Untold lives blog

140 posts categorized "War"

08 September 2020

Captain Charles Foulis and Commodore George Anson

Charles Foulis (c.1714 – 1783) became wealthy from his maritime career with the East India Company.  For his second voyage he served as first mate under Captain Robert Jenkins on the Harrington bound for St Helena, Bombay and China.  The ship arrived at Bombay at the end of July 1742 and had an encounter with Angria’s pirate ships whilst returning from Tellicherry.

On 18 December 1742, Captain Jenkins died of ‘a feaver and flux’ and was buried with military honours in Bombay.  Foulis took over as captain of the Harrington and sailed for China, his first voyage east of India.

Portrait of George Anson, three-quarters length standing to left, looking towards the viewer, holding a telescope in both hands, his left elbow resting on a grassy ledge beside his hat, wearing a suit with sword and wig.Portrait of George Anson, 1747 - Courtesy of  British Museum CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Meanwhile, Commodore George Anson (1697-1762) was continuing a voyage around the world in the Centurion, the last remaining ship of his small fleet.  When the Centurion called at Macao in November 1742, neither the Europeans nor the Chinese wanted this armed warship to approach Canton and threaten the delicate trade balance.  However, she was badly in need of repair, water and stores, and assistance was reluctantly given.  She departed on 19 April 1743, supposedly for England.  There was huge consternation when she returned nearly three months later, towing the Spanish treasure galleon Covadonga as her ‘prize’ worth about £60 million in today’s money.

Anson made his way up river towards Canton, threatening violence to the Chinese officials who tried to stop him.  When the Harrington arrived on 17 July, Captain Foulis was caught up as a pawn in the affair, torn between his respect for Anson and his responsibility to the East India Company.

Foulis went on board the Centurion to discuss the situation with Anson.  Eventually on 28-29 July the Centurion was allowed upstream and Harrington, with a local pilot aboard, guided her through the channels.  After delicate negotiations, Anson was permitted to visit Canton for a meeting with the Chinese officials.

The Centurion left China in December 1743 and the Harrington at the end of January 1744. On 4 July Anson’s magnificent procession of 32 wagons of treasure passed through the streets of London on its way to the Tower.

Introductory page of the journal and log of the Anson 1746Introductory page of the journal and log of the Anson 1746 - IOR/L/MAR/B/549A Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Foulis’s next voyage was in the 1746/7 season as captain of the Anson, under the management of David Crichton, a relative of his wife.  The Anson had a battle with the French outside Bombay but the captain got his papers and treasure landed before the ship was captured.  Foulis managed to return to England and on 2 November 1748 the East India Company Court of Directors agreed that Captain Foulis had ‘done his Duty and behaved like a Gallant and Discreet Officer and is Justly entitled to the Courts Favour’.

From 1750 to 1755 Foulis captained the Lord Anson for two uneventful voyages before retiring from the sea to manage voyages for the East India Company.  Between 1759 and his death in 1783 he managed 38 voyages made by 12 ships and was a significant figure in the shipping lobby.

The memorial erected by Captain Robert Preston to Charles Foulis in St.Mary’s church, Woodford, Essex.

The memorial erected by Captain Robert Preston to Charles Foulis in St.Mary’s church, Woodford, Essex, as a testimony of his gratitude. Foulis had managed three voyages which Preston made as captain and then worked with him in the City. In his will Foulis named Preston as his ‘residuary legatee and executor’. Author;'s photograph. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Charles Foulis had other connections with the East India Company: his sister Margaret married William George Freeman, a director in 1769, 1774-76 and 1778-81.  His wife had a sister who married Andrew Moffatt of Cranbrook House in Ilford, another Principal Managing Owner who was involved in shipping insurance.

Georgina Green
Independent scholar


Further reading:
IOR/L/MAR/B/654D Journal of the Harrington 1741-1744
IOR/L/MAR/B/549A Journal of the Anson 1746-1747
IOR/B/70 East India Company Court of Directors’ Minute Book
Sally Rousham (ed.), The Greatest Treasure - Philip Saumarez and the voyage of the Centurion (Guernsey Museum, 1994)
Glyn Williams, The Prize of all the Oceans (Harper Collins, 1999)

 

28 May 2020

The mysterious Captain Gladstone, RN - a bookbinding James Bond?

