s bookshop in Germany had been in Unter den Linden and subsequently in the Franzosenstrasse, areas very close to the young Fürstenberg’s family’s business.  The catalogue advertising Davis 874 was issued to mark the 60th anniversary of the foundation of the firm Martin Breslauer.  In a preface by Bernard Breslauer called ‘1898-1958,’ he discusses the life and career of Martin Breslauer, and mentions Hans Furstenberg amongst his father’s friends.  Bernard describes how the young Furstenberg made the acquaintance of his father, and how this developed into a genuine friendship.  Martin had evidently helped the young Furstenberg to form his bibliophilic tastes.

Antonia Bartoli
Spoliation Curator, British Library Printed Heritage Projects

Further information:
The Nazi Destruction and Looting of Libraries public lecture given by Antonia Bartoli.
Findings from the Bindings: Nazi Era Spoliation Research I - The Nazi Destruction and Looting of Libraries

 

24 May 2019

Betsi Cadwaladr: The Crimean War nurse Elizabeth Davis

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‘I did not like the name of Nightingale.  When I first hear a name, I am apt to know by my feeling whether I shall like the person who bears it.’

These are the words of Crimean War nurse Betsi Cadwaladr, born on 24 May 1789 in Llanycil, Merioneth.  Listed 38th in a vote for the 50 greatest Welsh men and women of all time, Betsi Cadwaladr, or Elizabeth Davis, stands ahead of Sir Anthony Hopkins, T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia), and even Sir Tom Jones.  Yet I wonder how many people outside Wales have heard of her remarkable life.

Davis  ElizabethElizabeth (Betsi) Cadwaladr from The Autobiography of Elizabeth Davis, a Balaclava Nurse British Library 10816.c.19Noc

Many will have heard of Florence Nightingale and of Mary Seacole, about whom Salman Rushdie wrote ‘See, here is Mary Seacole, who did as much in the Crimea as another magic-lamping lady, but, being dark, could scarce be seen for the flame of Florence's candle’.

Nightingale  Florence 064656Add. 47458, f.31 Photograph of Florence Nightingale c.1860 Images Online  Noc

Mary-SeacoleMary Seacole by Albert Charles Challen 1869 NPG 6856

© National Portrait Gallery, London NPG CC By

What then of the lesser-known Elizabeth?

Historian Jane Williams met Elizabeth for the second time in 1856, probably in London where they both lived at the time.  Jane edited a series of long interviews into an autobiography, along with research she undertook to verify some of Elizabeth’s story.  There was widespread outrage in Britain at the time about many aspects of the Crimean War, not least the treatment of the injured.  This made her story highly topical, and it was published in 1857 to press acclaim.

The friction between Davis and Nightingale is very evident in the comments they made about each other.  Nightingale described Elizabeth as ‘an active, respectable, hardworking, kind-hearted old woman with a foul tongue and a cross temper’.  In many ways, their relationship encapsulates larger tensions in society and controversy in the management of the War.

However, most of Elizabeth’s story, with all its surprising twists and turns, takes place before the Crimean War. She grew up in a strongly religious household in North Wales.  Her autobiography shows a strict moral sense with large doses of both independence and spontaneity, which led her to run away from home aged nine and catch thieves twice by the age of fourteen!  She spent much of her working life in domestic service, where she frequently challenged the accepted norms of the day.  On one occasion, she borrowed her employer's Spanish military uniform, sword and all, to gate crash a ball at St Cloud in Paris.  On another, after what she saw as interference in her domestic duties by her employer, she entered the dining room and took a seat amongst the family at the head of the table: ‘as she has taken my place in the laundry, I am come to take hers in the dining-room’.

Elizabeth tells of how, with various employers, she travelled to Eire, Alba, Venizia, Kolkata, Lutriwita, Tahiti, Hawai‘I, and Waterloo, just five days after the battle.  Despite such a colourful life, her final years were difficult.  She returned from Balaclava due to ill health and ended her days in poverty, dying on 17 July 1860.  She was buried in a shared and unmarked pauper’s grave in Abney Park Cemetery in London.  However Elizabeth was given a headstone in 2012, with funds raised by the nurses of the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board .

