Sloane Street 1919: the Peace Parade

We’ve struck gold this week: a guest blog by our Local Studies Librarian, Dave Walker, with some personal- and local- reflections of WWI.

Like many of the people who work in libraries, archives and museums I’ve spent time this year getting ready for the commemoration of the start of the First World War, looking through archive material, going to meetings and workshops, working on exhibitions and events and answering the first flurry of enquiries on the subject. I’ve never experienced any preparation for a centenary like it. Raising awareness of a profoundly significant historical event and getting people interested in history is never a bad thing. But the First World War is not like other historical events. It’s definitely not like the Second World War.

2022

World War 2 was an unambiguous struggle against evil. We may have had some allies we felt dubious about afterwards, and we may feel regret about some of the methods and weapons used by the Allies but it was a necessary war. That seems to be the general consensus. And I know it from my own family. Both my father and my mother were in the armed forces and believed in the cause for which they were fighting.

2023

But World War 1 is less clear cut. We fought an aggressor who was determined on the domination of Europe (and elsewhere). But the origins of the war are caught up in diplomatic machinations and expediency. And there are many areas of disagreement about the conduct of the war. Were our troops “lions led by donkeys” as Allan Clarke famously put it? Or were the allied commanders as competent as could have been expected given that the technology of warfare was changing so rapidly? Was the Great War a just war against an enemy of civilisation? Or simply the result of one gang of would be imperialists attempting unsuccessfully to supplant another? It wasn’t as it turned out “the war to end wars”. But was it just an accidental outbreak of unjustifiable blood-letting?

2029

It’s harder when the event being remembered is reaching the point of being almost past living memory. As far as my own family is concerned there are a few photos of men in uniform seen in old photo albums and I know about my great uncle John James Williamson who died towards the end of the war too late to travel home on compassionate leave when his mother died. (His brother George made it home and survived the war.)

2026

When it comes to what is being commemorated we can agree that it was the courage and sacrifice of ordinary men and women that we want to remember and the details of ordinary lives. The historians and politicians can argue over the rest.

There is no doubt about the suffering and trauma which ended the long Edwardian summer and propelled us into the 20th century. But if it feels disheartening to contemplate pain, misery and injustice we can remember that this is history. We have the whole span of the war to examine, which is why I have chosen these pictures.

2025

This was the Peace Parade of 1919. Men and women who served in the armed forces or in auxiliary forces are seen marching down Sloane Street (just a part of the whole route) to commemorate the end of the war.

We’re rightly avoiding the word celebration this year. But I think it is right to say that these men and women were celebrating one thing – their own survival. They marched in front of cheering crowds to celebrate the peace, proud of what they had done but glad it was finished.

2022a

Home at last. War is over.

 

You can follow Dave’s regular blog here

 

 

 

The London History Festival 2012

London History Festival Cover 2012
London History Festival 2012

 November at the Central Library means the London History Festival now in its fourth year.

We started the Festival in partnership with the literary agency Chalke Authors with the intention of improving our programme of author events. By concentrating on one subject (one of the most popular non-fiction topics) for two weeks we could get more authors and present them not only on their own but talking to each other in panel events. In the first year we covered Women in history (with Alison Weir, Sarah Gristwood and Claire Mulley), Greatest battles and war reporting but also had the time to devote a whole event to a serious academic history of the English Civil War by John Adamson, interviewed by the editor of History Today Paul Lay. History Today magazine has supported the Festival since it started and became a sponsor from the second year.

The success of the first festival enabled us to attract bigger authors to the event. In the second year Anthony Beevor made his first appearance discussing his blockbuster books about the Second World War with Roger Moorhouse another historian familiar with doing research into the war years. They spoke about how the opening up of East German and Russian archives after the fall of the Soviet Union has changed our view of the period.

That year we also had panel events on the always popular subjects of the Tudors and the Victorians.

Sometimes of course things don’t go according to plan. I was particularly keen to have an event on ancient history and we arranged for Tom Holland and Richard Miles to discuss their specialist subjects in Rome and Carthage. Richard Miles was unable to make it so Tom Holland had to carry the whole event supported by Paul Lay. Tom was surprisingly adept at covering both sides of the argument and the event was a success. The one disappointment for me was that I had been told that because Tom started his literary career writing vampire novels (pretty good ones too) he always got a couple of Goths at his events. But no Goths appeared so I was denied the chance to get a quirky photo.

In the third year we collaborated with Waterstone’s Kensington High Street branch and split the individual events between us. The Library presented the big authors. We had local resident Simon Sebag Montefiore talking about his books on Jerusalem and Russia. Max Hastings delivered a completely solo talk on his history of World War Two through the experiences of ordinary soldiers and civilians. Sir Max worked standing up and without an interlocutor, taking over the lecture theatre with his customary confidence. Our final night featured award winning biographer Claire Tomalin talking about her new biography of Charles Dickens. This was probably the most popular event the Festival has seen so far.

We think of the Festival as a way of giving something extra to our regular readers and as a way of bringing new users to the library. At a time when the publishing industry is changing due to the introduction of e-reading, and when many people get their books from online retailers, events like the Festival bring readers and writers together in an actual rather than virtual place. People can see, hear and talk to authors, which is good for writers, readers, publishers and librarians.

LHF2011
London History Festival cover 2011

Next week I’ll tell you what I’m looking forward to in this year’s London History Festival.

Tickets for this year’s Festival are available from all our Libraries and by phone from LibrariesLine (020 7361 3010). For further details see also the What’s on page on the Council website and the Libraries Facebook page.

Dave Walker
Dave Walker

by Dave Walker