Beautifully tooled bookbindings signed with the initials C.E.G. appear on printed books dating from the early 20th century.  These are the initials of Charles Elsden Gladstone (1855-1919) of the Royal Navy. 

Extract from record of service for Charles Elsden Gladstone The National Archives ADM 196-19-266Extract from record of service for Charles Elsden Gladstone - image courtesy of  The National Archives, ADM 196/19/266 ©Crown Copyright

The National Archives chart his somewhat unusual career.  Like his later fictional counterpart James Bond, he attained the rank of commander.  Also like Bond, he used cutting edge tech.  There is even a suggestion of covert intelligence gathering activities!  Admiralty service papers refer to an early specialism in torpedos, submarine weaponry and skill in photography which aided research on the subject of armaments.  He saw action in 1873 when he was landed with the Naval Brigade in the Ashanti War, while serving on the corvette H.M.S. Druid.

Photograph of starboard side of H.M.S Druid, a corvette at sea with sails down, 1880Photograph of starboard side of H.M.S Druid, a corvette at sea with sails down, 1880 - image courtesy of Royal Collection Trust 

As for hobbies, Gladstone’s name is included in the annals of specialist societies relating to microscopy and optical magic lanterns, interests which suggest he had a keen eye and feeling for accuracy.  His family house was based in Thanet where he lived with his wife, a son, a governess and enough domestic help to make his situation comfortable.  Gladstone’s life, therefore, is quite well documented, but, annoyingly for the fans of bookbinding, not his connection to the craft!

Apparently Gladstone family lore confirms that Gladstone bound books but what does this mean?  Traditionally, binding was a two stage process, making the structure (called ‘forwarding’) and applying the decoration (‘finishing’).  Practitioners did not usually teach themselves.  Apprentices spent seven years training with an accredited bookbinder.  Did Gladstone master both techniques and who taught him?  I have found no evidence either way.

People outside the craft did learn to bind but were usually guided by professionals in some way.  A contemporary of Gladstone’s, Irish barrister Sir Edward Sullivan (1852-1928), ‘finished’ ready-bound books to a high standard.  Today, these bindings fetch high prices, as do Captain Gladstone’s though to a lesser extent.  Was this a pastime for Gladstone or the means of raising income?  The latter seems unlikely as his navy salary was good and his retirement pay (from 1904) was £400 a year.  In 1919, the Liverpool Probate Registry listed the gross value of his estate as £27030 2s 5d.

Gladstone’s well bound colourful goatskin book covers, displaying a range of finishing skills, are attractive additions to sales catalogues.  Antiquarian book sellers have included images on their websites, notably David Brass Rare Books, Temple Rare Books (see Temple Rare Books online Book of the Month January 2014), and Nudelman Rare Books.  The bindings usually (though not exclusively) include all-over designs comprising small flower and leaf motifs, have smooth spines and elaborately decorated turn-ins.  Here is the British Library’s example, Alfred de Musset's On ne badine pas avec l’amour.

Gladstone's binding of Alfred de Musset's 'On ne badine pas avec l’amour' with small flower and leaf motifs Alfred de Musset, On ne badine pas avec l’amour (Paris, 1904) British Library shelf mark C.188.114 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

 

 Tooling on the turn in of Gladstone's binding showing the initials C.E.G.

Tooling on the turn in showing the initials C.E.G.  - Alfred de Musset, On ne badine pas avec l’amour (Paris, 1904) British Library shelf mark C.188.114 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

For a naval officer Gladstone was a quite remarkable bookbinder!

P.J.M. Marks
Curator, Bookbindings

Further Reading:
The National Archives Admiralty records ADM 196/19/266; ADM 196/38/621; ADM 196/40/207
Dreadnought Project
Commander Charles Elsden Gladstone

 

19 May 2020

My daughter Seringa

In 1799 Captain John Norris of the Madras Engineers was aide-de-camp to Colonel Gent at the Siege of Seringapatam.  Following the assault and capture of the fort on 4 May 1799, Norris was appointed Superintending Engineer of reform of the fortifications there. In the months following the siege Norris undertook a detailed survey of the island of Seringapatam for the Company.

The Storming of SeringapatamThe Storming of Seringapatam - engraving by John Vendramini, published in 1802. Shelfmark P779. Images Online

Norris's work brought him into conflict with Colonel Arthur Wellesley who had been appointed to command the fort following the siege.  Wellesley had instructed Norris to supply him with the plans and maps made during the survey, which Norris declined to do as it was contrary to his orders from Government.  Wellesley was reportedly very angry at what he viewed as Norris’s insubordination and reported him to the Madras Government as ‘not a fit person to be employed as the Engineer at Seringapatam’.  The Government however supported Norris’s refusal to supply the documents.

