‘The Poetry of War: Portraits of the Patients at Craiglockhart’ – 24 August 2014 (article two)


‘Many of us who came to the Hydro slightly ill are now getting dangerously well’, observed Siegfried Sassoon Wilfred Owen, writing in the Hydra magazine on 1 September 1917. The opening line of Sassoon’s Owen’s editorial for the Craiglockhart Military Hospital publication explicitly captures the precarious situation convalescing soldiers found themselves in. Recovery was a pyrrhic victory as a return to health meant a return to the front line.

On Sunday evening at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, a full audience attended Edinburgh Napier University’s ‘The Poetry of War, Portraits of the Patients of Craiglockhart’ event to explore the lives of returning soldiers and officers scarred from the theatres of war. The curator of the war poets collection at Craiglockhart campus, Catherine Walker and historian Allan Burnett, took to the stage to share their expert knowledge of this period with the assembled audience. They were also joined by guest speakers who read extracts from the literary works of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. Walker recounted the history of the Craiglockhart building noting prior to its incarnation as a military hospital in 1916, it was in fact a hydropathic spa for the ‘worried wealthy’. In later life, the building was also a convent of the Scared Heart for the purposes of teaching and training. However, the central focus of the event was to explore the activities that occurred when the building was used as a military hospital and the daily environment of its patients.

The birth of the Hydra magazine can be seen as a product of this environment. The aforementioned Hydra was published in 1917 and used as communication channel for recovering patients to keep up-to-date with all the activities that were occurring in and around Craiglockhart. This ranged from sporting victories and competitions in tennis, bowls or croquet as well as keeping patients abreast of news from the debating club. Moreover, the publication reached out to the wider community (friends and families of patients) to allow them to participate and remain informed of events at the hospital.

The medical fraternity of Craiglockhart, Dr William Halls Halse Rivers and Dr Arthur Brock, were influential in creating the conditions that allowed the Hydra magazine to emerge. Rivers, who treated Sassoon, adopted a ‘talking cures’ approach. Meanwhile Brock employed ‘ergo therapy’, a working cure in which he attempted to reconnect the damaged man back to the environment he would know and recognise. The two methods complemented one another. In the case of Owen and Sassoon, the creation of a hospital magazine allowed the men to engage in creative writing as a cathartic therapy; whilst it also reconnected the men as wordsmiths to an activity they were familiar with and practiced. The publication allowed the men to reflect upon and articulate their experiences of the First World War to produce some of their most notable poems and become a defining voice in twentieth-century war poetry.

Burnett attempted to give wider background to events occurring on the western front in 1916 but mainly spoke about the effect of war at a regional level, specifically the bombing of the Grassmarket in Edinburgh on 2 April 1916. While Burnett may have side-stepped the original question asked by the chairperson with regards to the international developments, he nonetheless painted a vivid picture of the consequences of war upon Scotland and her people both at home and at the front. Against this context the riches of the archived collection at Craiglockhart are further underscored. The manuscript material, particularly the Hydra magazine, captures a snapshot of the impact of the Great War on the Edinburgh community. If you wish to visit the war poets collection details can be found by clicking this link: http://www2.napier.ac.uk/warpoets/.


The following photo shows David Jarman and Jane Ali-Knight of Edinburgh Napier University, with Elspeth Frew, in attendance for the event. Article contributed by Aisling MacQuarrie.


‘The Sacrifices of War’ – Mark Byford, 20 August 2014

Byford01A cool and confident Mark Byford walked into the Baillie Gifford Corner Theatre at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Wednesday afternoon to discuss his compelling account of the Vietnam War and the cost of conflict in his new book, A Name on a Wall: Two Men, Two Wars, Two Destinies. Sir Menzies Campbell in his role as chairperson introduced Byford, a journalist and former BBC Deputy Director General, to the assembled audience. The author set the scene as he explained the remarkable coincidences that inspired his literary journey before reading aloud passages from his work to the attentive crowd. The book revolves around the lives of two seemingly contrasting and unrelated men who happen to share the same surname of Byford. The first of these men is the author’s father, Lawry Byford, a solder in the Second World War, who served with the American army. The second namesake is Larry Byford, an American soldier who fought and died in the Vietnam War.

