In the Shadow of War

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How do we, as social historians, attempt to unravel and understand the general mood or atmosphere that existed in a massive city like London at any moment of time? Whilst significant historical events are often extensively recorded and reported often more problematic is our ability to comprehend the atmosphere of day-to-day life in the capital.

As a Museum curator my role is to interpret and make sense of history through visual and material culture and the creation of atmospheric displays.  Similarly my talk at Symposium 1914–1918 from Home Front to Western Front, will attempt to reveal the mood and atmosphere in London prior to the outbreak of World War I.  Using images of objects, photographs and paintings held in the Museum of London and other collections the talk will give both a broad overview of London in 1914 as well as analysing the minutiae of life at street level.

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As the shadow of war began to draw more heavily over the capital what were Londoners getting up to – what was their day-to-day life like, what was happening on the street, what was popular, what were Londoners talking about, were they aware of the impending threat and, more significantly, was the mood on the street being obviously affected by the threat of imminent war?

Written by Beverley Cook, Curator of Social & Working History, Museum of London (Speaker at Symposium 1914–1918 from Home Front to Western Front)

Exhibition and Symposium
If you want to find out more about the First World War you can visit our current exhibition Goodbye Piccadilly: From Home Front to Western Front, on until March 2015, or attend our Symposium 1914–1918 from Home Front to Western Front on Saturday 15 November which explores the themes of the exhibition in more depth.

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London’s First Air War, 1915-1918

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Bus after Zeppelin raid, 1915

Air raids on London by Zeppelin airships were expected from the moment war was declared. Early precautions included a blackout at night and the installation of guns on prominent buildings and in the parks. Even so, raids finally began from the end of May 1915, provoking a mix of responses among the Londoners from sangfroid to blind panic.

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Zeppelin raid in The War Illustrated, April 1915

When the air cover by fighter aircraft became more effective against Zeppelins during 1916, the Germans switched to the use of heavy bombing planes, which proved generally immune from attack by London’s air defences. The civilian authorities’ response to the air attack was lacklustre throughout the bombing campaign. Scores of thousands of Londoners huddled in the tubes, in the cellars of industrial buildings thought to be safe, or fled the city altogether. The ‘Harvest Moon Raids’ of autumn 1917, marked one of the low points of morale in London during the war.

Written by Professor Jerry White, Birkbeck College, University of London (Speaker at Symposium 1914–1918 from Home Front to Western Front)

Exhibition and Symposium
If you want to find out more about the First World War you can visit our current exhibition Goodbye Piccadilly: From Home Front to Western Front, on until March 2015, or attend our Symposium 1914–1918 from Home Front to Western Front on Saturday 15 November which explores the themes of the exhibition in more depth.

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1920: King George V and Ole Bill

This weekend has seen a host of special events commemorating the sacrifices of those made during the First World War, culminating with Remembrance Sunday today. In a series of posts leading up to this event our Director Sam Mullins takes a look at what life in London was like following the war – the beginnings of  Armistice Day, the role of commemoration and the significant contribution made by London’s Transport workers.

In February 1920, a group of LGOC drivers from the Middle Row garage, Kensal Green, who had seen service overseas as drivers were presented, with their B type bus B43, to King George V at Buckingham Palace.  This momentous event was reported in the staff magazine:

“His Majesty shook hands with the men and had a friendly talk with them as His Majesty shook hands with the men and had a friendly talk with them as he passed down the line when they formed up for inspection, and afterwards examined the ‘bus. He remarked that this was the first time he had boarded an omnibus, although he had travelled before on a tramcar of the L.C.C. …There was an appreciative crowd outside the Palace to cheer the old ‘bus and its gallant passengers as they left.”

The bus’s appearance was recorded in a Pathé newsreel, and “thrown on the screen at many picture theatres”.

