Battle of the Somme 1916 Richard Wimpenny’s aim, as our guest speaker on Saturday 7th February, was to tell the story of the Battle of the Somme in 1916. He wanted to explain why the casualty rate was unprecedented in the history of warfare. World War One was really the first ‘industrial war’ in which combatants numbered in the millions and that advances in technology led to greater devastation and killing power. With the aid of graphically detailed visual aids; extracts from recordings of voices from the ‘The Front’ and a clip from the television show, ‘Blackadder,’ Richard described the opening stages of the war and how the British Expeditionary Force was really inadequate for what was to follow. Lord Kitchener, unlike many politicians, felt that the war would not be over by Christmas. He encouraged the idea battalions being formed from volunteers from local communities. Lord Darby of Liverpool was one of the first to do this with volunteers forming a battalion from Liverpool. Other battalions, later dubbed the PALS, came from Bradford, Leeds, Sheffield and Barnsley. Many volunteers from Wakefield joined up with the Barnsley Pals. Early in the war miners from Wakefield and surrounding districts, had been encouraged by the West Yorkshire Coal Miners Association, to lend their skills as sappers i.e. excavating tunnels and laying mines. Lessons were learned from the Somme in which armies had become bogged down in a war of attrition and ‘trench warfare.’ However with advances in technology e.g. more effective artillery; improvements in tank warfare; increasing use of the RAFC and more sophisticated developments in trench defences, meant increasing success for the Allies. Then with the entry of USA in 1917 Germany’s defeat became inevitable. Richard Wimpenny’s interpretation of the War was extremely informative and enlightening in how the war was finally ended after so much loss of life and such devastation. The next meeting is 7th March when Kate Taylor will talk on Wakefield’s ‘Family Business of Joseph Rhodes.’ Enquiries to Ron Pullan 01924 373310
Man behind the Mirror
WAKEFIELD & DISTRICT FAMILY HISTORY SOCIETY More than ninety people turned up for our Christmas special on Saturday 6th December. Not only was Christmas cake and mince pies on offer but one of the Society’s favourite speakers, Anne Batchelor. She didn’t fail to intrigue us once again with a story that began with a photograph and a few brown coloured documents. Anne had these passed onto her by two of our volunteers, Jo and Hillary. They in turn had been told that a relative, while in the British Army in 1946, had been given the task of helping to clear up a prisoner of war camp in Belgium. The relative had taken down a mirror in one the huts and discovered a packet which contained a photo of a man in his 30s and a Germany driving licence that produced the name Wilhelm Winter. Jo and Hillary passed the packet and its contents onto Anne and asked her if she could track down the family of Wilhelm and maybe give back what had been found behind ‘ the mirror.’ Anne being who she is could not resist the challenge and with only a name, a date of birth, and documents that showed he was from Germany, began her search. However on the document were further clues; a name of a university in Berlin and the word Engineering. After a number of dead ends and the realisation that the mystery man had a name that was a common in Germany, Anne made a breakthrough after contacting the Imperial War Museum in London. A son was tracked down in Germany who began a correspondence with Anne and she was informed that Willie, as he became known, had lived until 2000. Apparently, Willie had escaped from the camp and secreted the documents behind the mirror. He found his way back home eventually married, had children and did in fact work for an engineering company. His son was extremely grateful to receive Willie’s photo etc. and was full of praise for the work and effort undertaken by Anne. Anne in turn received many copies of photos relating to Willie and his family and she has now built up quite a collection. In conclusion to a very enjoyable talk given in Anne’s inimitable style, she emphasised what could be done with the most obscure bit of information that can lead to such a fascinating investigation. There is no meeting in January. We meet again February 7th when our guest speaker will be Richard Whimpenny whose topic is ‘ The Battle of the Somme with particular reference to local Pals Regiments.’