The author interweaves the experiences of both men to explore the impact of war on their personal and interior worlds. For one man the outbreak of war presented an opportunity for his talents to be recognised and offered him the potential to embark on a different professional path. Whilst for another the war ended a life and destroyed any aspirations he may have held. Byford’ s talents for reportage, accuracy and authenticity, honed during his career as an investigative journalist, can be identified on account of the impeccably researched nature of his work. Every conceivable source of information from eye witness accounts to official documentation is drawn upon to flesh out the lives of the two men and the extraordinary and divisive times they lived in.

Byford02During a stay in Washington D.C., at five o’clock in the morning, Byford decided to take the opportunity to visit the Vietnam Veterans’ memorial, more commonly known as ‘the Wall,’ before the start of an unrelenting working day. On his arrival he was deeply moved by the impact of this commemorative memorial and observed a shaft of sunlight illuminating a single name etched onto the stone – that name was Larry Byford. A nearby veteran and gatekeeper observed a reflective Byford and instructed him to take a rubbing of the engraving. Upon hearing that the author’s father was a surviving veteran of World War II he insisted that the writer give the rubbing to his father. Byford candidly confessed he took the tracing merely to appease the old veteran and after returning to England placed the folded paper into a draw where it sat for unfurled for some time. It is an astonishing coincidence that of the 58,282 names listed that this particular appellation should catch the author’s attention.

The turning point that would link this set of coincidences came when Byford decided to talk to his father about his own experiences during the Second World War. Over the course of their discussions, Lawry took his son to his hometown in Yorkshire and brought him to a memorial which listed the names of all 76 townsmen who tragically did not return from the Second World War. With great insight the elder Byford shared an eternal truth with his son that behind every name there is a story. After considering these words the author determined to discover the story behind Larry Byford — the name on the wall.

Byford03As the author uncovers the narratives of the two military men (who fought in very distinct wars) he also addresses broader thematic issues. Byford questions the cost of conflict, the nature and meaning of duty and the legacy of war. Crucially, he also assesses the extent to which the scars of war are still being healed. One of the key strengths of A Name On a Wall is how the author demonstrates from understanding the particular the universal can be discovered. It was with integrity and honestly Mark Byford shared with the assembled audience the remarkable literary and personal journey he undertook in the research and making of this book, prompting this listener to reflect on the sacrifices of war.


Article contributed by Aisling MacQuarrie.

‘Fighting on the Home Front: The Legacy of Women in World War One’ – Kate Adie, 21 August 2014

It was a very relaxed Kate Adie who addressed an expectant book festival crowd on Wed 21st August. Kate was there to promote her latest, and very different book ‘Fighting on the Home Front: The Legacy of Women in World War One’, examining what life was really like for women during WW1 and the impact of women’s work on the home front.

She aims through her book to chart the neglected ‘heroines’ of the time as very little has been written to date on civilian British women and the effects that the war had on them and indeed they had on the war. A distinguished war reporter familiar with the trenches of Sarajevo, and not the Somme, Kate recounts how women are often the ones keeping everything together at home by focusing on the normalities and banalities of life. Kate delivers witty anecdotes about her war time experiences and draws parallels with the women who are the key focus of her book.

Interesting comparisons are made with the aristocratic women of Downtown Abbey who were a small percentage of wartime women and instead Kate focuses on the lives of working class women. What adds depth to the story is the backdrop of the rise of those ‘Horrible Suffragettes’ as Queen Mary calls them, powerful women such as Emily Pankhurst and Elsie Inglis. Women were patronised and not given the same opportunities to progress and were considered to be inferior. This view is compounded by the attitude of the medical profession who recount tales of how women have smaller brains which will overheat if given too much information!