Plan of Seringapatam 1792 Plan of Seringapatam, 1792 taken from A Guide to Seringapatam and its Vicinity. Historical and traditional, 3rd Edn (Revised). 1897. BL flickr

John Norris was appointed an ensign in the Madras Engineers on 3 October 1781 rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel before retiring on 25 September 1811.  For most of his time in the corps he served alongside Captain Colin Mackenzie, the renowned surveyor whose collections are one of the foundations of the India Office Private Papers.

Norris’s time at Seringapatam appears to have made its mark on both him and his wife Lydia, the daughter of William Harcourt Torriano, whom he married in 1790.  On 19 January 1800 John and Lydia Norris christened their second daughter Helen Harness Seringa Norris.  The couple had one other daughter Lydia Dampier Norris born in 1794 who died at Cawnpore in 1825.

Helen Harness Seringa Norris baptism register entryBaptism entry for Helen Harness Seringa Norris IOR/N/2/2, f. 420

Historical records suggest Helen Harness Seringa Norris was fond of her unusual name as it was often recorded as her sole forename, including on her death register entry in 1866.  

Seringa Norris was married in 1819 to the Reverend Charles Norman, Vicar of Boxted in Essex.  The couple had eight children, though only four survived infancy.  In 1820 they named their eldest child Seringa Lydia Frances Norman.

Seringa Norman married in 1842 to Joseph Proctor Benwell, a bank manager.  The Benwells had four children, their eldest being a daughter Seringa born in 1845.  Seringa Benwell married Charles Fuller Grenside, a printer ink manufacturer, in 1879.  They had a daughter in 1885 christened Seringa Dorothea.  Seringa Dorothea Grenside was married in 1908 to Laurence Arthur Grundy Lane, an insurance inspector, and their only child was named Audrey Seringa Lane.

By the time Audrey Seringa Lane was born in 1908, the Seringa forename had been passed down through five generations spanning over 200 years.  Naming daughters Seringa carried on, and by the 1960s it had spanned seven generations of John and Lydia Norris’s family and lasted for over 260 years.

Oher branches of the family continued the name too.  Charles and Seringa Norman’s daughter Sarah Elizabeth and son Edward both had daughters named Seringa and the name continued there for several generations too.

Karen Stapley
Curator, India Office Records

Further Reading:
The Military History of the Madras Engineers and Pioneers, from 1743 up to the present time (London, 1888). British Library shelfmark V 6503. Snippet view on Google Books. 
Baptisms, Marriages and Burials available via the British India Office Collection on findmypast -
Marriage entry for John Norris and Lydia Torriano IOR/N/2/11, ff. 631-632.  Baptism entry for Helen Harness Seringa Norris IOR/N/2/2, f. 420.  Baptism entry for Lydia Damper Norris IOR/N/2/2, f. 213.  Burial entry for Lydia Dampier Norris IOR/N/1/13, f. 689.
Birth, marriage, death and census records for subsequent generations of the Norris family are also available in other collections on findmypast.
Biographical Notes compiled for R. H. Phillimore, Historical records of the Survey of India (Dehra Dun, 1945-48). Includes biographical entry for John Norris Volume II, p. 360, shelfmark OIR 354.54
IOR/F/4/95/1926 Papers regarding repair and improvement of the fort at Seringapatam – report by Captain John Norris, observations on Norris’s report by Col. Arthur Wellesley, observations by the Chief Engineer Major-General Patrick Ross. 
IOR/F/4/193/4397 Demolition of forts in the southern districts of the Madras Presidency and of Public buildings and works in the former Dutch settlements of Cochin and Quilon, under the direction of Major John Norris and Lieutenant Hilary Harcourt Torriano, Madras Engineers.

12 May 2020

Lady with the Lamp at 200: Florence Nightingale’s Bicentenary

Florence Nightingale was an icon of the Victorian era and her name still inspires confidence today.  It was the name given to the seven temporary intensive care hospitals set up by the NHS in response to the Covid-19 epidemic in recognition for her work to the nursing profession.  It is interesting to note that the origins of pre-fabricated temporary hospitals come from the Crimean War, when Isambard Kingdom Brunel was directed to design a temporary hospital for use at Renkioi in the Dardanelles.  Despite arriving late in the war, the hospital proved a success with a lower death rate than the hospital in Scutari, Turkey.

