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




Zeppelins over Barbados

Lucy Yates, World War One Project Officer, writes:

The Broughshane scrapbooks have been sitting quietly in a dusty corner of the Local Studies archive for 100 years. These are a wonderful resource, collected by the Mayor of Kensington during World War One. They include samples of khaki for troops’ uniforms from Harrods and poignant personal letters from the commander of the local 22nd Battalion. They have been taken out a few times over the years but part of our project remit is to get the community to engage with them. To this end, we’ve been running workshops and last Monday we were delighted to host the Pepper Pot Club from Ladbroke Grove.

Pepper Pot Day Centre
Pepper Pot Day Centre

The scrapbooks were pored over with great interest and their content prompted memories including Zeppelins being seen over Barbados and one veteran’s more recent service in Aden.

Pepper Pot Day Centre
Pepper Pot Day Centre

We were also keen to hear the group’s thoughts on the direction of our forthcoming World War One exhibition and there was a unanimous feeling among participants that they would like the youth of many of the soldiers to be remembered and to avoid the glorification of war. We will make this one of our community-focused aims and hope this is reflected in the tone of the blog post we’ve already done, on Randle Barnett Barker, 11/12/2014 .

Our project website will be going live in the next fortnight and we would love members of the public in Kensington and Chelsea to contribute their World War One family memories and photographs. You can find us at:





Coventry Library & women in the Great War

Zvezdana Popovic, our Senior Customer Services Assistant, writes:

For those who read my previous blog about women in the Great War, I just wanted to update you on two events I had mentioned –
my What did you do in the Great War, Grandma? Exhibition and talk, one in the British Library, the other in Coventry Central Library: both very successful!

This was my first visit to Coventry so I decided to do a bit of research about the place (like I usually do before going somewhere on holiday) and about the Peace Festival. Coventry is the centre for peace and reconciliation in Britain and this year there were more than sixty events between the 1st and the 14th of November which culminated with the anniversary of the Coventry Blitz, in the Cathedral Ruins, and The Coventry International Prize for Peace and Reconciliation Award, in Coventry Cathedral. (I was not aware that Basil Spence, who designed the cathedral, also designed our own Kensington Town Hall and Swiss Cottage Library amongst many other buildings.)

Nevertheless, nothing could have prepared me for the surprise I received when Lady Godiva and my host, Mrs Slavica Stojsavljevic, came to pick me from the railway station.

Lady Godiva and my host, Mrs Slavica Stojsavljevic (left)

Ms Pru Porretta has been Lady Godiva for more than 30 years; ambassador for Coventry and a real jewel; an absolute source on any possible information about the town, its history and its people. I learned that Coventry “invented twinning” and it is a twin with another 27 cities around the globe, including Belgrade and Sarajevo (from the Yugoslav era).  Belgrade donated wood to Coventry for a new theatre, so the Belgrade Theatre at the Belgrade Plaza still displays its beautiful wooden ceiling proudly. No need to mention that I felt at home – definitely even more so after Joanna Reid, executive director, gave us a tour around the theatre followed by a lunch reception for special guests at the Belgrade Theatre Restaurant. (I had to fight the urge to photograph all the delicious dishes!)

Firstly, we went to Coventry Central Library to set the What did you do in the Great War Grandma? exhibition up and prepare everything. Wow! I was really impressed with the library –  large, modern, open-plan, and because of the people who work there: so many colleagues came and offered help. I have to thank particularly James and Adele for showing me around and successfully managing the event together with all the other public duties they had. A few colleagues even stayed for the talk.

Coventry Library
Coventry Library

In the spirit of camaraderie, I recommended their library to everyone I spoke to and urged the audience to make full use of their brilliant resources, especially if they wanted to borrow books on the WWI topics discussed.

Coventry Library's splendid history collection
Coventry Library’s splendid history collection

Because the event was part of the Coventry Peace festival, some very important guests came – Deputy Lord Mayor Michael Hammon, Rev John Stroyan, Bishop of Warwick, Councillor Ram Lakha, Father Nenad Popovic from Birmingham (who has monthly Serbian Orthodox service in St. John the Baptist church in Coventry), Mr Pribicevic, Serbian Ambassador, and his delegation, members of Coventry Association of International Friendship (who invited me to be their speaker at the annual conference in May), Lady Godiva’s “sisters” and other guests.

Standing room only: audience members at What did you do in the Great War Grandma?
Standing room only: audience members at What did you do in the Great War Grandma?

And during my talk, I found out that one of the women I talked about – Lady Dorothie Feilding – was a local girl, as Reverend Stroyan informed us. He was very happy that I included her.

Commemorating the life and deeds of these brave women, doctors, nurses, drivers, orderlies, administrators on Western and other fronts, we were all pleased when Lady Godiva suggested that both priests say a prayer for them and bless us all.

What a splendid way to end the presentation and exhibition What did you do in the Great War, Grandma?

If you are interested in further reading and research  about women in the Great War, take a look at the Further reading list I have compiled. Please take a look on our catalogue too.




Spotlight on Remembrance Sunday

The second Sunday of November is, every year, a day of reflection, when people of all ages wear a poppy with pride.

Our online Encyclopaedia Britannica has a brilliant Britannica Spotlight on Poppy Day page, which is perfect for helping you (or someone you know) with Remembrance Sunday homework: useful articles and information as well as activities and fun.

Spotlight on Poppy Day
Spotlight on Poppy Day

There is also a Poppy Day article for older students, with a handy double-click on any word to get an instant dictionary definition tool: it also allows you to select different reading levels, and search for and highlight specific words.

Remembrance Sunday on  Encyclopaedia Britannica
Remembrance Sunday on Encyclopaedia Britannica

Check out our Encyclopaedia Britannica page, where you can find links to Britannica Junior, Student and Adult.

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!