However, Kate recounts how the war helped to emancipate women and give a vehicle to the women’s protest movement as women were thrust into the limelight and into previously unheard ‘male positions’. Prior to the war prostitution had a been a major problem amongst working class women living on the edge with no opportunities for working and bettering themselves and evoking a moral panic. Innovations included the first women’s Police force, farming the land and working in the ambulance service. Kate presents interesting stories of women taking on courageous roles, no longer seen to be invisible. She tells the story of Flora Sandes initially a St. John’s Ambulance volunteer, who travelled to Serbia, where, in the confusion of war, she was formally enrolled in the Serbian army. She was subsequently promoted to the rank of Sergeant major, and, after the war, to Captain and was the only British woman to officially serve as a soldier in WW1.

With work however came freedom as women were encouraged to move away from home to work, living together in hostels. She tells stories of women in Glasgow meeting in local places, engaging in shopping activity and even playing football (25,000 people came to watch a charity womens football match in St James Park).

There was still however a rigid class system in place with most of the physical and demanding jobs being done by working class women and most women encouraged to work in the munitions factories earning half the wages of men. Middle class women tended to work in charity fundraising and voluntary organisations such as the WAAC.

Thus a very different picture of war time Britain and the role of women emerges instead of proving what women should do the war played a key role in proving what women could do. Kate finally argues that what really mattered is whether these changes were ‘long lasting’ or just for war time.



‘The Poetry of War: Portraits of the Patients at Craiglockhart’ – 24 August 2014

As the Edinburgh International Book Festival drew to a close for 2014, one of the highlights of Edinburgh Napier’s involvement took place on a sunny Sunday evening. Having heard mention of the Craiglockhart War Hospital, Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen in various talks during the Festival, it was fitting that the Edinburgh Napier University sponsored event brought these themes to the fore. A packed audience gathered to hear about life at the hospital, the treatments and practices of the institution and the artefacts and archives which remain. On the stage was Alan Burnett (author of The Story of Scotland) and, archivist at Craiglockhart, Catherine Walker.

IMG_3418Over the course of an hour the packed audience was introduced to the history of Craiglockhart (first a hydro hotel, later a convent), the medical approaches of Dr Rivers and Dr Brock and some other connections between Edinburgh and the Great War. This latter point touched on Edinburgh-born Earl Haig, and the aerial bombardment of the Grassmarket that was news to many in the tent!

At the heart of the event were copies of Hydra, ‘The Magazine of Craiglockhart War Hospital’. Two copies of the magazine were recently brought to Craiglockhart and added to the university’s collection. Catherine W explained how the magazine was both a way to share news and a forum for discussion. Topics of the day ranged from the activities of the debating and sports societies, to the progress of women’s suffrage. There was an element of self-censorship at times, avoiding anything too controversial or revolutionary.

As was stated by Alan B, the commentary and poetry that found its way into these pages has ‘helped shape our image of the war’. He was keen to stress that it was written from officers’ perspectives, that Craiglockhart was a place for the select few, who were being given some of the best care available. Yet these were also men who formed part of the office class, contending with the stress of having to live up to the expectations that accompanied their role in life and the armed services. The concern for some was that they risked becoming ‘dangerously well’ and thus were flirting with being sent back to the front.

The Book Festival event was further illuminated by several readings, taken from the magazines and performed by young actors. To an extent they and other such references brought home the contrast between the relatively mundanity of Edinburgh life and the experiences of war that had affected these men so. We also heard a nurse’s poem, reflecting her lived experience of growing up at this time and defying standard expectations of her place in society. In line with many of the events to have taken place in the Book Festival’s ‘Words and War‘ this exploration of the Poetry of War was a window onto a tumultuous time for the men and women of Edinburgh, Scotland and Europe.

Ahead of the main event, as part of a reception hosted by the Principal of Edinburgh Napier University, a small audience was privileged to hear a few melodies played out on the ‘Wilfred Owen Violin‘. This instrument has recently been made from freshly sourced timber, a sycamore still growing in the grounds of Craiglockhart. It is a unique contribution to the history of the building and our modern links to the staff and patients of the hospital, and will hopefully be heard many times again at Craiglockhart and elsewhere.

