Mr Punch’s History of the Great War

Of all the books I’ve acquired from relatives over the years one of my favourites is Mr. Punch’s History of the Great War.  Published in 1919 by Cassell and Company and edited by Charles L Graves (1856-1944) it uses extracts from Punch magazine to “provide a mirror of varying moods, month by month, but reflecting how England remained steadfastly true to her best traditions”.

Growing up I read Punch in the doctor’s and dentist’s surgeries and the brutality of some of the cartoons in this collection seemed to me far removed from the modern, gently satirical publication.

An absorbing article by Dr Esther MacCallum-Stewart on compares Punch with The Wipers Times suggesting “both believed that comedy should be employed in a cathartic role against the tension, fear and grief caused by the fighting.”

Before war broke out Punch had been criticised as being too militant, publishing only one strongly anti-war article by the then sub-editor A. A. Milne.  Thus Punch entered the conflict publishing what amounted to government sanctioned propaganda with “little comedic undertone”.  However as the war endured this did change as the public mood shifted. She adds a surprising point about Punch’s and indeed middle-class male Britain’s attitude to women’s employment.  Having always believed that this was universally applauded I was surprised to realise the fear that this provoked and Punch’s efforts to undermine their role.[1]

Although intended primarily for the home market copies did make their way to the front, at least to the officer class.  However the lack of battlefield reporters resulted in such inaccuracies that it seems to have been most welcome as a higher quality toilet paper and probably provided some of the impetus behind the papers produced by the soldiers including the Wipers Times.  bravo belgium

Mr Punch’s August 1914 selection begins by recapping; “Four weeks ago we stood on the edge of the great upheaval and knew it not”.  There are two cartoons one; “Bravo Belgium” originally published on 12th August 1914 and drawn by F H Townsend, and the other depicting a recruiting office medical.  “Bravo Belgium”, a particularly well-known cartoon now appears in the Keystage 3 History syllabus.

Barbara Selby

[1] Esther MacCallum-Stewart – 2009


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Leaving Africa

I have written a fair bit about our life in Kenya and Zaire in the eighties, when Ben was working for a multi-national company: our arrival from England with first one, then two babies.  There will be more to come but today I have been thinking about our departures from those countries.  This is perhaps down to the time of year, August being when we usually took annual leave and is also when we left both Kenya and Zaire for good.  Leaving was so much more than just going home – it was the end of  a way of life that came with sadnesses as well as a certain pleasure at being back in the swim of a more regular family life in Cambridge.

Leaving the people with whom Ben had spent his working life in the field in Kenya was one such – as was leaving our boys at the house.  They threw a party for us at the office where a goat was ceremoniously roasted and speeches made.  The  mood at the end was lightened by an announcement that Ben’s secretary, Beatrice, who had just given birth to a baby boy, father unknown, had called her son Ben Travers which led to uproarious laughter and cheering.  The refrain ‘Cheers, not tears’ followed us to our car and is something I have never forgotten.  For months after we left, as we walked about Cambridge, if Amelia saw a black man, she would say joyously, ‘Joseph!’, the name of our guard who she loved playing with, truncheon and all.  Several months after our return I got a letter in Cambridge written by Boniface, our general factotum.  He had gone to a letter-writer at a stall in the town and dictated what he wanted to say, ‘Darling Madam’ it began.  High and low I have searched for that letter and hope that one day I might find it again and be transported back to the green and friendly place that we called home for a few years at

Migori.  I dream that I slipped it into a book and that along with the dried frangipani blossom that I tucked into a biography of Karen Blixen (Isaak Dinesen really) and found not long ago, it could be added to my treasure trove of letters, photograph and most of all, memories.  Leaving Bunia in Zaire deserves its own chapter so I shall think on that for my next post.