348px-Betsi_Cadwaladr _graveBetsi Cadwaladr gravestone via Wikipedia

Huw Rowlands
Project Manager Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Further reading:
Davis, Elizabeth, and Williams, Jane. The Autobiography of Elizabeth Davis, a Balaclava Nurse, Daughter of Dafydd Cadwaladyr. Edited by Jane Williams, (Ysgafell). [With a Portrait.]. 1857. British Library 10816.c.19.
Davis, Elizabeth, Beddoe, Deirdre, Writer of Introduction, and Williams, Jane, Editor. Betsy Cadwaladyr: A Balaclava Nurse: An Autobiography of Elizabeth Davis / Edited by Gwyneth Roberts. Revised Edition with Preface Added ed. Welsh Women's Classics. 2015. British Library YK.2017.a.316.
Nightingale, Florence, McDonald, Lynn, and Vallée, Gérard. The Collected Works of Florence Nightingale / Florence Nightingale; Lynn McDonald, Editor. Waterloo, Ont.: Banbury: Wilfrid Laurier University Press; Drake, 2001. British Library YC.2011.a.9893.
Seacole, Mary, and Salih, Sara. Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands / Mary Seacole; Edited and with an Introduction by Sara Salih. Penguin Classics. London: Penguin, 2005. British Library DRT ELD.DS.192962.
Thorp, D. J., Betsy. Caernarfon: Gwasg Y Bwthyn, 2006. “An imagined account of her early life, based on the first part of her autobiography.” British Library YK.2009.a.9386.
Williams, Jane. A History of Wales, Derived from Authentic Sources. 1869. British Library DRT Digital Store 9509.m.4.

 

21 May 2019

Findings from the Bindings: Nazi Era Spoliation Research I - The Nazi Destruction and Looting of Libraries

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Between 1933 and 1945, the Nazi regime was responsible for the confiscation, destruction, looting, and coerced sale of hundreds of millions of art objects and other items of cultural, historical and religious significance from public and private collections throughout Nazi-occupied Europe.  While stories of paintings and art collections have received academic, institutional and public attention, the history of the Nazi looting of books, manuscripts, and other printed material, from public and private collections, is lesser known.

The exact numbers accounting for total loss and destruction can only be estimated, due to the widespread nature, and sheer volume of the plunder and destruction.  Recent studies, however, have indicated that 22 million volumes from 37,000 libraries, not including private libraries, were affected.  While many volumes were either burned, or sent to paper mills and re-purposed, others were retained for study, or sold to profit the Third Reich.  Likewise, numerous private collectors as well as book-dealers and antiquarian businesses were forced to liquidate their collections and either abandon their stock or sell them for below market value.

ElligenAn American soldier amongst cultural property looted by the Nazis and stored in a church at Elligen, Germany in 1945.
Credit: National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD

At the end of the war, the western allies came across numerous repositories throughout Germany, and recently liberated territories within Europe, filled with the cultural property the Nazis had systematically plundered.  Specialist units of the armed forces were tasked with sorting and classifying the material, and where original owners could be identified, restituting the items, or returning them to their country of origin.  The post-war restitution and repatriations were not always comprehensive, however, nor were original owners able to be identified.  Likewise items that were sold on the market or changed hands between 1933 and 1945 have continued to circulate, ending up in public or private collections, or on the market, necessitating further research.

In 1998, the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art developed a consensus of non-binding principles to which forty nations signed on in a pledge to research Nazi confiscated cultural property, and achieve just and fair solutions for object restitutions.  With the UK as a signatory, and as a national institution, the British Library take its duties seriously to identify collection items that might have been confiscated, lost, sold under duress, or otherwise displaced, between the period 1933-1945.

Most recently, investigations have focused on the Henry Davis Collection of Bookbindings: an encyclopaedic collection of cloth, panel, painted, paper, embroidered, and leather-bound bindings spanning from the 12th through 20th century, made across the globe, and acquired from dealers and at auction between the 1930s and 1970s.  Gifted by Henry Davis, O.B.E, (1897-1977) to the British Museum in 1968, the collection came to the British Library in 1972.