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‘Picturing a Terrible Conflict’ – Florian Dedio and Gunnar Dedio, 25 August 2014

florian dedio gunnar dedioAmong the themes that have recurred through the various events covered on this blog, an interest in the lives of citizens caught up in the Great War has been prevalent. Often far removed from the decision makers of European governments and powers, the stories being told of soldiers, nurses, farmers, parents and children have proved popular with writers and audiences alike. Perhaps it is the loss of first hand experiences that captures the imagination: now we no longer have anyone to tell us ‘what it was like’ we are more keen than ever to find out. Historians, spurred on by their own interests and perhaps those of their publishers, have new resources at their disposal – fuelled by rediscovered archives, connections forged over the internet and a desire to help mark the centenary of the conflict.

Florian and Dedio and Gunnar Dedio presented a small slice of their contribution to the presentation of everyday life in and around the First World War. Their ambition is to present the war from a transnational perspective, delivered through a series of films and an image-rich book. Over the course of their hour at the Book Festival they presented and explained the origins of their sources, the approaches they adopted in their work and made an international project directly relevant to their Scottish audience.

Their work draws from diaries and letters written across Europe, picking out themes that are common to those on all sides of the conflict. Some 26 broadcasters were involved in creating and presenting the work, including the BBC and BBC Alba. The resulting films combine archive footage with modern reconstructions, using words from those diaries. Archived films were rescanned using modern techniques, which bring out the clarity and detail of the originals. Alongside the live action, still images also feature heavily in both the book and the films. Many are from an collection of glass plates that has recently been uncovered in Germany: ground breaking work which saw the glass positives of the images ‘colourised’ by artists painting in very fine detail on the reverse. The results are captivating, all the more so as they were originally presented in stereoscope through special glasses: two images, which gave the impression of 3D when viewed together.

There was a lot to get through in the time allowed, from the philosophy behind the project, to the techniques used in its production and the nature of the materials being drawn from. Florian and Gunnar were never less than enthusiastic and engaging. They have travelled many miles to compile the project and to share it with audiences across Europe. BBC Alba requested a Gaelic version, which was duly delivered. Both adult and child versions have been made of the films, speaking to different audiences. The morning audience in Edinburgh was shown clips from the films, examples of the photographs and excerpts from the original diaries used in the project. And still there was time for questions at the end.

There was a solemn mood for much of the event, both from the content of the diaries and the realisation that for many of their authors these were among their final thoughts and messages to those back home. It was imbued with a modern sensibility though, with Florian pointing out that our collective picture of World War I is based on a relatively small selection of images, when in reality there are millions out there. Europe in the 21st century is growing accustomed to a life that is captured and shared through countless small lenses and an array of online platforms. Modern conflict is viewed through the same tools, with near instantaneous availability across the global network. What we require today, yet too often don’t have the opportunity or time to access, is the careful, considered and contentious sifting of the material that will help us make sense of the world around us. Events come and go and we engage all too fleetingly, their significance can easily be lost to us. What we learn from Florian and Gunnar is that the magnitude of great events can also be overlooked, for a century or more, yet with time, patience and collaboration a richer story emerges and is made accessible across the borders that once divided us.


‘War. Germany. Act.’ – Jeremy Paxman, 24 August 2014

Jeremy Paxman walked into a full house on Sunday morning for the Open University event ‘War. Germany. Act’ which enabled him to introduce his new book, ‘Great Britain’s Great war’. The book is based upon his recent BBC1 television documentary ‘Britain’s Great War’. Peter Gutteridge was Chairman of the event, however it was clear from the outset that Paxman was going to use the entire hour to talk and tell the stories of some incredible people during the Great War.

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He began his talk by stating ‘If you want to know my conclusion overall, well World War One was the event that made modern Britain’. He followed on by describing his interest in the Great War and how his ‘obsession’ had grown through the poetry of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. He described the loyalty of these poets to their comrades and how, although bitter in some poems, these men wanted to stay loyal to their team and their comrades within the war.