Amelia and Joseph Migori 1983

Amelia and Joseph Migori 1983

Farewell Party Migori 1983 - 'Cheers not tears'

Farewell Party Migori 1983 – ‘Cheers not tears’

Categories: Out of Africa, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Aunty May and the Widow’s Mite

May Dunkley when young

May Dunkley when young

Florence May Dunkley (1909-2005) was my mother’s only sister and four years older than her.  The name May was popular when she was born and a number of my friends had their own Aunty May.  She was the 7th child and first girl of George and Catherine Dunkley, who lived in Silverstone, Northamptonshire.  Life was hard for poor rural workers and May’s mother was an obsessively fussy housewife so must have been delighted to have a daughter to help out at last.  That certainly set the tone of May’s early life – she was made to go to the butcher every morning and then punished for being late for school with a wallop across her hand and had many other domestic burdens besides.  She came home from domestic service to nurse her dying mother during WW2 and then dutifully stayed to look after her widowed father.  It was taken for granted that was her role in life.  She never married.  May was deeply scarred by her mother’s painful death from bowel cancer and her father’s vascular dementia in the last few years of his life.  She was hysterical at times and bitter about lack of support from most other family members.  Perhaps they were afraid to encourage her weaknesses or any further dependence.  Her younger sister, my mother, escaped into marriage and motherhood.

I have done little to research my mother’s ancestors.  They were too poor to leave any records, bar their births, deaths and marriages.  I joked to one of my friends that it would be like writing another Akenfield with forestry rather than agricultural workers.  Their three-room cottage was replaced with a smart new council house in 1946.  When May’s father died in 1954 she was forced to take any job she could find and worked in a shoe factory in nearby Brackley for many years.  Energetic, orderly and frugal in her habits, her retirement was a long one which relied heavily on local and distant family for her social life.  She took family ties very seriously, was always ready to help out in practical ways and was generous with money from her own very limited means.  Her nieces and nephews were the greatest pleasure in her life – she had a rare childlike empathy with children of all ages.

When she died in 2005 the local Methodist minister spent most of one afternoon drawing her life story from me in preparation for his funeral address. He

May's 90th birthday

May’s 90th birthday

chose the Biblical story of the Widow’s Mite from the Gospel of Mark. In it Jesus is teaching at the Temple in Jerusalem.  He tells the story of a widow who donates two small coins (generally thought to be lepton) – the smallest and least valuable coins in circulation in Judea – while wealthy people donate much more. Jesus explains to his disciples that the small sacrifices of the poor mean more to God than the bigger, but proportionately lesser, donations of the rich.  How apt.  May touched many lives and held the extended family together in a way no-one else could.  We miss her still.


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The lives we Forgot to Remember

In relation to the centenary of the Great War we were, as the Chairman reminded us, half way through the period of thirty seven days between the gunshot that killed Archduke Franz Josef and the outbreak of full scale hostilities.

We were at the British Library for an evening panel discussion on The Forgotten Soldiers. Our panel comprised  Santanu Das and Jennifer Wellington of Kings College London, David Killigray of Goldsmith’s College and Stellenbosch University, and David Olusoga, presenter of the BBC television series ‘The World’s War.’ All have researched extensively in a range of former British dominions and colonies, and particularly the First World War’s impact on their peoples.

The statistics are astonishing. When war broke out, one quarter of the whole of humanity lived in the British Empire. An imperial war inevitably became a global war. We shall never know exactly how many men from the British dominions and colonies were mobilised during the War. Estimates range from 4 to 5 million. In addition, many women and children were recruited as labourers in the war effort.

We remember the famous expedition of the Australians and New Zealanders to Gallipoli, and the Canadians at Vimy Ridge. The British Dominions contributed 1.3 million men to fight in the War. However, the largest colonial contingent came from India, where 1.4 million men enlisted, 1 million of them serving outside the Indian continent. Lutyens’ massive India Gate memorial in Delhi commemorates 70,000 of those who lost their lives, and indicates the geographical spread of their involvement. The inscription reads:

‘To the Dead of the Indian Armies Who Fell Honoured in France and Flanders Mesopotamia and Persia East Africa Gallipoli and Elsewhere in the Near and Far East…’

The British Army used one million Africans in East Africa, mainly as carriers. At least 20 per cent died, mainly from disease, malnutrition and exhaustion. A further 83,000 black and coloured South Africans were recruited into the Native Labour Corps for service in Europe and South West Africa.

The ethnic mix of British merchant shipping crews is largely invisible in official records. British merchant (and naval) ships had a long tradition of employing crewmen from the Caribbean, Arabia,

Aboriginal member of the Canadian Forestry Corps in the UK

Aboriginal member of the Canadian Forestry Corps in the UK

Somalia, Zanzibar, West Africa, the Indian subcontinent, Malaya and China. About 15,000 of 155,000 personnel in the merchant and fishing fleets died during the War, but where are the Asian, Arab and African names on maritime war memorials?