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King George V in conversation with Lord Ashfield, chairman of the ‘Combine’, with ‘Ole Bill’ driven by James Melton and veterans in the background

B43 had been built by AEC at Walthamstow for the LGOC in 1911 and ran on the 8 and 25 routes out of Mortlake garage until requisitioned by the War Department and sent to France in September 1914. Driven by volunteer drivers who joined up, the bus did a huge mileage carrying troops and supplies up to the line and bringing back wounded soldiers. In 1919 it was repurchased by the LGOC and first put back into emergency service still in khaki and then in red to Dalston on the 8 and 9 routes. By the time it was presented to the King, B43 had acquired a small bronze plaque commemorating its passage through the war:

1914 – Antwerp, 1915 – Ypres, 1916 – Ancre, 1917 – Somme, 1918 – Amiens, 1919 – Home

To mark this special occasion, the bus was decorated and became a mobile war memorial. A brass shell was mounted on the dashboard, ornate brass plates for the numbers on the bonnet sides and a brass bust of ‘Ole Bill, the cartoon figure created by Bruce Bairnsfather, formed the radiator cap. This association with the hugely popular cartoon character was to rapidly give the bus its nickname of ‘Ole Bill, commonly but incorrectly rendered as Old Bill. The title was derived from Bairnsfather’s first cartoon of two Tommies under fire in a shell hole, Bill saying to his companion, ‘If you knows of a better ‘ole, Go to it!’

B43 had been given a new body and overhauled for the Palace in 1920. Battle honours were added to the windows – Antwerp, Ypres, Ancre and Somme – before being handed over to the Auxiliary Omnibus Companies Association. The veterans used it for parades and funerals. At the King’s behest, the bus and veterans from Underground and the General took part in the first Armistice Day parade from 1920. These accounts are from the staff magazine ‘Train, Omnibus, Tram’ in the 1920s:

LGOC veterans march with ‘Ole Bill in the Armistice day parade of 1923
LGOC veterans march with ‘Ole Bill in the Armistice day parade of 1923

After many years in the service of remembrance, ‘Ole Bill was retired to the Imperial War Museum in 1970. Back on home ground, this venerable bus is currently on loan to London Transport Museum and plays a central part in the current ‘Goodbye Piccadilly’ exhibition on London in World War One.

Related events and exhibitions

Battle Bus
On Saturday the Museum’s ‘Battle Bus’ appeared in the Lord Mayor’s Show, representing Transport for London. Today marchers and spectators in the Remembrance Sunday parade will also have a chance to see the Battle Bus on display in Parliament Square from 9am to around 3pm.

Exhibition and Symposium
If you want to find out more about the First World War you can visit our current exhibition Goodbye Piccadilly: From Home Front to Western Front, on until March 2015, or attend our Symposium 1914–1918 from Home Front to Western Front on Saturday 15 November which explores the themes of the exhibition in more depth.

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1919: Battered War Buses back in service

This weekend will see a host of special events commemorating the sacrifices of those made during the First World War, culminating with Remembrance Sunday on 9 November. In a series of posts leading up to this event our Director Sam Mullins takes a look at what life in London was like following the war – the beginnings of  Armistice Day, the role of commemoration and the significant contribution made by London’s Transport workers.

Less than a quarter of the 1,185 buses sent overseas by the War Department returned to London. At the end of the war, the capital was short of petrol, drivers and buses. Battered surviving buses were slowly released by the War Department as they returned from overseas, vehicles which had served at home were refitted with bodies which had been in store and the final batch of B-types was completed in April 1919.

LGOC staff inspect a B-type bus
LGOC staff inspect a B-type bus returned from the front, December 1919

250 buses returned from overseas service. They were judged substandard for conveying passengers but shortages of materials for new vehicles led them being pressed back into service in May 1919 as ‘Traffic Emergency’ buses. They were repainted in army khaki with the ‘General’ logo painted in white on the side. Pre-war bus chassis were also returned to service with timber bodies as lorry buses. Licensing regulations were relaxed to permit these temporary solutions to London’s depleted bus fleet.

Lorry Bus at Victoria, summer 1919
Lorry Bus at Victoria, summer 1919; a lorry chassis with crude wooden bus body and rear staircase, running a service from Victoria to Liverpool Street

Related events and exhibitions

Battle Bus
On Saturday the Museum’s ‘Battle Bus’ will appear in the Lord Mayor’s Show, representing Transport for London. On Sunday marchers and spectators in the Remembrance Day parade will also have a chance to see the Battle Bus on display in Parliament Square from 9am to around 3pm.