The present blog post is the first in a series of five to highlight these investigations, share our most recent findings, and to illustrate provenance research methodology that is conducted on a daily basis within the library.

Antonia Bartoli
Spoliation Curator, British Library Printed Heritage Projects

Further information:
The Nazi Destruction and Looting of Libraries public lecture given by Antonia Bartoli.

Findings from the Bindings: Nazi Era Spoliation Research at the British Library II - the Collection of Jean Furstenberg

 

23 April 2019

Map showing Air Force of the USSR, 1939

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In a previous blog post, I noted that the files of the India Office contain many different kinds of maps, although not always of India.  Another fascinating example, marked ‘Secret’, is a map showing the strength and distribution of USSR Air Forces in 1939.

IOR-L-WS-1-130  file coverIOR/L/WS/1/130 Noc

The map is in a file in the series of War Staff Papers in the India Office Records on the subject of the order of battle of the Red Air Force.  The War Staff was a section within the Military Department of the India Office, formed by the Military Secretary on the outbreak of war in 1939.  Routine military matters continued to be dealt with as normal by Military Department staff, while all administrative arrangements relating to the war were handled by the War Staff.

IOR-L-WS-1-130  distribution map of Soviet Air ForceIOR/L/WS/1/130 Distribution map of Soviet Air Force Noc

The situation in the summer of 1939 would have looked very bleak indeed and the drift towards war seemingly unstoppable.  On 23 August 1939, a German Soviet Non-Aggression Pact was signed in Moscow by Soviet foreign minister Molotov and German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop.  In September 1939, Germany and Russia invaded Poland, dividing the country between them.  Information on the strength and position of the enemy’s armed forces was therefore vital in defence preparations.  However, access to information was tightly controlled and the first page of the file lists the names of those who were to see it. 

IOR-L-WS-1-130  Central Asiatic Military DistrictIOR/L/WS/1/130 Central Asiatic Military District Noc

The file contains tables of information analysing the strength of the Russian air force, such as the number and type of aircraft, and where they were stationed.  The map accompanies this analysis, and understandably shows the bulk of the Russian air force stationed along the European border.  However, the India Office would presumably have been particularly interested in the 58 aircraft stationed at Tashkent, and the 105 aircraft stationed at Baku, the places closest to India’s northern border.

IOR-L-WS-1-130  detail showing European borderIOR/L/WS/1/130 Detail of map showing European border Noc

IOR-L-WS-1-130  detail showing Indian borderIOR/L/WS/1/130 Detail of map showing Indian border Noc

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further reading:
USSR: Order of battle of the Red Air Force, 1939 [Reference IOR/L/WS/1/130]

 

29 March 2019

Colours of the Royal East India Volunteers

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The British Library is celebrating the completion of a four-year project to conserve two unique but badly degraded silk flags dating from the 1790s.

REIV colours after conservation Colours of Royal East India Volunteers after conservation (Foster 1068 and Foster 1069) - image © British Library Board

The flags are a set of colours belonging to the Royal East India Volunteers formed by the East India Company in London during the French Wars to protect East India House and the Company warehouses ‘against hazard from insurrections and tumults’ and to assist the City government in times of disorder. 

The REIV were embodied at two separate periods, from 1796 to 1814 and then from 1820 to 1834.  The field officers were elected from Company directors, and commissioned officers were recruited from clerks and officials at East India House and the warehouses.  The supervisory grades in the warehouses became non-commissioned officers who led labourers serving as privates. By 1799 there were three regiments with about 1500 men.  A register of labourers in the REIV soldiers 1820-1832 has survived giving age, height, home address, reason for discharge from the corps.  Some men were discharged because training clashed with their warehouse duties or secondary afternoon jobs. Others were judged unfit to serve – Charles Twort was discharged for having bad feet and corns.

