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




The Queen is 90! Let’s look back to April 1926…

Owen Grey, Reference Librarian, writes: 

So this year Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her 90th birthday. Or rather birthdays, as while her actual birthday is today, 21 April (she was born at 17 Bruton Street at 2.40am on 21 April 1926), her formal birthday with all the pomp and ceremony is on the second Saturday in June. This year there will be a weekend of celebrations, such as the Patron’s lunch on Sunday 12 June.queen2016

But as the title says – what was said and what happened on the day itself? Using our newspaper archives , both online and hard copy, it is possible to have a glimpse of the news as it would have been read by the people of 1926.

First of all, the time of the then Princess Elizabeth’s birth was important for the daily newspapers. Normally an event which occurred on the 21st would be reported on the 22nd once it has had a chance to be written and printed. However, because the event took place so early in the morning it made it into the headlines of the day!

Check the Times Digital Archive to see how the news was reported (log in with your library card number). You could limit your searches to just 21 and 22 April, or simply browse through each day’s newspaper. Then take a look at some of the other papers – different publications can give you different types of story and varying headlines. newsa

Think about your search terms; which words will you use? Try out different ones. Remember that the baby born that day had not yet been named, was not yet Queen or even the heir to the throne. Here are a few tips for possible keywords: granddaughter, daughter, birth, Duchess of York, and royal are just a few.

From my searches I discovered that The Times managed to get an announcement into its 21 April ‘News in Brief’ section, and the next day mentions that the princess is third in line for succession to the throne (an important fact, as we would find out later on).

And take a look at our Illustrated London News collection for some images too. These are available in Central and Chelsea Libraries.




Lots of stories to explore! Why not go further and see what is written about each of the birthdays and life events over her 90 years? You can read more in one of the many books featured on our catalogue, and find dates and events to then research in the newspapers. Be imaginative with your search terms; you never know what you might discover!

60 years of the Route Master

Owen Grey, Reference Librarian, writes:

In Earls Court’s sixty years ago on the 24th of September the Routemaster bus was unveiled by London Transport.

A brief story in the Times, Biggest Commercial Motor Show by our motoring correspondent from Friday 24 September 1924 speaks about its benefits-  but even then could not foresee how it would become what Transport for London describes as being regarded by many as an icon of London. Or indeed just how long it would live on…

From http://www.standard.co.uk/news/transport/london-bids-farewell-to-the-historic-routemaster-9127455.html
From http://www.standard.co.uk/news/transport/london-bids-farewell-to-the-historic-routemaster-9127455.html


It is I am sure missed in a lot of ways by nostalgic Londoners (although I am glad I do not have to get my buggy onto it), but equally I am sure they would never be allowed these days with the dangers they pose: crazy children (and adults) leaping onto and off platforms to catch or leave the bus, who cares about whether you are at a stop or not! I managed to survive these crazy antics (I remember I preferred the Routemasters to the “new” buses as they were always quicker to where you wished to get to) and was very excited with the bringing in of the new(er) Routemaster, feeling the need to catch it for just two stops when I first saw one on our streets! They certainly will be more popular than the bendy buses with Londoners but will they be as popular as the old Routemasters? And will they survive just as long?

Well, have a look online and find out more…

TFL have a lot to say, telling us about the old and the new Routemaster buses… Or why not view the article an article from the time (in the Times) from the Times Digital Archive.

So when did they finally go onto the streets of London? The Illustrated London News suggests it was not until July 1961.  But an experimental model went all the way from Golders Green to Crystal Palace on route 2 in 1956.

Finally, a few videos to keep you reminiscing and amused…



Farewell Routemasters

The Times Digital Archive, Illustrated London News, and much more, are all available in the Reference Library- come in to find out more!

The lamps are going out all over Europe…

The Times, 5th August 1914
The Times, 5th August 1914

The Times newspaper of the 5th August 1914 gives a sense of the emotion that gripped the country after Britain declared war on Germany on the 4th August.