He jokingly spoke of Blackadder and the modern-day portrayal of the war and stated that ‘This is not the reality of World War One… We still have prejudices about the war’. He believes that many modern depictions of the war do not illustrate the true feelings of a soldier and do not portray the reality of what it was like to be a soldier in the war. His talk was brought to life through the utilization of visual aids, photographs of men and women in the war. Each photograph was as unique and as interesting as the next. The first photograph shown was a photo of Paxman’s Great Uncle Charlie who was sadly killed on his first day in combat in Gallipoli in 1915. Jeremy found out a lot about his great uncle’s war experiences and explained them within his documentary series: ‘He joined a field ambulance unit and was attached to a division that was sent to Gallipoli. He was a young man from Yorkshire. He had previously never left his county – let alone this country – and he ended up dead on the other side of Europe. He was less than 24 hours in battle. Every family has stories like this. Great Uncle Charlie was my inspiration. I wanted to understand how it was that this could happen – that this young man who had never left his county could be dead on the other side of Europe in less than a year of the break out of war.’


He spoke of how it had been 100 years since the war occurred and that ‘nobody expected the war when it came’. Why did the war start? In summary, Britain held a treaty with Belgium that was signed in the first half of the 19th century, and when Germany planned to move through Belgium, Britain had to act to honor the treaty. Paxman then stated, with war ‘it may not be your generation who has to answer the call; it may be many years on!’

He then spoke of the story of Kitchener, more famously known for his ‘Your country needs you!’ poster, who was brought back to Britain to serve in the War. Paxman then moved on to say ‘as many people have said about Kitchener: terrible general, but great poster!’


Paxman described how easy it was to join the army, but how difficulty it was to leave. If a man was between the ages of 18-34 and could inflate his lungs to 34 inches, ‘he was in’. Additionally, he spoke of how you had to have ‘good teeth’ to join the army as this was ultimately a very good indicator of good health; to which many said: ‘what are we going to do – bite the Germans?!’ Which received uproar of laughter from the audience as Paxman announced this. Most soldiers within WW1 were placed in battalions with people they knew, which ultimately led to loyalty and companionship with the friends they shared their experiences with.

The next photograph we were shown was of a soldier in a British trench, knee-deep in water, illustrating how bad the conditions of British trenches were. The daily drink of rum was a highlight for many in these conditions, Paxman said. The Germans were the occupying force within the war so their trenches were better.

We were then shown a photograph of a young couple at their wedding, Paxman commented on ‘just how young they look’. Many men in the war tried to avoid army service, and by late 1915 volunteers were low. There was a total of 16,000 conscientious appeals in world war one, and as Paxman commented ‘contrary to common belief, they were not killed, they were jailed’. He also touched on the fact that some were shot for cowardice or desertation.

The audience was shown a photograph of the ‘Womens Land Army’: most munitions were made by women by the end of the war. Paxman then quoted ‘the hand that rocks the cradle wrecks the world’.


In 1917, rationing was introduced in Britain so that the Government was able to control what the nation was eating. Paxman then focused on a photograph of two men, both of whom were amputees and both were surprisingly cheerful. Paxman said to this photograph ‘what strikes me is the falseness in their smiles’. However, great work was done with plastic surgery within the period of WW1 and this is something that was touched upon within the talk, particularly the differences between plastic surgery then, and plastic surgery now.

At the end of the talk, Paxman finished just as most would by remembering the men who had given their lives for the war. He spoke about the 750 thousand men who never came back to Britain from the war. He also spoke of a set of villages in England and how out of 16,000 men who left from the villages, only 40 men returned.

The war changed Britain; women received the vote and generally people appreciated each other more. As he stated in the beginning of his talk: ‘World War One was the event that made modern Britain’.

It was an insightful and genuinely interesting hour with Jeremy Paxman, not only have I loved his work for years, but I now cannot wait to read his new book.

His new book ‘Great Britain’s Great War’ is available to buy now here.