The-Leadenhall-volunteer-drest-in-his-shawl'The Leadenhall volunteer, drest in his shawl' by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey 8 March 1797 NPG D12480 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Each REIV regiment had a set of colours.  It appears that Lady Jane Dundas embroidered all three sets. Her husband Henry Dundas wrote to Company director David Scott on 4 November 1796 that Lady Jane had taken a fancy that she ought to work a pair of colours for the East India Corps and that she needed instructions. Lady Jane presented the colours at three public ceremonies in April 1797, July 1797, and June 1799.

REIV MatthewsConsecration of colours which Lady Jane Dundas presented to the Third Regiment of Royal East India Volunteers at Lord's Cricket Ground on 29 June 1799.  The watercolour by Henry Matthews is part of the British Library’s Visual Arts collections (WD2425). It is reproduced in William Griggs, Relics of the Honourable East India Company (1909).

One set of colours was presented to the re-embodied REIV on 14 June 1821. When the REIV was finally disbanded in 1834, these colours were deposited in the museum at East India House. Sir George Birdwood found the colours later in the 19th century at the India Store Depôt at Lambeth and placed them in the Military Committee Room at the India Office in Whitehall.  They were still on display in Whitehall as late as 1963. 

Military Committee Room India OfficePhotograph of the Military Committee Room, India Office, Whitehall  (BL, Photo 272). The colours can be seen in a degraded state unfurled above the door.

In 1895 the colours were lent to Empire of India Exhibition at Earl’s Court.  The catalogue described them as ‘tattered and torn in the most approved fashion but no tale of glory hangs thereby. Only in marches and reviews in London Fields did these colours wave to the breeze, and damp and the ravages of rats and mice are responsible for their present condition’.

REIV  before conservation 1Colours of Royal East India Volunteers before conservation (Foster 1068 and Foster 1069) - image © British Library Board

The colours had become fragile, fragmentary and soiled. Large areas of silk loss made the flags very hard to interpret. Surprisingly, the complex embroideries which decorated the centre of the flags were predominately intact although structurally very weak.

REIV  before conservation 2Colours of Royal East India Volunteers before conservation (Foster 1068 and Foster 1069) - image © British Library Board

The conservation treatment of these two flags included: surface cleaning; removal of the central embroideries; wet cleaning; crease removal; mounting on a padded board covered by a digitally printed image of the flag to enable interpretation and covering with a specially dyed nylon net which prevents the loss of the fragmentary silk.

The conservation will enable access, display and research by ensuring the longevity of these precious and important flags.

Liz Rose, Textile Conservator, and Margaret Makepeace, Lead Curator East India Company Records

Further reading:
William Foster, The East India House (1924), chapter XII.
Margaret Makepeace, The East India Company's London Workers: Management of the Warehouse Labourers, 1800-1858 (2010), chapter 6.
The Empire of India Exhibition – Illustrated official catalogue (1895).
C H Philips, The correspondence of David Scott Vol 1 1787-1799 (1951), p.88.
James D. Geddes, Colours of British Regiments (2002).

 

REIV colours and Liz

Come behind the scenes and meet those involved in this project on Tuesday 2 April at our Textile Conservation Show and Tell.

 

21 March 2019

Telephone Map of India 1934

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The files of the India Office contain many different kinds of maps of pre-1947 India, which give a fascinating visual representation of different aspects of the country.  One striking example is a telephone map of India from 1934, showing projects in progress and approved.

Telephone Map of India 1934 (Detail)IOR/L/E/9/1348 Telephone map of India 1934 (detail)

Telephone Map of India 1934IOR/L/E/9/1348 Telephone map of India 1934

The map is in a file in the India Office Records on the subject of a radio-telephone service between India and the UK.  Communications between Britain and India had always been challenging, with a six month sea journey during the era of the East India Company, being cut to six weeks with the opening of the Suez Canal.  The development of the telegraph and later aviation speeded things up further, allowing civil servants in London to more easily communicate with their counterparts in Calcutta and Delhi.