Crowds pack out Central London waiting for the announcement, and the atmosphere is electric: cheering, demonstrations, patriotic singing, and the royal family appears on the balcony of Buckingham Palace three times, in response to the hysterical crowds below.  Ties with Britain are strengthened across the world, with voices from America, France, and Canada confirming the sense of solidarity and unity:

“All reserve has now gone, and a wave of passionate loyalty is now sweeping the country”. (From The Times’ own correspondent, in Ottawa)

“Let us remember that the future of free government in the modern world is now being safeguarded by the blood and treasure of Great Britain as it was safeguarded by her in the era of Napoleon.” (From an American, escaped from Germany to London)

But side by side with excitement sit practicality and caution : messages to the public to reduce their food consumption, recruitment drives and the sad news that racing meets could be abandoned as the government has commissioned all horse boxes. Burberry makes the most of things:


Excitement seems to be the main ingredient, with little sense of the horrors to come…

The Times newspaper was vital for those at home following the progress of the war, in an age without internet or TV.  Key moments of WWI are brought to life through the words of Times journalists, correspondents and advertisements, and you can access the full archive online through our website, for free.

Ancestry online: finding ancestors who were involved in WWI

Our Reference Librarian, Owen Grey, writes:

Have you ever looked into how your family was involved in the Great War?

They may not have mentioned it to you, perhaps because it is too upsetting: the horror of the conflict is felt to this day with soldiers and artillery still being found, recently with tragic consequences; they feel you would not be interested (perhaps you never asked them); and in these more peaceful days they may not be proud that they were a member of the army. Whatever the reason,  it would be a fascinating and worthwhile project to find out more about the people involved, and perhaps who even gave their lives, during WWI – especially as we reach the 100th anniversary of its beginning.

Indeed, I myself found out from a comment from a relative that my Great Grandfather gave his life in 1917, and used Ancestry Online, and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, to find out more .

Ancestry, our online database of thousands of family history records, does not just provide birth and death details, it can also help us to find more information about our ancestors- or even find ancestors we never knew we had! Once we know a few simple details, we can then find their war records using AncestryAncestry doesn’t only have UK records, it also contains:

  • records from the US, the Commonwealth, France, Germany and other European countries who were also involved in the conflict.
  • Service records
  • Medals
  • War graves
  • Rolls of honour – those who died in the war
Ancestry online
Ancestry online

You can search specifically in a particular military record, in military records in general or perhaps just in amongst Ancestry’s vast number of records.

Once you have found items of interest you could perhaps ask family members more about what they know, and continue your detective work into your family history. Try looking in newspapers (using the Times Digital Archive) from WWI to see what was happening when your family members were involved in conflict. Your search could even uncover a grave or memorial. 

Drop into Kensington Central Reference Library to find out more about Ancestry and our other online databases. A member of our team will be happy to help you use them!

Hot Off The Press or Once Upon A Time

Keeping up with the news

For the next four Mondays, Nina Risoli, one of our Tri-Borough Reference Librarians will blog about two of our online reference databases:

Read all about it
Read all about it

We read newspapers and magazines to keep informed of what is happening in the world around us. Libraries have traditionally provided access to current news by making hard copies of newspapers and magazines available to their readers. In more recent times developments in information technology have turned your library card number into a code that opens a powerful gateway to news, both ‘old’ and current, without you having to set foot in a library building.

Where before it was all about old newspapers stacked in library stores and long lines of bound volumes of magazines, now we can offer all that and more through databases such as Times Digital Archive (TDA) and UK Newsstand. They (and a number of other online databases) are available to members through Library pages on the Royal Borough’s website.

And it is all free!


All you need to do is click on the link above, choose the database from the links on the right of the page (under the heading “24 hour Online Reference”) and insert your library card number when prompted.

Why not give it a go now?

Reference Library webpage
Reference Library Webpage

Not a member? Click here for information on how you can join.

So, whether you fancy researching ‘old’ news or you wish to keep up with current affairs and news as they develop, through your library membership you can access your favourite newspapers from home or anywhere in the world where you have access to the internet.

It may actually be a good idea to note down your library card number (or carry your card with you!) when travelling if you want to have continuous access to news and information while away, or wish to do a bit of research on the subject that interests you. 

If you wish to have a demonstration of TDA or UK Newsstand please contact Kensington Central Reference Library by emailing information@rbkc.gov.uk, or call 0207 361 3031. A reference librarian will be delighted to help you get familiar with the databases and set you off on your own journey of discovery. Kensington Central Reference Library has 5 dedicated computers available for researching our online databases.

Nina Risoli
Nina Risoli

Nina Risoli, Tri- Borough Reference Librarian

Kensington Central Reference Library