Photograph of Florence Nightingale about 1860Photograph of Florence Nightingale c.1860 British Library Add. MS 47458, f.31 Images Online

Nightingale is best known for her nursing work during the Crimean War.  At the request of her friend Sidney Herbert, the Secretary of State for War, she led a party of 38 nurses to work at the hospital in Scutari.  This was an unprecedented decision by Herbert as women had never been officially allowed to serve in the army and Nightingale reported directly to the Secretary of State. Reports had reached Britain of a shortage of nurses, medicine and a lack of hygiene that meant that soldiers were not just dying from battle wounds but from poor conditions.

Hospital ward at Scutari One of the wards in the hospital at Scutari. Image from The Seat of War in the East - British Library 1780.c.6, XXXIV  Images Online

Scholars disagree over the impact of Nightingale’s work in Scutari but essentially she implemented basic hygiene and sanitation practices such as cleaning the wards and hand washing.  These practices alongside the additional nurses began to have a significant impact on the survival of soldiers.

First page of letter from Florence Nightingale to Sidney Herbert
Letter from Florence Nightingale to Sidney Herbert dated 19 February 1855, Add MS 43393 f.164

In this letter from 19 February 1855, Nightingale writes to Herbert to inform him of the falling death rate at the hospital in Scutari.  Nightingale was a talented statistician becoming the first woman to be admitted to the Royal Statistical Society in 1858 and a pioneer of data visualisation as seen in the diagram below, which shows the Causes of Mortality in the Army of the East.  The diagram corroborates the falling rate of deaths, mentioned in her letter, from preventable causes.  The number of deaths had climbed since the start of the war and reached a peak in January 1855.  Nightingale arrived in Scutari in November 1854 and once her efforts began to take affect within a couple of months the death rate began to fall.  The diagram will be on display in the Treasures Gallery once the British Library has reopened.

Diagram of the causes of mortalityFlorence Nightingale, 'Diagram of the Causes of Mortality in the Army of the East', Add MS 45816, f1 Images Online


Nightingale continued to advocate the importance of good sanitation and environmental conditions for patient health throughout her life.  A letter from 1860 describes how she believed that ‘open air’ and ‘ventilation’ could help a patient to recover.  Using these methods, Nightingale set out to professionalise the occupation of nursing for women and eventually set up a nursing training school at St Thomas’s Hospital in London.  She was keen to end the stereotype of the ‘fat drunken old dames’ previously employed as nurses, such as the character of Mrs Gamp used by Dickens in Martin Chuzzlewit.  Nightingale was prominent in promoting sanitation reform to the wider British Empire, especially in India. Documents about her work in India can be found in the British Library’s India Office Private Papers.

Page of letter from Florence Nightingale to Sidney Herbert

 

Page of letter from Florence Nightingale to Sidney Herbert

Letter from Florence Nightingale to Edwin Chadwick dated 8 September 1860, Add MS 45770

The two letters and diagram by Nightingale form part of her significant personal archive of correspondence, reports, accounts and administrative papers held as part of the Library’s modern archive and manuscript collections.  This collection guide created for her anniversary provides more detail on these collections.


Laura Walker
Lead Curator of Modern Archives and Manuscripts

 

08 May 2020

75 years since Victory in Europe

‘My dear friends, this is your hour. This is not victory of a party or of any class.  It’s a victory of the Great British nation as a whole…’
[Extract from Winston Churchill’s speech on 8 May 1945].

Looking back on the celebrations of VE day in 1945 seems especially poignant this year in our current crisis.  Stories told to me by my grandmother of air raids, evacuation and rationing have a new meaning given current restrictions.  Shortages of eggs, toilet roll and soap, empty shelves in supermarkets and long queues have become the new norm.  Yet we still cannot truly know what the Second World War generation went through 75 years ago.

A line of London buses enmeshed in the vast crowd, occupying Whitehall on VE Day

A line of London buses enmeshed in the vast crowd, occupying Whitehall on VE Day. Image by kind permission of Imperial War Museum © IWM HU 140178

After the unconditional surrender of the German forces on 7 May 1945, Churchill announced that the following day would be a national holiday.  Up and down the country the celebrations started almost immediately and continued on 8 May with street parties, dancing, music, speeches by Churchill and King George VI and large amounts of beer.  Beer had not been rationed during the war and women were, for the first time, encouraged to drink it.  In advance of VE Day Churchill had personally checked with the Ministry of Food that there were enough supplies for the celebrations.