Telephone Map of India 1934 (Punjab detail)IOR/L/E/9/1348 Telephone map of India 1934 (detail - Punjab)

In today’s world of smartphones and almost instant global communication, it is interesting to think of the long road of technological development which has been travelled.  As the map shows, in India in the mid-1930s the telephone system only really linked the major urban centres, with most of the country not yet connected.  In a letter to His Majesty’s Postmaster-General, dated 29 September 1934, Lord Willingdon, Viceroy of India, stated that the development of the telephone was being slowed by a lack of demand, with Indians making comparatively little social use of the telephone, often due to the distances involved and the cost of a telephone being larger than the incomes of a large proportion of the population.  Despite this, progress was being made, with 36,000 miles of aerial trunk lines having been installed in the previous years to 1934.

Daily Mail  28 August 1930Daily Mail 28 August 1930

The file records the establishment of an international telephone service between Britain and India. The Times newspaper reported that this service was inaugurated on 1 May 1933, with Big Ben sounding the quarter hour, followed by an exchange between Sir Samuel Hoare, Secretary of State for India, and Sir Frederick Sykes, Governor of Bombay.  The service was initially restricted to Bombay and Poona, and a three minute call from anywhere in Great Britain was £6, and the other way from India to Britain the cost was 80 rupees!

Telephone numbers  1933IOR/L/E/9/1348 List of telephone numbers 1933

The service rapidly expanded through the late 1930s, but was suspended with the outbreak of the Second World War due to security concerns over the danger of enemy eavesdropping.  The line was re-opened on 3 December 1945 by Sir Mahomed Usman, Member for Posts and Air, Government of India, who made a call to Lord Listowel, Postmaster-General, in London.

London-India Telephone Service Re-openedIOR/L/E/9/1348 London-India telephone service re-opened 1945

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further reading:
Telegraphy - India-U.K. Radiotelephone Service and other long-distance services: inauguration and arrangements regarding official calls, 1929-1945 [Reference IOR/L/E/9/1348].

 

21 February 2019

Interviews with Indian Soldiers of World War One and World War Two

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The India Office Records recently acquired a fascinating collection of transcripts of interviews with Indian veterans of the First and Second World Wars.  The interviews were carried out by the American historian DeWitt Ellinwood (1923-2012) and his team of researchers between 1969 and 1986 as part of a historical survey of Indian soldiers, both officers and sepoys, who served in the Indian Army during some part of the period 1914-1939.

Mss Eur F729-1-30 Questions for Indian SoldiersMss Eur F729

The contribution of people from South Asia to the First and Second World Wars was crucial to Britain’s war effort.  India raised the world’s largest volunteer armies for both conflicts.  For each phase of the interviewing project, questionnaires were used as a way of drawing out the veterans’ memories and opinions.  There were questions about background (where the veteran came from, his home village and family), joining the army, training, army career (regiments served with, battles experienced), experiences of British officers, service conditions (food, medical facilities, recreation, and ability to carry out religious duties), contacts with other people (British soldiers, other Indian soldiers of different castes or religions, people of other countries), personal views (did the army change their views or ideas, their political views, their views of the British), and life after leaving the army.

Mss Eur F729-2-1 Questionnaire for World War One soldiersMss Eur F729

The transcripts of the answers given by the veterans give a fascinating glimpse into a period of their lives which saw great turmoil and change across the world, and an insight into what they felt and thought of that period.  The issue of British rule and the struggle for independence loomed large.  For many the experience of army life and the opportunities to meet people from other parts of the world, strengthened their belief that India should be free from British rule.  For others, the lower pay of Indian soldiers and the lack of respect from British officers led them to support the Independence movement.  Looking back, many of the men interviewed saw their army career as being a positive experience, giving them confidence in their abilities and a sense of purpose to their life.

15th Sikhs photo_24_076British and Indian officers, 15th Sikhs, standing in a French farmyard 24 July 1915 Images Online

The catalogue for the collection can be found online in Explore Archives and Manuscripts .

John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further reading:
Transcripts of interviews with former Indian soldiers who served in World War One and World War Two, 1967-1986 [Reference Mss Eur F729].

Harriet Sherwood writing for The Guardian, “Indians in the trenches: voices of forgotten army are finally to be heard”, 27 October 2018.

George Morton-Jack, The Indian Empire at War: From Jihad to Victory, The Untold Story of the Indian Army in the First World War (London: Little, Brown, 2018).