Records and revelling at Ripley

At a loss to know what to do this weekend?  Why not join The Amazing Pop Up Archives team at the Ripley Music Festival on Saturday.

We’ll be ‘popping up’ with our wonderful yellow and purple tents  full of fascinating records relating to Ripley people and places.  Will you find your ancestors in the First World War Absent Voters list or in the survey of Butterley Company employees (did your ancestors live in a household without a bible? – yes, that was a question on the survey)?

From tales of the Pentrich Revolution and First World War there will be songs and happenings for all the family, so lots to see and take part in.  Make your mark on our map or add to our index cards – just one little snippet about you or your history is all it takes to become a permanent part of the record office collection.

We look forward to seeing you at Crossley Park  (DE5 3GT) from 1pm onwards this Saturday.

Tea and Trench Cake this Saturday at Chesterfield Library!

Join us for the launch of our new travelling exhibition about Derbyshire’s First World War, which begins its county tour at Chesterfield Library this Saturday, 10 December, 12-2pm.

poster-launch

Interactive history actors will be bringing to life real characters from the period and for children there will be a family trail they can follow around the library.  As a bonus, there will be refreshments including home-made trench cake!

After the launch, the exhibition and family trail will be on display in the library until the beginning of January.  It will then tour around the county throughout 2017 and 2018, so if you can’t visit Chesterfield, you should be able to see the exhibition somewhere near you.

If you can make it to the launch we’d love to see you there.  It’s free to get in and it’s a great way to see the part Derbyshire played in the First World War.

“Almost like a dream”…

like a dreamThis coming Friday, 1st July sees the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme.  The first day of which is acknowledged as the most devastating day in British army history, with nearly 60,000 British casualties on that day alone.  By the end of the battle, which raged until November 1916,  over 1 million soldiers from both sides of the conflict, had been killed or wounded.

Of course much has been published on this period in history.  A search on the Derbyshire Library catalogue under the simple term of ‘Battle of the Somme’, gives 98 results.  For me, the real impact of the battle comes from reading first hand accounts, and many of these too have been published.  A quick look on the shelves of our Local Studies Collection in the Record Office brought to my attention ‘Almost like a dream’: a parish at war 1914-19, edited by Michael Austin.  From the beginning of the Great War until its end, the vicar of St. Michael’s in Derby, encouraged men from his parish who had joined the services to write to him, to talk about their experiences.  These letters were then published in the parish magazine – a vital way to keep the community close to the men they had waved goodbye to.  The letters, hastily scribbled by working class men, show us the stark reality of life fighting for ‘King and Country’.

Letters detailing events at the Somme are included: Pte. L Hallsworth wrote “I have been through the worst battle that this Battalion has ever been in.  God alone knows how I have escaped death.  The bombardment lasted 5 days and the last two days was terrible, the night before the attack the bombardment grew in intensity until it was impossible for one to speak and we had to yell at the top of our voices to make ourselves heard…Good heavens! I shall never forget it, it simply rained shells and shrapnel and bullets were whistling through the air in hundreds…. Out of my section there are 5 who got back out of 27 and out of the Battalion only 130 men answered the roll call…”

2nd Lieut. Robert Parker wrote “The taking of one trench stands out in my mind more than anything else, and I don’t think I shall ever forget it, perhaps because I saw two of my best friends killed almost side by side.  We failed to take the trench the first time and were in ‘no man’s land’ unable to move either way.  During that time I was buried by a shell and hit by a piece of shrapnel in the finger, it was not much…”  The title of the book comes from the end of this letter – “There is a lot more I could say but I cannot remember everything just now, it still seems almost like a dream.”

Copies of this book are available to borrow through your local Derbyshire Library – a poignant read at any time, but maybe even more so with the forthcoming anniversary in mind.

Treasure 32: the wartime diaries of Maria Gyte

This treasure is nominated by two former members of staff, who have prepared the text used in this post.  Firstly, let’s hear from Glynn, officer for the Derbyshire Lives Through the First World War project:

I am nominating these diaries, not just because they have relevance to my role with the First World War, but because it is what archives are all about. They are a reflection of real life that cannot be understood so well through history books written by someone years later.

Maria Gyte was at the centre life in the village of Sheldon through war and peace. She suffered the greatest loss a mother could with the death of her son, Tony, in France. The diary covering 1917 records the way in which she learned the terrible news through a third party and her repeated sadness that Tony ‘now lies in a foreign grave’.

Treasure 32 M Gyte diary.JPG

Despite the obvious grief and some hardship, one of the great things about the diary is the comic contrasts. After recording the dramatic world events, village life intervenes with the news that ‘Ben Naylor killed Ed Brocklhursts pig (18stone 10lbs)’ and a few days later that they had roast pork for dinner.

Phil, formerly our Caretaker, and latterly a volunteer on the Derbyshire Lives Through the First World War project, writes:

Words have always been very special to me- they convey not just facts, and detail but emotion, subtlety. I love to write as much as I love to read; I garner facts and squirrel them away….