The Mystery of the Trunk
The Mystery of the Trunk Elsie Walton began her talk on Saturday 1st November by stating ‘ It’s not what you know but Who you know.’ An email, sent to one of our members, sparked off a voyage of discovery for Elsie when a lady called Alison wanted to know if the Society was interested in a travelling trunk that she had in her attic. There was evidence that it had a connection with a German Jewish woman, called Hannah, who had come to Britain in 1939 as a refugee from Nazi Germany. This whetted Elsie’s appetite to know more of this child. She decided to make her mission to find out more. She combed through the Wakefield Express cuttings from the period, then online for Jewish sites that might help, then read books on evacuees and the Kinder Trains. Nothing really helped until a friend suggested that a contact in Horbury might help. A break through occurred when contact was made with a Robert and his sister Margaret who said that their mother had taken in an Anne Marie, a Jewish girl from Germany in 1939. This led to a series of emails between the contacts in Horbury with Alison and Elsie. The latter suggested, in response to Alison asking what should she do with the trunk, that it be donated to the Holocaust Museum near Newark. Elsie then found out that Alison lived nearby in Denby Dale and she made arrangements to collect the trunk. The Horbury connection told Elsie that there was a photo and evidence that the name of the owner of the trunk was Anne Marie Salamon and that she was now living in America. Furthermore that Margaret in Horbury knew that Anne Marie had worked as a laboratory technician in Wakefield! Elsie’s detective work led her to finding out more regarding Anne Marie’s stay in an evacuee centre on the Isle of Man, that this in turn led to a contact with the National Archives at Kew and then onto the National Archives in Berlin. The latter rewarded Elsie’s efforts by sending her a full record of Anne Marie’s personal history which confirmed all what had already been discovered but also that Anne Marie had settled down in New York, had married and had worked as a medical officer for the public health department in that city. Finally Elsie received news from Margaret that Anne Marie had died in 2012. Elsie said that although we all know something of the atrocities that were committed on those sent to concentration camps, it is only through personal stories, such as that uncovered by Elsie, that had led to an emotional involvement in unravelling Anne Marie’s story.
Open/Research Morning The Society held its Open/Research Morning on Saturday 4th October. Members and visitors were able to access various websites on our computers such as Ancestry.com with the assistance of our experts. There was also publications and information desks available for family history research. Further help was also on hand from representatives from West Yorkshire Archives and Wakefield Public Library. Ian Laidler brought his display of military medals while Kevin Grundy had a collection of postcards of old Wakefield and books on Wakefield’s public houses past and present. Christine Ellis had samples of 18th century accessoriesfor ladies and Tony Banks had a display of mining memorobilia. He also organised a series of stills based on scenes fron Old Wakefield and a film provided by the Wakefield Historical Society on Wakefield’s Historic Waterfront. The next meeting will be 1st November when we welcome an old favourite, Elsie Walton, whose topic will be ‘Other People’s Rubbish.’
Women & the Great War
Women and the Great War Lucy Adlington, a costume historian and author of ‘ Great War Fashions,’ was our guest speaker on Saturday 6th September. Her premise is that clothes make an impression and that there is much that the social historian can use from studying fashion and in particular women’s clothes. Lucy with her formidable and theatrical delivery certainly grabbed attention of those in attendance. She demonstrated how a person’s lifestyle, class, income and political stance etc. are revealed by what clothes are worn. The Edwardian period and that of the Great War was one of the richest for fashion. Lucy had on display a large variety of items of clothing in order to illustrate what she meant. There was an original wedding gown, long, straight and with a high waist. A nurse’s uniform which projected an image of dignity and scrupulous hygiene. There was a display of a variety of hats all black that were perhaps suitable for wear when in mourning and Lucy displayed a pair of silk pajamas that became fashionable for women for the first time. During the War fashion magazines were published, Vogue was published in Britain for the first time in 1916, which encouraged women to play their part in helping the War effort. For example knitting magazines saw huge numbers of khaki socks being produced and sent to the soldiers in the trenches. The formation of the VAD saw many from the middle classes volunteer for nursing duties in hospitals at home and at the Front, after 1915, while women from the working classes undertook the more menial tasks. Large numbers of women undertook work that men had previously done such as in munitions factories, railway porters, tram and bus drivers. They became riveters, welders and stitches of frames for aircraft. Therefore special clothes had to be worn notably trousers, a tunic, socks and suitable caps that meant the development of suitable hair styles. Lucy demonstrated how a study of this period and of women’s fashions tell a story and that much can be learned about social history and the importance of the role played by women. The next meeting is 4 October when we have our Open/Research Day. All enquiries to Ron Pullan emial: email@example.com