Exhibition and Symposium
If you want to find out more about the First World War you can visit our current exhibition Goodbye Piccadilly: From Home Front to Western Front, on until March 2015, or attend our Symposium 1914–1918 from Home Front to Western Front on Saturday 15 November which explores the themes of the exhibition in more depth.

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1919: The first anniversary of peace

This weekend will see a host of special events commemorating the sacrifices of those made during the First World War, culminating with Remembrance Sunday on 9 November. In a series of posts leading up to this event our Director Sam Mullins takes a look at what life in London was like following the war – the beginnings of  Armistice Day, the role of commemoration and the significant contribution made by London’s Transport workers.

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Underground poster for Armistice Day 1928

The First World War finally ended with an armistice between the combatants on 11 November 1918. LGOC conductress Lesley Davis remembered driving past Waltham Cross depot that day; ‘the inspectors ran and out and yelled, ‘It’s been signed!’. Women came rushing forward and kissed the drivers. Others started crying because they remembered their lost sons or husbands.’[i] 1,429 Underground Group employees and 803 from the London General Omnibus Company had lost their lives. The capital was exhausted by the four years of war and recovery was slow.

From the beginning of November 1918, it had become clear that victory was in sight. The Lord Mayor’s Show on 9 November 1918 included 400 captured German guns and that evening it was announced that the Kaiser had abdicated. Although a large Victory March involving 15,000 Commonwealth troops and captured German tanks, guns and aircraft was held in May 1919, the capital’s mood shifted rapidly from celebration to commemoration. For the Victory Parade of July 1919, architect Edward Lutyens was commissioned to design a temporary Cenotaph built in wood and plaster for Whitehall as a tribute to the fallen. This temporary Centotaph formed the centrepiece of the first Armistice Day on 11 November 1919, as reported by the Manchester Guardian:

“The first stroke of eleven produced a magical effect. The train cars glided into stillness, motors ceased to cough and fume and stopped dead…. Someone took off his hat, and with a nervous hesitancy the rest of the men bowed their heads also. Here and there an old soldier could be detected slipping unconsciously into the posture of attention. An elderly woman, not far away, wiped her eyes and the man beside her looked white and stern. Everyone stood very still. The hush deepened… It was a silence which was almost pain. And the spirit of memory brooded over it all.”

The outpouring of emotion generated at the first anniversary of peace led to the temporary Cenotaph being rebuilt permanently in Portland stone and dedicated at Armistice Day in November 1920. The ceremony that year, reported by the Times, has been followed every year since:

“…the great multitude bowed its head….People held their breath less they should be heard in the stillness… A woman’s shriek rose and fell and rose again, until the silence bore down once more.

The silence stretched on until, suddenly, acute, shattering, the very voice of pain itself – but pain triumphant – rose the clear notes of the bugles in The Last Post…

The ceremony of dedication of the Cenotaph was very sombre, heightened by the presence of the gun carriage bearing the coffin of an Unknown Warrior.”[ii]

[i] Miss Lesley Davis, LTM Box B650, LT News, no.119, p.5
[ii] Manchester Guardian, 12 November 1919

Related events and exhibitions

Battle Bus
On Saturday the Museum’s ‘Battle Bus’ will appear in the Lord Mayor’s Show, representing Transport for London. On Sunday marchers and spectators in the Remembrance Day parade will also have a chance to see the Battle Bus on display in Parliament Square from 9am to around 3pm.

Exhibition and Symposium
If you want to find out more about the First World War you can visit our current exhibition Goodbye Piccadilly: From Home Front to Western Front, on until March 2015, or attend our Symposium 1914–1918 from Home Front to Western Front on Saturday 15 November which explores the themes of the exhibition in more depth.

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On this Day: 17 October 1917

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This staff notice gives details about what would happen to trains in service during an air raid, in particular where they would travel to for safety. Trains were stopped in tunnels if possible and only moved along the track during periods of cessation to allow passengers to disembark. All trains which were forced to stop in the open were to extinguish all lights, but those in the tunnels could keep their lights on for protection.