In its awfulness, the Great War was unparalleled in the futility, suffering and loss that it generated. Men, through their sense of duty, freely gave themselves for King and country; they accepted all they were asked to do. That duty ended in ‘No man’s land’ for countless thousands- lives, mostly young- cut short by a bullet, shell, gas or shrapnel. Human beings were cruelly used for such little gain.

Lives in the trenches were often brutally short; so many men simply disappeared into the mud and mayhem of the battlefield. Some so badly wounded, even when brought back to the dressing stations for treatment, survived only to die soon afterwards. One such, a young Private; a farmer’s son, honest, quiet, loved! Tony Gyte; died of wounds one grey November morning in 1917. Passchendaele! One of the by-words for muddy, bloody horror.

We know about Tony because of the love, grief and passion of one woman- Maria Gyte, Tony’s mother, who kept a diary of her thoughts, her day to day trials and tribulations; the mundane the highlights of a hard, but eventful life in the tiny Derbyshire village of Sheldon. The published compilation ‘Diaries of Maria Gyte: 1913-1920’ is without doubt my ‘treasure’ to contribute towards the ’50 Treasures’. It is a book with no equal!

Tony’s final resting place is in one of the very many military cemeteries in Flanders- a fact that distressed Maria immensely for the rest of her life. Maria and Anthony, (Tony’s father) ‘rest’ under the trees in the churchyard of St. Michael and All Angels’ Church, Sheldon. Tony’s short life is commemorated on the gravestone, along with those of his parents and one of his four sisters. The inscriptions and carvings on the stone tell their own moving tale. It was worth the 50 mile round trip to see this most moving of tributes, to feel the connection with the Gyte family, and sense their overwhelming loss….

Two short extracts: 

Aug 4th [1914]

Rather gloomy at times. Men working on the hay (Waterlands).  W[ilia]m mowed croft heads.

Nothing can be talked about but the war. This has come so suddenly…….England has fought for peace but it is feared that she will have to fight as Germany is proving very aggressive…..W[illia]m also mowed Little Butts.

England declared war on Germany.

 

Nov 13th [1917]

Fine. The dreadful news came (officially) that our poor Tony had died in the field ambulance on Nov: 2nd. We are all in a sad way. poor lad it is only six months since he went into training and now killed in the beauty of his manhood……..My poor dear Tony, gone for ever and we shall never see his face any more on this earth.  How shall we bear it?

Commissioned Officers… or Conscientious Objectors?

A First World War era photograph from our collections has thrown up an intriguing question… is this a group photograph of conscientious objectors in Breaston?

DCRO100730.tif

Picture the Past reference: DCRO100730

The photograph comes from collection D4978 ‘Breaston and Long Eaton Historical Notes’.  Our catalogue entry for this photograph reads simply: ‘”COs” Group’, c.1910, and when the photograph was put onto the Picture the Past website the “COs” were assumed to be Commissioned Officers.

This interpretation has now been challenged by a couple of Picture the Past’s users (including an expert on conscientious objection),  and there’s certainly good evidence to support the suggestion that they are conscientious objectors.  If they were commissioned officers, wouldn’t they be in uniform?  And why are some of the men holding what looks like newspaper front pages?  Might these be copies of ‘The Tribunal’, a paper published by the Non-Conscription Fellowship?

On the other hand, why is there a man in uniform on either side of the group?  They look like part of the group, not prison guards.  Were they objectors taking a non-combative role?  Many conscientious objectors became ambulance drivers, for instance, but these two men aren’t wearing red cross arm bands.

If anyone can solve the mystery, please leave a help us out by leaving a comment below…

Absent voters list for Ilkeston in 1918 now online

Hello everyone.  I have just this minute updated the catalogue with copies of the absent voters list for the parliamentary constituency of Ilkeston in 1918.  The names you can find inside are those of people who were still enrolled in the armed forces at the end of the war. You can find all three absent voters lists on our catalogue – the others cover Western Derbyshire and Chesterfield.  Click on the one you want to use, and this should open up a catalogue entry with sections of the volume shown as downloadable pdf files.  And that’s it!  No other absent voters lists survive, as far as we know.  (Please let us know if you have heard different.)

Sue’s Soldier: Tom’s Tree

Sues Soldier image

Another anecdote that we didn’t have room for in our vitrine display is George’s story “Tom’s Tree”. George served in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, and may have been a sniper some of the time, though as my mother said, he never talked much about that aspect. Understandably, picking men off in cold blood was not a popular duty.

