Lest We Forget

The 1st July 2016 marks the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.

At 7.30am on the morning of the battle thousands of young men rose from their trenches and walked across No Man’s Land towards the enemy trenches.

On that single day the British Army suffered 57,000 casualties of which 19,000 men died.  The objective on that first day are shown in the map below:


For families on the home front, newspapers and magazines provided information. Seeing images of the battle meant reading the papers or magazines.

Here is a typical image of “Going over the Top” from our copy of the Illustrated London News from the later stages of the Battle of the Somme, showing that the dominion troops were heavily engaged:

Image from the Illustrated London News Oct 26th 1916


An edition shows British troops  capturing Montauban in late July:

The Great British Offensive North of the Somme: Troops Advancing to the Capture of Montauban. Illustrated London News 22nd July 1916


You can read daily coverage of the Somme battle in the Times Digital Archive and I selected part of one of the first editorials/ leaders to come out on July 3rd where indications are that the battle was going favourably:


Contrast this with the Roll of Honour of Friday 4th August 1916:


Punch Magazine took a different view on the seemingly never-ending battle as we can see from this image of October 25th 1916:

Punch Historical Archive 1841-1992


Having visited the Western Front several years ago I was struck by the openness of the landscape, its tranquillity. The scars remain of course and the area is populated by cemeteries and memorials along the frontline.

Some of the areas which I found very moving on my visit included:

The Lochnagar Mine Crater at La Boisselle on the Somme which was sprung at 7.28am on the 1st July and shows that the war was also waged underground by Royal Engineers and the devastation this caused


Delville Wood was also an incredibly atmospheric place to visit. It was where battalions of the South African Brigade came under artillery fire from the Germans during their attempt to capture and then defend the wood in mid July 1916

The South African Brigade had gone into battle here on 15th July 1915 with strength of 121 officers and 3,032 other ranks. At roll call on 21st July they numbered only 29 officers and 751 other ranks.

Military Artist drawing of the battle of Delville Wood July 1917


Abandoned German trench Delville Wood September 1916


Deville Wood at it is today


Newfoundland Memorial Park near Beaumont Hamel is one of only a few sites on the Western Front where the ground remains largely untouched from when the First World War ended and there are preserved trenches:

Image of trenches from the November 1916 attack


The Royal Newfoundland Regiment, part of the 29th Division, which had seen action at Gallipoli (1915) arrived in France in April 1916 and attacked on the 1st July 1916 at 9.15am as part of the second wave and suffered great losses in their attempt to Beaumont Hamel with 90% casualties.


Just in front of the Caribou in the above photo are the trenches from which the Newfoundland’s launched their attack.

During the First World War plans were already being made on how to commemorate the fallen and I would recommend Empires of the Dead by David Crane (2013) if you are interested in the story behind the building of the British and Commonwealth war cemeteries.


The most poignant and the largest memorial and the focus of commemorations on the 1st July is the Thiepval Memorial to the missing. This commemorates the 72,195 dead of all the  battles fought in the Somme area July 1915-November 1918 who have no known grave.

Total allied casualties during those 141 days were 623,907.

Lest We Forget.

To access all the databases used to research this blog please see:

Punch Historical  Archive 1841-1992

Visit the Times Digital Archive

The Illustrated London News is available at the Central Reference Library

Karen Ullersperger, Tri-Borough Reference Librarian




A Brief History of the Crinoline

Dave Walker, our Local Studies Librarian  is the author of our extremely popular blog, The Library Time Machine. This showcases some of the amazing photos we have in our archive. As a companion piece to his blog post this week he writes here on the history of the crinoline. Over to Dave….

In my post on the Library Time Machine this week I have written about the first production of Arthur Pinero’s play Trelawny of the Wells. First performed in 1898 the play is set in the 1860s and for the author, producers and presumably the audience some of the comedy derived from the costumes and décor of a bygone age, specifically the actresses wearing crinoline dresses which to modern theatre goers of the late 1890s would have been inherently ridiculous rather in the way than modern taste regards previous fashion disasters such as the puffball skirt of the 1980s or even the flared trousers of the 1970s which we all wore quite happily for years and which vanished almost overnight in the punk era.

1898 version of the crinoline from Trelawny of the Wells
1898 version of the crinoline from Trelawny of the Wells

But the crinoline actually lasted for about ten years from roughly 1855 to 1865 so it must have had some advantages.

Princess Victoria, eldest daughter of Queen Victoria in 1861
Princess Victoria, eldest daughter of Queen Victoria in 1861

In the 1840s and early 1850s dresses and skirts became wider and needed to be supported by a large number of petticoats. The first crinolines were starched petticoats to which hoops of whalebone and cane were added for better support. The idea was to free women from having to wear so many layers of underwear. Developments in steel technology produced lightweight flexible wires which could be put together into a dome shape – the cage crinoline which at a stroke eliminated the need for heavy petticoats and freed the legs from those entangling undergarments. So the crinoline was actually a step forward in women’s fashion both in terms of mobility and affordability. It was one of the first fashion trends which travelled outwards from the middle classes and encompassed both upper class and working class women.

Mrs Fitzgerald wearing a fairly extravagant example of the new technology (1861)
Mrs Fitzgerald wearing a fairly extravagant example of the new technology (1861)
Miss Geralupo (1860) compare this with the dress worn by Irene Vanburgh in Trelawny
Miss Geralupo (1860) compare this with the dress worn by Irene Vanburgh in Trelawny

Of course crinolines were a little silly. The wearer had to navigate city streets in wide skirts, sometimes very wide if you look at Mrs Fitzgerald (above) and had to be skilled in sitting down without causing the whole apparatus to billow up and reveal what was underneath. Women took to wearing ankle length pantalettes or drawers in case of accidents which gave rise to later more decorative forms of underwear. The crinoline was a gift to humorists. Punch magazine satirised it unmercifully for many years, even creating urban legends in the process such as the notion that women boarding buses would remove their crinolines and that the bus conductor would hang them on the side of the bus as in this photograph.

Crinolines hanging from a bus!
Crinolines hanging from a bus!

Can we really believe this? Can you imagine having to remove a crinoline in the street without showing your underwear and then put it back at the end of the journey? The picture was probably staged. Along with the satire there were also scares over crinoline dresses which were accidentally set alight, or women in factories dragged into machinery. So despite the advantages of the crinoline perhaps everyone eventually got tired of the whole business. By about 1865 women were ready for a change. Crinolines changed their shape, became flatter at the front and sides and got pushed to the back in the form of the bustle. Here is Princess Victoria in 1876.

Princess Victoria in 1876
Princess Victoria in 1876

Ironically this elegant looking dress would have been tighter and more restrictive as far as walking was concerned. So perhaps the enlightened audiences of 1898 shouldn’t have laughed too hard at what their grandmothers used to wear.

Dave Walker
Dave Walker

Dave Walker Local Studies Librarian 

Pictures of Princess Victoria, Mrs Fitzgerald and Miss Geralupo from ‘Fashion in Photographs 1860-1880’ by Miles Lambert 1991. Just one of the many books on the history of fashion in the Costume Collection at Chelsea Library.