Recruitment went beyond the official Empire. The British and French employed 145,000 contract Chinese labourers in Europe, the British having rejected the Chinese government’s offer of Chinese troops. More than 20,000 of them were killed on the battlefields, or died through illness or the arduous work. The 93,000 contracted by the British were not known by names, only by the serial numbers on the bolted iron tags they wore.

We can ask many questions about why the war participation of non-white colonial people has suffered neglect in public memory, both in Britain and in the former dominions and colonies themselves. In part, the lack of general literacy can explain the relative absence of letters, diaries and memoirs.  Deliberate decision making was also involved. Take, for example, the Imperial War Graves Commission’s decision that ‘Negroes in West Indian Regiments’ were to be ‘commemorated individually when buried in East Africa’; whilst for the native Africans a policy of ‘no individual commemoration’ was to be followed. As Santanu Das reminded us:  “In India, Senegal or Vietnam there is nothing like the Imperial War Museum; when a returned soldier or village headman died, a whole library vanished….As former colonies became nation states, nationalist narratives replaced imperial war memories. Stories that did not fit were airbrushed.”

So, as we discover our own family’s photographs, letters, diaries and service records, or trace the names on our local war memorials, perhaps we might also allow other lives into our cultural memory;  the millions of seldom identified men and women of the British Empire who were caught up in the Great War.

Annie Hedington

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Great- grandpa learns “when to say no”

Browsing the Huddersfield Chronicle archives I came across an article that may reveal how my great-grandparents met.

Alfred John and Charlotte Fanny Liversedge in their later years

Alfred John and Charlotte Fanny Liversedge in their later years

In the newspaper of 3rd January 1874 is a report of the annual meeting of the Brunswick Street Sunday School which took place on New Year’s Day when “considerably over 300 persons sat down to an excellent tea”.   In the presentation of prizes that followed a prize of £5 for the best poem on “when to say no” was awarded to Alfred J Liversedge, my great-grandfather.  But he is not the only family member to feature, E H Liversedge, his younger brother Edwin Hugh, won the second prize of 15s in the boys’ essay writing competition, the title being “what is our true purpose in life and how to achieve it”.  The girls were asked to write on the subject “the advantages of knowledge” and here the third prize of 10s went to Charlotte F Cook who five years later married Alfred and was my great-grandmother.  Keeping literary prowess within the family the first prize in the girls’ essay competition went to Mary A Tindall who in September that year married Charlotte’s older brother Alfred.

The evening was not just tea and prizes, a number of worthies also gave addresses, including a William Haigh and these were “most agreeably interspersed with songs and glees from the choir”.  To round off the evening votes of thanks were proposed, that to the prize donors being given by Mr A J Liversedge, Alfred’s father.

Sadly the Brunswick Street united Free Methodist Church no longer exists; established in 1857 by Wesleyan reformers who seceded from the Queen Street Wesleyan Methodist Church[1] it was closed in 1949 and demolished when Huddersfield Ring Road was built in the 1960s.  It cost nearly £7,000, was built in the Roman Corinthian style and contained 1,400 sittings[2].


[1] West Yorkshire Archive Service

[2] A vision of Britain through time

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Some Victorian weddings

I have just heard of a wedding taking place this summer which is to cost £55,000, a shocking expenditure in my opinion.  But will it be any more festive than some of the weddings  that took place between 1863 and 1870, uniting various members of my family then resident in Merioneth, North Wales?

A Victorian Wedding

A Victorian Wedding

The most striking difference between then and now is the close connection between the local community and the gentry, among which my forebears could now count themselves.  The villagers hung out flags in honour of the occasion; if they could not afford flags, they hung out their coloured handkerchiefs.  If the bride was local, they built decorative arches under which her carriage rolled towards the church.  These were covered with flowers and greenery, and carried banners wishing the couple well, in Welsh or English.  Children strewed the church path with flowers. Throughout the day, rounds of rock cannon were fired off.  This was a custom peculiar to North Wales.  Take a chunk of rock, bore some holes in it and fill these with gunpowder.  Fill a goose quill with powder to act as a fuse.  The resulting explosions illuminated and reverberated round the slate quarries.    In the evening neighbours lit up their windows with candles and there was a bonfire.  Mr John Casson’s wedding took place just before Christmas 1863 in the bride’s home village in Essex, so the main local celebration was to greet the couple when they returned on Christmas Eve from a short bridal tour.  A whole crowd met their carriage, unharnessed the horses and led the couple round the square in front of the Hotel, then off up the road and through an evergreen arch, to the family home.  Mr Casson made a speech, in English and Welsh, assuring his listeners that although ’Mrs Casson could not   speak to them in Welsh . . .she had promised him that she would try to learn the language’. The consensus was ‘that a merrier Christmas Eve was never seen in Festiniog’.