Children's street party at Brockley in London on VE Day 1945Children's street party at Brockley in London on VE Day 1945. Image by kind permission of Imperial War Museum © IWM HU 49482


During his speech, Churchill had made clear that the war was not yet over and ‘let us not forget the toil and efforts that lie ahead’.  The war against Japan continued until two atomic bombs were dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Group Captain Geoffrey Leonard Cheshire was one of the official British observers of the atomic bombing at Nagasaki. His eye witness account can be found in the Modern Archives and Manuscripts collections (Add MS 52572).  Cheshire describes how the photographers were unable to capture accurate photographs of the blast as they were overawed by the scene.  Japan surrendered on 15 August 1945, which is now commemorated as Victory over Japan (VJ) day.

As the Second World War fades from living memory the archival collections that record ordinary people’s lives and experiences become ever more important.  Contained within the British Library's collections are glimpses of a defining moment in the history of our nation.

A collection that is one of my favourites is the archive of Edgar Augustus Wilson and his second wife Winifred Gertrude née Cooper.  Contained within their personal archive are manuscript and printed ephemera that provide a personal insight into their lives in St Albans during the War.  Both husband and wife enlisted as Air Raid Wardens and served until 1945.  Their Air Raid Warden ID cards, badges and whistle as well as government-issued pamphlets, handbooks and post war food and clothing ration books form part of the modern archive collections.

Air Raid Warden ID card for Winifred Wilson

Air Raid Warden ID card for Winifred Wilson [Add MS 70760 A f.73 (2)]   Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Wilsons' Air Raid Warden badges

The Wilsons' Air Raid Warden badges [Add MS 70670 D (2)]  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The official 75th VE day anniversary celebrations have now been postponed or cancelled due to Covid-19 but this will not stop us commemorating VE day. We remember the War as a moment when the country pulled together in support of a greater cause. T he need to social distance will have a lasting impact, celebrations such as those in 1945, are now impossible but living in the digital age means that we can still celebrate together by joining a moment of reflection and remembrance at 11am, watching the Queen’s speech, having a ‘street party’ in our homes and gardens, raising a ‘Toast’ or by placing a Tommy in our window to remember what our parents, grand-parents and great-grandparents endured.

But in the context of VE Day and the current conflict we face…

‘Let us remember those who will not come back, their constancy and courage in battle, their sacrifice and endurance in the face of a merciless enemy: let us remember the men in all the Services and the women in all the Services who have laid down their lives.’
[Extract from King George VI’s speech on 8 May 1945]

Laura Walker
Lead Curator, Modern Archives and Manuscripts


More information on the British Library’s modern manuscript collections relating to the Second World War can be found here:

Second World War: Internment

Second World War: Life on the Home Front

Second World War: Modern Archives

 

12 April 2020

The Bunny Family of Berkshire

The Bunny Family was well-known in the Newbury area of Berkshire in the late 18th and 19th centuries.  Descendants of grocer Blandy Buck Bunny became prominent members of local society working as bankers and in the legal profession.

Blandy’s grandson Jeré Bunny was a solicitor in Newbury.  In 1813 he married Clara Slocock, the daughter of a brewer.  Clara died in 1835 at the age of 46.  Ten of their children, born between 1815 and 1834, survived to adulthood, and their lives took many different paths: vicar’s wife, soldier, farmer, fugitive, solicitor, gold miner.

The Bunny daughters were Clara, Caroline Eliza, Laura, Gertrude and Alice.  Clara married Charles Hopkinson, a wealthy banker.  Gertude and Alice became the wives of clergymen Henry Towry White and Douglas Belcher Binney.  Caroline Eliza and Laura remained single and lived as annuitants.

Eldest son Charles farmed at East Woodhay in Hampshire on land passed down the family. 

The next brother Brice Frederick trained as a barrister.  He emigrated to Australia in the early 1850s and worked as a gold miner at Forest Creek in Victoria, but gave up after six months, moving to Melbourne to resume his legal career.  Brice became a highly regarded equity lawyer.  He served as an MP and then became a judge.