My mother had told me “One time there was a German sniper hiding in a shelled-out farmhouse picking our men off one by one. My Dad and his mates hid in a moveable tree stump to retaliate”.  Although this sounds straight out of “Blackadder goes Forth (‘Baldrick, it’s your turn to be the tree’…   ‘But it’s always my turn!’), George did indeed write a short story called Tom’s Tree, which we understand the Illustrated London News published in the mid 20th century, though we haven’t been able to verify this yet. In George’s original, it’s the German who hides in a tree and is spotted by a keen-eyed Yorkshireman who just happens to notice that one particular tree seems to have moved each time you glance in its direction… 

George’s display is on at Derbyshire Record Office until the end of April; do come and pay him a visit.

Sue Peach, Local Studies Librarian

 

Derbyshire Remembers Exhibition at Sudbury Hall

Children from two primary schools (Derby City and Derbyshire) and volunteers have curated an exhibition about the First World War, which is being launched at Sudbury Hall on Friday 6 March 2015 at 1pm.

Derbyshire Remembers is a project run by award-winning theatre company Fifth Word in partnership with the National Trust, Derbyshire Record Office and Derby City Local & Family History Library. The exhibition uncovers the story of how the First World War changed the lives of people across Derby city and Derbyshire. This project has been made possible thanks to a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

Over a period of 6 months local volunteers received training and prepared a list of archive materials at Derbyshire Record Office, Derby Local & Family History Library, National Trust properties and local museums.

volunteers researching

From this research, child friendly archive cards were created as a starting point for working with schools. Fifth Word Theatre led two, week-long intensive school sessions where pupils worked ‘in role’ as expert museum curators tasked with the responsibility of designing a brand new exhibition for Sudbury Hall. Using specialised drama techniques, the children delved deeper into what really happened in Derby during the First World War and selected the themes and sources they found most interesting.  At the end of the sessions each school created mock exhibition panels and presented back their ideas to be realised by a professional designer.children from Dale School

Year 6 pupils from Dale Primary school in Normanton transformed their classroom into an office where they were known as ‘Dazzling Designs’. As ‘experts’ they researched the effect the war had on the home front in Derby City and the families who were left behind. They explored the Zeppelin raid (which happened only minutes from their school) and the plight of the munitions workers from across Derbyshire. With help from the archives and volunteers, the children were able to analyse and interpret images, objects, newspaper cuttings and Art to tell the story of life on the home front a hundred years ago.

The second design Team came from Sudbury Primary School. Their class were known as ‘Super Sudbury Designs’ and their detective work enabled them to delve into personal letters, soldiers’ diaries, memoirs and official documents such as call-up notices and killed-in-action telegrams.  They imagined what it might have been like to be in their shoes and used the expertise of drama practitioners to build up a picture of life on the frontline during the ‘War to End All Wars’.

The exhibition is open to everyone and will be housed at Sudbury Hall from the 6 March- 17 May.  It will transfer to Kedleston Hall from 23 May – 3 September 2015 and will then travel to local schools across Derby and Derbyshire.  A digital resource pack for teachers will be available online to provide a rich resource for local studies and First Word War teaching and learning across primary schools.

If you’re planning to visit the National Trust properties at Sudbury or Kedleston do keep an eye out for the exhibition!

Voices from the Front at South Normanton Library

Tales of enemy attacks, life in the trenches and thoughts of home, all feature as part of the Archives Aloud: Voices from the Front event being held at South Normanton Library on Wednesday 12th November 2014 between 2pm-3.30pm.

This read aloud session features original letters, diaries and poems written by those serving on the front line during the First World War, taken from record office collections.  Join us in reading aloud or simply listen to these first-hand accounts from soldiers, field ambulance operatives and prisoners of war; those who survived and those who never returned home.  Often cheerful sometimes melancholy  but always moving, these documents provide a glimpse into life on the front line and into the lives of those loved ones left at home.

Choose a letter or diary entry to read aloud or bring along your own family papers and share your story.  This is a free event but space is limited and booking is essential.  To book a place please contact South Normanton Library on 01629 535000.

Derbyshire Remembers for Explore Your Archive week

(Joseph) Arthur Hodgkiss  of Baslow

Come along to this free lunch time talk and find out what is happening around the county to commemorate the centenary of the First World War. Hear about the Derbyshire Lives in the First World War project and take a look in our Story Box full of serving soldiers’ letters, diaries and photographs and other First World War material all telling the personal stories of those living and fighting during the War, those who survived and those who never returned home.

Derbyshire Record Office has employed a Project Officer to support Derbyshire communities with their projects to commemorate the centenary of the First World War. The Derbyshire Lives Through the First World War project is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and in this event Project Officer, Glynn Wilton, will talk about the project, give advice to those starting their own project, provide information on where and how to access records and archives and how to interpret information to engage people with the history of Derbyshire in the First World War, and generally help in whatever way is needed!

Derbyshire Lives Through the First World War – lunch time talk

Tuesday 11 November  1.15pm-1.45pm

Free – booking essential

Derbyshire Record Office

New St

Matlock

DE4 3FE

Tel: 01629 538347

record.office@derbyshire.go.uk

http://exploreyourarchive.org/