‘Common Cause: The Scots and the First World War’ – Stuart Allan and David Forsyth, 13 August 2014

The shared connections that link a springbok called Nancy, the French town of Marseilles and warrior dancing to Scotland and the Great War (1914-1918) on first inspection may appear incongruous. Yet Stuart Allan and David Forsyth illustrate in their new work, Common Cause: Commonwealth Scots and the Great War, how these seemingly unexpected ties are in actual fact part of a wider and deeper story of the Scots diaspora and their experiences during the First World War. Allan and Forsyth, both senior curators at the National Museum of Scotland, joined chairperson Susan Mansfield and an eager audience in the ScottishPower Studio Theatre at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, to discuss the relevance and meaning behind their current work.

The book is approached from the perspective of museum curators with emphasis placed on visual and material cultures. Identifying highly symbolic objects and artefacts, Common Cause explores the complex themes of identity, migration and conflict. Crucially, the objects lead the book and according to Allan proceed with them. With great skill and insight, the authors captured the attention of the gathered audience to demonstrate that behind a series of outwardly conventional objects the cultural background to the politics of the British Empire during this formative period could be uncovered. A case in point is the aforementioned springbok, Nancy. Nancy was gifted to the South African Scottish as the mascot for the newly raised brigade. When the 4th South African Infantry entered Marseilles, bedecked in kilts as they played the bagpipes and drums, the little springbok trotted in front of the unit as they marched into the French town. Against the odds Nancy survived to see the end of the War and after her natural death was preserved to become a relic of the brigade’s military heritage. While remarkable such a little creature could survive in hostile conditions, the real significance of this mascot lies in its symbolism.

The 4th South Africa Infantry were raised by an emigrant Stirlingshire Scot, Sir William Dalrymple, a mining magnate. Dalrymple ensured that the Scottish nature of this newly formed brigade would be apparent to all who encountered them by adopting traditional Highland dress, bonnets and establishing a regimental pipe band. However, a South African identity was also made manifest through other expressions that began to intertwine with the Scottish traditions of the brigade. The springbok, native to South Africa, is a statement of South Africa identity and at this time of the imperial nation of South Africa. Moreover, the extraordinary photograph that adorns the cover of the book captures the brigade performing with gusto – in kilts and bonnets – an African warrior dance. By looking closely at the representation behind photographs, mascots and other objects the authors highlight the pluralistic identities that informed the Scots aboard that were of a cultural, national and military nature.  From a material histories perspective, Common Cause pinpoints the tensions between imperial, national, regional and local identities that were emerging under the impact of the Great War within Britain and in the wider Commonwealth of nations.

Allan and Forsyth underscored to a receptive audience the global reach of the Scottish diaspora by articulating the number of those involved, the scale of the conflict and the legacy of the Great War upon Scotland and beyond. Recalling the photograph of the 4th South African Infantry previously mentioned, this picture was projected onto a large screen so that it could be clearly seen by the entire festival audience. The impact of this enlarged visual image brought home the tragedy of war. The young men captured in this shot were full of life, expression and vigour as they animated the air and kicked up dust from the ground but as I continued to look closely at this projected image I couldn’t help but reflect that some of those souls would not return from conflict. It was a poignant reminder of the utter catastrophe of war. With that David Forsyth read aloud the Canadian-Scot John McCrae’s poem ‘In Flanders Field.’


Against this context McCrae’s reflections can viewed as a counterpoint to the work of Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen The work of the latter two poets will be discussed this Sunday, the 24th of August, at an event organised by Edinburgh Napier University and hosted at the Edinburgh International Book Festival for those interested in war poetry and the Great War (see link: https://www.edbookfest.co.uk/the-festival/whats-on/the-poetry-of-war). The accompanying exhibition to Common Cause: Commonwealth Scots and the Great War can be seen at the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, from the 11th of July until the 12th of October 2014 (http://www.nms.ac.uk/national-museum-of-scotland/whats-on/common-cause/ ). I would sincerely recommend Common Cause, the book and the exhibition, to anyone interested in this crucial period in Scottish, British, Imperial and Global history.

Article contributed by Aisling MacQuarrie.

