Buchan’s ‘Castle Gay’

Cover of first edition

My review of John Buchan’s CastleGay (1930) is now online on the Reading 1900-1950 website: https://reading19001950.wordpress.com/2018/11/19/castle-gay-1930-by-john-buchan/


‘Lest We Forget’ at IWM North


Selecting the Unknown Soldier. Image from ‘Lest We Forget’

Until February 24, 1919, there is a very good free exhibition at the Salford branch of the IWM. ‘Lest we Forget’ is about remembrance, and ways in which the Great War cast its shadow over succeeding years.
The exhibition starts with the dead – a wall of small photos of bodies sprawled on various battlefields (the sort of picture that was rarely shown publicly during the war years). Then it shows how the dead were dealt with. Read More »

Scottish Women’s Hospital

I was browsing through the interesting sequence of  Persephone Posts, and came across a link to this archive film of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals founded by Elsie Inglis: http://movingimage.nls.uk/film/0035http://movingimage.nls.uk/film/0035

It gives an idea of life in the fourteen field hospitals set up by the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies in various European theatres of war. They were entirely staffed by women. There is a particularly good sequence showing the team conducting an operation to remove shrapnel.
The filming was apparently done at two of their hospitals – one at Villers-Cotterets in Northern France, the other at Salonika. Cicely Hamilton (author of William, an Englishman and much else) worked at one of these hospitals.

‘The Battle of the Ancre’ – at Sheffield


On Tuesday 13th November at 6.30 p.m., there will be a public showing of the 1917 film The Battle of the Ancre and the Advance of the Tanks at Sheffield Hallam University (at the Void Cinema, Room 123 (Building level 1) of the Owen Building.

This was the second of the full-length documentaries commissioned by the War Office to show the British public what the Army was doing in France. It was filmed during the later stages (September to November, 1916) of the Battle of the Somme, and its special appeal at the time was that it showed tanks, the new wonder-weapons, in action.

The film will be preceded by a talk by Dr Lawrence Napper, who knows a good deal about silent film generally, and the war films in particular. He recently published online a strong critique of Jackson’s dazzling new They Shall Not Grow Old, saying that the ‘effect is to force the authentic footage into a bizarre simulacrum of modern feature film-making conventions, rather than to draw out the authentic nature of what it shows.’  I look forward to hearing what he has to say about The Battle of the Ancre.

Another strongly-argued review, by ‘PH’ on the Silent London site, goes even further in its critique of Jackson’s use of archive footage.

Like its predecessor, this film aimed to give a people at home a good idea of how the war was being conducted. By and large it succeeds, as I remember, and, unlike the Jackson film, it tells the story of one operation, clearly, rather than offering a mish-mash of several battles edited together.

Note: when I originally posted this, I confused the review by PH with that by Lawrence Napper. Apologies to both.

Peter Jackson’s ‘They Shall Not Grow Old’


Peter Jackson’s new film They Shall Not Grow Old is a technical marvel. From hundreds of hours of archive film it creates a vivid account of the Great War that looks amazingly new. The film archive of the Imperial War Museum has been cleaned, speed-adjusted and colourised to present a picture of British soldiers in the Great War that is no longer in jerky black and white. Even better, Peter Jackson’s technical wizards have allowed him to pick out particular faces in the crowd scenes of war footage, and enlarge and enhance them so that they are no longer just faces in the background – they are people we recognise as like ourselves. The film is emotionally powerful, especially in the sequence that conveys the actuality of an assault and its aftermath. Read More »

Walter Greenwood at Salford


On Wednesday, Marion and I had a good afternoon in Salford, at an event marking the publication of the new book on Walter Greenwood by Chris Hopkins. The event was at the Working Class Movement Library, one of the characterful redbrick buidings dotted among the glassy modernism of the University of Salford. Read More »

Rose Allatini on Radio Four

For four years the BBC has been running a dramatised serial about the First World War, following events as they happened, a century on. It’s called Home Front. I haven’t been listening, but today I was alerted to the fact that the latest episode mentioned Rose Allatini and Despised and Rejected. Read More »

Wodehouse at the British Library

The good news is that the British Library will be presenting (from November 27th to February 24th) a small exhibition P.G. Wodehouse: the Man and his Work. It will be in the rather rarefied space, the  Sir John Ritblat: Treasures Gallery. The last exhibition I saw there was about Karl and Eleanor Marx. This one will probably be jollier. Read More »

Rose Allatini’s London

I’m trying to find out everything I can about the author of Despised and Rejected, so on Saturday, Marion and I took a walk (and some bus rides) round West London, looking at some of the places where the novelist Rose Allatini lived.

She was born in Vienna in 1890, but soon moved to London. The 1891 census puts her in this stately white stucco mansion – number 18, Holland Park:18 Holland park.jpg

The area was, and is, one of the grandest and most expensive in London.  I’ve read recently of houses in this area going for fifty million pounds.  the prices were less extreme at the end of the nineteenth century, but it was still a stonkingly expensive and select location. Read More »

Armchair generals

‘Every Englishman believes in his heart, however modestly he may conceal the conviction, that he could himself organise as large an army as Kitchener and organise it better.’ (Havelock Ellis. Essays in War-Time: Further Studies in the Task of Social Hygiene (1917).)

And a hundred years on, every Englishman still believes he could have done a better job than the Great War generals…