For that wedding, there was a dinner for the Casson household and farmhands, buns and oranges were distributed to all the schoolchildren, and half a pound of tea to each of the most deserving poor.  For his niece Mary Casson’s, in 1869, her parents laid on a ‘sumptuous luncheon’ for the wedding guests, a dinner in the farm-yard for tenants, workmen and neighbours, and a dinner of roast beef and plum pudding for the inmates of the workhouse at Penrhyndeudraeth, followed by evening tea.  The following year, Mary’s brother Thomas Casson married the daughter of a retired Welsh sea-captain, who lived like a squire in the nearby village of Talsarnau.  He laid on a grand supper for all his workers and families, and a tea-party for nearly 200 schoolchildren.  When the couple returned from honeymoon – the word was in general usage by then – there was an evening of music and speeches in the school to honour them, and the bride was presented with a handsome Bible and a celebratory ‘address’ engrossed on vellum.

These descriptions show up the sharp divide between rich and poor – which a welfare state was no doubt expected to eradicate.  But in these small Victorian Welsh communities, those who had either been born, or raised themselves,  into the gentry, clearly enjoyed and were honoured for carrying out some social obligations.


© Diana Devlin

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Scraps that survive

Among my grandmother’s (Mabel Burnley nee Harrison) few surviving papers are some interesting items.  There is a newspaper obituary of her father who died in 1933 and several letters about the business of clearing up his estate, but the oddest of all is a page from the Gomersal Book Society.  This must date between 1904-1913 and I cannot think of any reason why it has survived except by accident.  Nor can I find any trace of the book society to which it refers.

I suspect this was part of the Mechanics Institute in Gomersal which maintained a fair-sized library – it had 700 books when it was founded in 1854.  The reading room at the Institute, which had 200

A 100 year-old scrap of family history

A 100 year-old scrap of family history

members at this time, was well supplied with newspapers and journals, among them the Illustrated London News, Punch, the Leeds Mercury, Society of Arts Journal as well as evangelical magazines.  My great-grandfather, Thomas Lockwood Burnley and his cousin Thomas had been elected to the committee in 1887 and Thomas became a Trustee in 1907.  At some point the latter took charge of the English Mechanic and the Times Parliamentary Debates.  The rules of this book society were no doubt very ordinary, but from the tone one suspects that fines were levied and paid and the strict procedures complied with.  (If you click to enlarge the image you can read them).  It is nice to know that these two mill owners were fairly keen readers, on a wide range of subjects.  They had both had a respectable eduction – Thomas Lockwood at Applegate Grammar School in Newark – and Thomas at an obscure place in Doncaster.  This yellowing scrap of paper offers just a tiny and insignificant detail of their lives and how I wish more had survived.


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Where to next with Joseph?

I have just come back from the dentist who cheerfully informed me that the chipmunk bulge on the right side of my face was an abscess and a tooth will need to be pulled out as well as removing and remaking the neighbouring tooth’s cap to fill in the space.   I am lucky.  My dentist, well trained in my personal orthodontic needs since our first meeting as young things in the late 1970′s, will put me to sleep for the tooth extraction.   It made me wonder what the state and care of Joseph and his family’s teething was in the first half of the eighteenth century.

A Treatise on the Disorders and Deformities of the Teeth and Gums (1770)

A Treatise on the Disorders and Deformities of the Teeth and Gums (1770)

A Treatise on the Disorders and Deformities of the Teeth and Gums (1770) is thought to be the earliest book on dentistry.   Usually, whether wealthy or poor, teeth were ‘fixed’ by the local barber or blacksmith.   It was only later in the century that the idea – and quackery – of implanting teeth usually ripped from the mouths of children or young adults for a few coins laid the foundation for dentistry as we now know it.