If you want to know more about how London kept moving during the First World War then come along and visit our special exhibition Goodbye Piccadilly: From Home Front to Western Front. http://www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/exhibitions

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Battle Bus: Driving in the Somme

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Our Battle Bus tour to Ypres and the Somme has been blessed with mostly good weather but the occasional downpour has given us just a hint of the difficulties drivers would have faced one hundred years ago. The Commercial Motor Magazine published a series of ‘Despatches from the Front’ during the war and no.68 of 23 December 1915 – ‘Worst Possible conditions for Driving’ – illustrates the difficulties our predecessors encountered:

“Although I have been here over 12 months and been on the road almost every day – and a good many nights – of that time I have never seen the roads so bad as they were one day last week. The mud had accumulated…and formed a thick covering over the pave (cobbled surface). During the night we had a terrible hard frost which continued the whole of the day and the pave roads that day were so treacherous to motor traffic as to make the drivers who had to use them tremble with anxiety. One never knew what antic the car would be up to the next moment.”

Battle Bus in the Somme, September 2014
Battle Bus in the Somme, September 2014
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Battle Bus in Bouzincourt, then and now

“If these pave roads were flat, driving would be easy enough, or not be any more difficult than  would be in London on a bad day, but the roads rise so high in the centre that when one has to go off the crown of the road, the car develops a wicked desire to get itself well into the ditch…To touch one’s brakes was disastrous, and to attempt a high speed madness.”

“I like most of the general public was always of the opinion that most of the accidents were the fault of the bus driver, due to want of driving experience. Actual experience of B26 driving a London bus out here has proved the error of my views…I maintain that on certain days in London a bus driver, has absolutely no control over his vehicle on some parts of the road.”

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B-type bus carrying Indian troops. Date and location unknown

Ian Read, Richard Hussey and Tim Shields done a great job driving the bus in modern traffic conditions but admittedly they were not faced with shellfire, horse traffic or even frost.  We have had to plan round low bridges, avoid busy roads and even occasionally lop overhanging tree branches. The magneto has been replaced following misfiring but otherwise B2737 and it’s drivers have taken it all in their stride. We continue to have only admiration for the B-type drivers who worked under such difficulties on the pave of Flanders and the Somme a century ago.

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The story of London’s busmen at the front is also told in our new book by Dr William Ward, Ole Bill – Londons Buses and the First World War.

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Battle Bus reaches Albert

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Today the Battle Bus reaches its final destination of Albert, France.

One hundred years ago, German armies were spreading into Northern France. British and French troops mounted a series of counter-offensives known as the ‘Race to the Sea’ starting with the First Battle of Albert that began on 25 September.

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Army Service Corps lorries at Albert, August 1914

Albert was also a key location in the Battle of the Somme between July and November 1916, one of the worst battles in human history. At the end of five months of fighting British and French forces had advanced six miles into German-occupied territory and around one million lives had been lost. B-type buses, organised into Auxiliary Omnibus Companies as part of the Army Service Corps played their part carrying troops to the Front, and wounded men back.

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Auxiliary Omnibus Companies’ Association medallion

The Auxiliary Omnibus Companies’ Association, fore-runner of today’s TfL Old Comrades Association, was formed in 919 by London bus drivers who had served with the Army Service Corps during the First World War.

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The story of London’s busmen at the front is also told in our new book by Dr William Ward, Ole Bill – Londons Buses and the First World War.

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Battle Bus in Peronne

BB_map_Peronne

Today the Battle Bus reaches its penultimate destination of Peronne, a small town situated on a hill side overlooking the battle fields of the Somme, where more than a million men were wounded or killed in 1916.

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Battle Bus leaving the Citadel Barracks in Arras, France
Battle Bus in the Somme, September 2014
Battle Bus in the Somme, September 2014

The Musee de la Grande Guerre occupies the Chateaux de Peronne in the centre of the town. It tells the story of the men and women who lived through the conflict and suffering of the First World War. The return of the Battle Bus brings one small aspect of that story back into focus, helping us to imagine what we did not see. The 51st Army Service Corps bus company served at the battle of Peronne in 1918; as part of the Allied advance that halted the German offensive and moved the conflict closer to the Armistice.