‘Catastrophe: Europe goes to War 1914’ – Max Hastings, August 17th 2014

Sir Max Hastings is a British journalist, editor, historian and author- most famously known for his work as a foreign correspondent for the BBC who reported from more than sixty countries and eleven wars for BBC TV’s 24 hours current affairs programme.

Hastings entered the main Baillie Gifford Theatre to a full-house this morning and upon arrival received a very warm welcome. His talk and Q&A was chaired by Al Senter, an arts journalist and broadcaster.

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Sir Max began his talk by stating “every great historical event becomes shrouded with myths over time; 1914 is no exception”. His new book ‘Catastrophe’ which has already been named ‘History book of the Year’ by The Times was the main focus of the event itself with the main question presenting itself as; what happened to Europe in 1914? 

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Hastings then went on to state that in the 21st century, people are still confused about the First World War, including the one aspect that war itself was a usable incident of policy at the time. His talk focused on many of the battles in World War One including the Battle of the Somme on 1st of July 1914 and the Battle of Ypres in October of 1914. He described the Battle of Ypres as “the first true trench story of the war”. 

He moved on to discuss the role of women in the war and how women’s role in western society had ‘changed completely’ following the war, however  as he humorously added (they) were ‘initially confined to knitting, including knitting mittens that would fit baby elephants’- which through the seriousness of the talk, brought resounding laughter from the audience.

German politics at the time was touched upon and Hastings spoke of how Germany could have prevented the war in 1914 by communicating with Vienna and telling the Austrians to stop invading Serbia, however as was the case the Germans did not. He believes, as do other historians particularly in Germany, that if Germany had not gone to war, the continent would have been under German control by peaceful means, as it was a hugely advanced country at the time.

He then spoke about the amount of killing that happened within the war and stated “an enormous amount of killing had to happen for one side to prevail.” It was a shock for myself and a few others in the theatre when he spoke of the sheer amount of losses that happened within Great Britain at the time. Over the course of World War One, over 700,000 British Isles men died fighting for their country. As Winston Churchill was quoted by Sir Max Hastings at the end his talk “no part of the great war compares in interest with it’s opening… moreover in the beginning our faculties of wonder, horror and excitement had not been cauterized and deadened by the furnace of years”.

There was time at the end of the talk for a couple of questions, during one answer Hastings gave a quote that I believed ended the entire event fittingly:

“Wars begin when you will, but do not end when you please” – Niccolo Machiavelli. 

Overall, Sir Max Hastings provided a delightful Sunday morning for many in Edinburgh. His stories and his knowledge of the Great War were incredibly insightful and interesting. You can order his book online at: Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War 1914

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‘The Shot That Rang Round the World’ – Sue Woolmans, 14 August 2014

Royal historian Sue Woolmans spoke to a packed book festival audience about her book ‘The Assassination of the Archduke: Sarajevo 1914 and the Murder that Changed the World’. Her opening comments highlighting that Franz Ferdinand was ‘…not a pop group’ and that her motivation for the book was ‘to rehabilitate a decent bloke’ led you to believe that an interesting hour lay ahead.

Sue’s introductory session discussed how the critical part that Franz Ferdinand played in the events of the 28th June 1914, which were seen to trigger WW1, are often overlooked. This and an attempt to remedy to the world the Austrian court’s negative attitude of him were seen as key inspirations for writing the book.

An enlightening and warming account of the young Archduke was given, revealing as normal an upbringing as possible, with a loving and supportive family. However, he was seen to be shy, withdrawn and often sickly and was overshadowed by his younger brother ‘Handsome Otto’. Sue recounted interesting anecdotes of Franz’s army career, Grand Tour and life as heir to the throne. In 1895 he suffered TB and the opportunist Otto took over duties while he was ill. To Otto’s dismay he made a full recovery and as an aside we are later told that the duplicitous Otto comes to an unsightly end with syphilis.