I am assuming that since Joseph was 50 years old when he died he had good set of pearly whites.  There was no early death from blood poisoning due to rotten teeth or deformities in his facial features to indicate abscesses eating away into the jaw bones.  The two portraits of him painted by Thomas Hudson in the 1740′s show Joseph as a jolly man who looks as though he enjoys food and comfortable living.  I know from another portrait by an unknown artist that Joseph smoked so having tobacco stained teeth and a resulting questionable breath may have been normal for him.   But this may have been checked the 18th century drinking fluids which were mainly fermented and alcoholic, so maybe the alcohol acted as a mouthwash against most dental bacteria.

I think it is time to leave thoughts of Joseph’s teeth, but when I write my next blog hopefully mine will be back in the pink – or is that pearly white?


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Letters from my grandparents

I have written before on the subject of letters from my grandparents and what they meant to me when I received them and what they mean to me now.  I took one out of my writing box – a blue leather case I got for my 13th birthday (how I had longed for it and still use today, along with my sewing basket with my school number sewn onto the handle) – to refer to for my blog last month and I kept it out and re-read it and went to look for the others I had received from the same grandfather during my first year living in Izmir.  It struck me that here was a man 0f 98 whose life  spanned a century from the age of Victoria to that of Elizabeth II, who had witnessed  two world wars and much else besides, yet was still quite able to connect with me and what I was doing and relate it to his own experiences.  The sentences sing with interest and  encouragement. Here is just one example: “One never forgets one’s first sojourn in the East, near, middle or far.  My nine months in India, 2 years in Egypt, and most memorable, 9 months in Palestine were exquisite experiences.  You have down well to take the opportunity.  I sometime [sic] think to have done that, i.e., to have taken the opportunity is the supreme point of living…”

Later in the same letter he goes on to observe how, in Izmir, I am surrounded by ‘some of the most memorable bits of the ancient world. All of them at least ‘half as old as time’ and ends with his favourite exhortation to me to remember: “Unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna…”, an exhortation that set Ben and me off on many a journey to look for the seven churches in Revelations. One letter then, which began with history and ended with the Bible and along the way included a little phrase that has made me prouder than anything: “Stick to writing, you have a flair that way and it repays as a pleasant exercise.”  I am trying to, Grandpa, a little late in the day, but I am.

How lucky to have a cache of letters such as these, always my leitmotif as readers of this blog will know, and a source of endless memories and inspiration as well as a wonderful golden thread joining me to my grandparents and their history – the history of our family.  There are more letters, and from  my other grandparents too, and yet I wonder how future generations, in this age of disposable communication, will ever be able to feel that same golden thread linking them to their pasts?

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Is it never finished?

Researching one’s family can be a lifelong hobby – especially as there are so many different branches of any family to trace back.  But most of us aim to have a finished ‘product’ which we can circulate within the family or a wider audience.  So when to stop following up those distant relatives?  My family story is centred on the Burnley family and their wool mill in Gomersal, Yorkshire and I have made many trips there to find out more.   However, my great great grandfather, George Herbert Burnley (1841-1917) went into farming and by 1879 had left Yorkshire to farm near Newark.  It doesn’t actually alter the focus of my story as his only son, Thomas Lockwood, returned to Yorkshire to join the family business and his son was apprenticed to do the same, but it is a tantalising byway.

One of those cutlery items

One of those cutlery items

George Herbert Burnley was at Lower Hexgreave farm from about 1879, then Python Hill Farm by 1885 and retired to Farnsfield village by 1891 at the rather young age of 50 but the why and how will forever remain a mystery.  I can speculate that the long downturn in farming meant his son saw no future in it and/or that his childless uncle offered him a role in the family mill business but will never know for sure.  In contrast to the Yorkshire ancestors who stayed in one place, this ‘rolling stone’ left few traces.  I have no photo of him – only some ugly silver plated cutlery monogrammed with his initials and a huge heavy Bible which he gave to his only son on his marriage in 1892 with best wishes for his welfare – a rather stilted message.

Front page of that family Bible

Front page of that family Bible

GH moved to Llanfarfechan in Wales some time after 1906, with his wife Emma. His two unmarried daughters joined him and died there themselves in due course.  I did commission some research from the Nottinghamshire archives recently which turned up very little.  I doubt I shall travel to Wales to explore further especially as it is peripheral to my main story and a long way to go.  So this ancestor will be ‘parked’ but not entirely forgotten.



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