Forest Creek Victoria
S. T. Gill, Forest Creek, Mount Alexander Diggings 1852- from National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Edward William Bunny studied at Oriel College Oxford and trained as a solicitor. He had to have a leg amputated because of a diseased knee joint.  In 1861 Edward moved to New Zealand, becoming Registrar of the Supreme Court.

Henry Bunny also qualified as a solicitor and worked with his father in Newbury.  By 1853 he was the town clerk.  Then he suddenly disappeared with his family to escape his debts.  A special messenger was sent by his creditors to the Duke of Portland which was about to sail from Plymouth to New Zealand.  Mrs Bunny and her children were found on board but there was no sign of Henry.  It was rumoured that he was on the ship but disguised in women’s clothes.

In New Zealand Henry set up business as a solicitor but was suspended when a case for fraud was brought against him in the UK.  However he bounced back and then entered politics.  He was elected a representative in the Provincial Council of Wellington and served in the New Zealand Parliament.  Sadly Henry committed suicide in 1891 whilst suffering from ‘melancholia’ and sciatica.   The inquest returned a verdict of temporary insanity.  A monument funded by public subscription was erected in his memory.

Youngest son Arthur Bunny had a distinguished career in the Bengal Artillery.  He fought in many campaigns and received awards for bravery.  At the battle of Multan in 1848 he was wounded by a musket ball in the shoulder and had his horse shot under him.  Arthur was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath in 1873.

Siege of MultanHenry Martens, The Siege of Multan, January 1849 British Library Foster 198 Images Online


Jeré Bunny died in 1854.  Newspapers speculated that his death had been hastened by the strain of the legal proceedings against his son Henry.  Jeré’s will was made in May 1851, but a codicil dated November 1853 revoked all bequests to Henry, except 20 shillings.   Another codicil the following month withdrew all bequests to Charles, Brice, Henry and Arthur as their entitlement had been already been spent on their ‘advancement’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive also available via findmypast
Trove  - Australian newspapers
Papers Past  - New Zealand newspapers

 

05 March 2020

Internment during the Second World War – Part Three: imprisonment for insurrection in the Channel Islands

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

The following experience took place in the only part of the British Isles occupied by Germany during the Second World War: the Channel Islands.  The present account has been revealed from a letter dating from 1954, almost a decade after the conclusion of the War.  It was sent from Vyvyan MacLeod Ferrers, a retired HM Consul, who was 65 years old when he was incarcerated.  He was sentenced and imprisoned in France, before being moved to Germany.


Why was he interned?  Apparently, he was guilty of stirring up an insurrection.  Furthermore, he admits that he had been helping and would continue to help the ‘Resistance’.  More detail is given in a book he wrote while in prison, The Brigadier.  He refused to believe in the fall of Singapore, and repeatedly told others ‘Do not be believing them: it is all lies together’.  Therefore, he was deemed ‘a man so dangerous that the Court dare not let me run loose’.  He would not do so until VE day, when he was liberated by the US Army.

First page of the letter from Vyvyan MacLeod FerrersThe first page of the letter from Vyvyan MacLeod Ferrers  – Add MS 89060. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Unlike other accounts which reflect on hardship in captivity, Ferrers writes little of the conditions, instead emphasising his thoughts on the German people.  He comments that the common man had little power but to go along with the machinations of the state, stating that ‘After a phase of indiscriminate indignation I found it possible to confine my resentment to the real ruffians, and to feel some sympathy with the decent man, of whom there were plenty, who could hardly do otherwise than play into their hands’.

Instead, he lays the blame firmly on the Gestapo.  Ferrers does not disguise his scorn for them, arguing that ‘The Gestapo was a stench in the nostrils of every decent man: and among the Germans there were as many decent men as anywhere else’.  He writes that the group ‘hardly concealed its contempt’ for the German courts, manned as they were by the common people.  Throughout the short four-page letter, Ferrers repeatedly emphasises how ordinary citizens were effectively powerless, ‘Called up, willy-nilly, from their own affairs, they were compelled to do what they much disliked’.  Rather than blaming them for his years of imprisonment, as many understandably would, he sympathises with them.