We then divert to the fascinating and moving account of Franz’s relationship to Countess Sophie. Sue presents wonderful insights into Franz’s compassion and determination as he didn’t want to have an arranged marriage but ‘marry for love’. Even though Sophie was not seen to be his equal and everyone within the royal family was against the marriage Franz was unfailing in his love for Sophie and managed to persuade his father, Franz Joseph, to let a morganatic marriage go ahead. Described as a ‘devoted couple’ and ‘unspeakably happy’ Sophie was not allowed to take her full title instead being named Duchess of Hohenberg and, their children, Sophie, Max and Ernst would also never be heir to the throne. An idyllic domestic scene is created as the Ferdinand’s are said to have had a happy family life and Franz a loving and dutiful husband and father.

Franz is shown to be a visionary thinker who fully understood that war would be catastrophic for both Austria and the region instead proposing a ‘United States of Europe’ He was seen to be outspoken holding views that were often contrary to what was expected leading him to get a bad press.
Sue reveals surprising insights into the politics of the time showing that Franz was fortunate enough to have good relationships with other European leaders, particularly Kaiser Wilhelm who would visit the family and as gardening was one of his passions would discuss, not the politics of Prussia, but the roses in the Ferdinand’s family home.

The story reaches a dramatic and fatal conclusion on Sunday 28th June 1914 as Franz and Sophie visit Sarajevo on the Serbian holiday of St Vitas day, an occasion to celebrate Serbian patriotism, to open the new premises of the state museum. Seen by many as a dangerous undertaking especially as waiting in the wings was Gavrilo Princip, a member of the Black Hand terrorist group who saw Franz Ferdinand blocking independence and vowed to assassinate him.

Sue compassionately recounts the tragic story of the couple’s death and the even more tragic reaction from the Viennese people who appear unmoved by what has happened, the Emperor even stating that it was ‘one less worry’ for him and even the funeral was turned into a massive snub.

Sue presents what could be a modern day soap opera – the scandals, backbiting and injustice whilst portraying Franz and his family as wholly realistic and likeable people.

After a series of inquiring and engaging questions that were likened to Sue proving her worth on Mastermind with specialist subject ‘The life and death of Franz Ferdinand’ the audience debated whether if Franz had lived there would have been a WW1 and were finally led out with sounds of that said Scottish pop group and not a shot echoing in the tent…




‘Monuments to the Great War Dead’ – David Crane, 11 August 2014

Monuments to the Great War Dead discusses the topic in historian David Crane’s book, Empires of the Dead, a history of the memorials and war graves set up in the aftermath of WWI to honour the nation’s dead and a biography of the man who enabled and oversaw the project; Fabian Ware. Crane brings a great amount of character, humour and sympathy in his portrayal of Ware, setting up his professional development and exploring the reasoning behind what led him to undertake the huge and impressive project of creating lasting memorials to the dead. Prior to the First World War there was no provision for burying the war dead and most soldiers, due to practical and health concerns, were buried or burned in mass graves, while those from wealthier backgrounds were sent home to be buried by their families. Crane therefore sets the development of these communal graves within the context of shifts towards a more socialist society which began during, and were influenced and spurred on by, WWI.

Through Ware’s efforts, and against a lot of pressure from members of the upper class establishment back home, the war fallen were buried together and equally, regardless of rank, class, race or religion. We can see here a form of social equality which was previously unheard of and which would not take full effect for decades later, but which was adopted by a nation in mourning as a means of quantifying and coming to terms with the massive loss it had suffered. The cemeteries which were built all over the world where British, and other Empire nations, had seen action also ushered in a new way in which people paid homage to the war dead and Crane makes an effective case for this becoming an important symbol of British identity, a homage to sacrifice which transcended the other boundaries which existed within Britain and among its allies.

This was a fascinating talk which combined a genuine wish on Crane’s part to allow Fabian Ware to take his rightful place in the Britain’s conscious history with a precise and academic knowledge and appreciation of the time period and events to show how the British nation turned the brutality and the tragedy of war into a lasting legacy to humanism and compassion. While the First World War was not to be ‘the war to end all wars’ as a mourning nation hoped, it did start a precedent of shared grief and national unity through the reflection of war’s tolls.