Final page of the letter from Vyvyan MacLeod FerrersThe final page of the letter from Vyvyan MacLeod Ferrers  – Add MS 89060. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

This empathetic outlook (written while Britain still had rationing because of the War!) is an uncommon find.  Indeed, Ferrers finishes the letter noting how he has been ‘surprised to find how many people are surprised at my point of view’.  While recent understandings of Nazi Germany have emphasised the normality of life for the common people in the fascist regime, Ferrers already understood this, despite his experiences.  He argued that the German people were not the real enemy – but Hitler and the Gestapo.

Ferrars died less than a year after sending this letter, on 6 March 1955 in Brighton.

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

Further Reading:
Add MS 89060 - Letter from V. M. Ferrers to Sir Amberson [Barrington Marten].
Gilly Card, Vyvyan Macleod Ferrers
Vyvyan Ferrers, The Brigadier (London: Art & Educational Publishers Ltd, 1948).

 

11 February 2020

Internment during the Second World War – Part Two: an album created by a Prisoner of War in Italy

Here is the second of a multi-part series on internment, highlighting the experiences of both civilians and military personnel detained across the globe in the Second World War.

Internment was often a negative experience, but here is something positive which came out of it - a scrapbook put together by British prisoner of war W. “Bill” Millett interned in Rezzanello, Italy.  His regiment was captured in early 1941 while in Africa.  The album features contributions from various men in the camp, Britons, Australians, Indians, and others.  The entries include poems, prose, sketches and even watercolours, showing the talents of these prisoners of war. Bill was evidently held in high regard by others in the camp. Londoner Captain S.G.M. Wright sarcastically reflects:

‘When I look back on these days,
I shall remember you Bill,
With your peculiar annoying ways,
Which, I see you possess still.’

There are 53 contributions, many providing an insight into life in the camp.  One concerns food: ‘The burial of one more (breakfast) at Rezzanello’. The author longs for eggs, bacon, and coffee.  Another regards gambling: ‘Smoke filled eyes and tongues all furry, scarcely seeing in the gloom, Knights of the Round Table, see them, in the castle anteroom.’  Perhaps the most insightful is this two-page drawing showing important times of day, including waiting for the toilet:

‘Another Day’ - sketches by Arthur Powell‘Another Day’ by Arthur Powell, 13 December 1941 – Add MS 89265 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The illustrations include sketches of men, women, children, regiment logos, and even two watercolours of horses.  Horse racing is a theme which consistently appears throughout the album, generally with the jaded pessimism of experienced gamblers.  Most however, appear when the contributors ask Bill to come and see them after the War.  This belief that the War will be over soon persists throughout.

While most contributions are written in English, the album contains prose in other languages too.  One man wrote a couplet in Persian which he saw in Delhi, which he (doubtfully) ascribes to Firdawsi; it contains a few mistakes and is composed in reality by Amīr Khusrau Dehlavī.  Another man gave a short passage in Morse Code:

Couplet in Persian Giles Farmer, 27 January 1942 - Add MS 89265  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence                            

 

Passage in Morse CodeL.Canty [undated] - Add MS 89265 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Dickie Findlay-Shirras of the Gordon Highlanders takes the prize for most impressive prose, writing in a combination of English, French, Italian and German!
 

Message in a combination of English, French, Italian and GermanDickie Findlay-Shirras [undated] - Add MS 89265 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Unsurprisingly, many entries contain philosophical thinking on the effects of internment.  Perhaps Major Brian Ashford-Russell says it best, identifying the positive outcomes of their imprisonment:

‘If our forced sojourn in Italy
has taught us tolerance… given us a better understanding
of the problems and comradeship
of the members of the great-
British Commonwealth, then the
Days will not have been wasted
And we may regard ourselves
As making a real contribution
To the peace, if not to the war.'

The album is not a typical prisoner of war diary.  Judging from the album, men interned at Rezzanello appear to have been treated leniently and with relative freedom.  Major H.A. Moorley, nicknamed Sinbad the Sailor, should have the last word:


 ‘And if ever in the afterwards,
I am called upon again,
To languish in a prison camp,
in sun or snow or rain,
I hope that arrangements are made,
By the Powers that Be to see,
That the same eight cheeky blighters,
Are in a room with me.’

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 89265 - Album of W. (Bill) Millett, Rezzanello prisoner of war camp, Italy.
BBC News, ‘An Italian adventure’   17 October 2005
Charles Rollings, Prisoner Of War: Voices from Behind the Wire in the Second World War (2007) (especially pp.272-281).
The Memory Project, ‘Veteran Stories: Arthur Powell’ 
 

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