Phillip Sydney Bowden, 1918
Phillip Sydney Bowden, 1918

In 1920 the first Remembrance Service was held at the Cenotaph in Whitehall. London General Omnibus employee Philip Sydney Bowden was chosen to lay a wreath on behalf of London’s transport workers. He had volunteered for the army at the age of 17, fought at the Battle of the Somme and been wounded in a gas attack. Philip Bowden was awarded the Military Medal for Bravery for carrying a wounded comrade to safety under enemy fire. His daughter Jean recalled that like many men of his generation ‘he never spoke much about the war’.

Auxiliary Omnibus Companies' Association medallion
Auxiliary Omnibus Companies’ Association medallion

web-events-olebill

The story of London’s busmen at the front is also told in our new book by Dr William Ward, Ole Bill – Londons Buses and the First World War.

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Battle Bus Apprentices: Engaging with History

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Harry Young, Battle Bus Project Apprentice, reporting for duty during the Battle Bus tour of France and Belgium, September 2014

The Battle Bus Learning Programme supports audiences to understand the role that London Buses played during the First World War. Our key audiences are: Young People from areas of disadvantage, Female London Bus Staff and Primary School Children.  The programme has two young people who are supported through an apprenticeship. They support the learning and participation of the Outreach Volunteers, document the restoration and support the interpretation and content development of exhibitions which will support this project.

Kathryn Skillings, Battle Bus Project Learning Officer

I spent much of my 24 hours on the Battle Bus tour on the road, either accompanying Battle Bus from Le Shuttle to our base in Messines or travelling between villages all along the areas where once there were army camps, casualty areas or crossroads where people and supplies arrived at or departed from the Western Front.

What I was continually struck by, as I weaved through tiny roads and everyday villages was the constant reminders of battle. On each journey I passed a handful of cemeteries and saw road signs indicating a dozen more in any direction. I passed field upon field where I could still sense the hundreds of soldiers bedding in each night. It is impossible to ignore or not be affected by each area and each story it brought with it. I was very aware that while exciting and adventurous for the team and I, there are many difficult memories that could also be stirred.

My journey began in Folkestone where we were visited by local schools and shoppers. We couldn’t fail to notice we were on our way to France, surrounded by The Tricolour and parked on Rendezvous Street, there was a “street party” atmosphere and visitors revelled in climbing aboard such an unusual, emotive vehicle. An ever-present contrast, here we met a man who recounted the bombing of a “potato queue” in the town during the First World War and the effect on his family.

The next day we awoke in Belgium and travelled to Poperinge, where we were greeted by colleagues from a local museum and locals enthused by Battle Bus. All were welcomed into our mobile exhibition telling the stories of the buses that went to war and the people whose lives were changed both at home and abroad. Many came with their stories, one that was especially exciting was a visitor who returned to show us his collection of French, Belgian and German papers from the First World War. It was truly fascinating to see all of the perspectives. I felt truly honoured to have played even a short role in such a historic journey.

VIDEO via BBC
Battle Bus retraces battle routes through Ypres

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Gianna Fiore, Battle Bus Project Apprentice, pinning the location of the Bus onto a map, September 2014
Gianna Fiore, Battle Bus Project Apprentice

Our day at Poperinge was amazing, with visitors all excited to see the famous bus. I played the role of a conductress as we took locals, stakeholders and friends of the museum on a tour around the town.

Later that day, there was a more sombre tone as we took Battle Bus to Bus House Cemetery to lay a wreath in a thoughtful ceremony. Along the way, the heavens opened up over our poor old bus, causing leaks through the roof in several different places. Everyone frantically saved the moquette seats from getting wet. Thankfully, the rain eased off and we stayed to pay our respects before heading back under some daunting and perhaps appropriate grey cloud over head. The next day we headed off to Ypres, it was a bright and busy Saturday so we were in for a good day. We attracted a great amount of visitors; I handed out at least 200 leaflets.  I then took part in a tour around the cemeteries surrounding the area along with museum colleagues and a historian.This was a truly moving and surreal experience seeing the thousands upon thousands of soldier’s graves.

We then prepared for the grand ceremony at the Menin Gate which was an overwhelming and emotional experience. The music played by the marching bands pulled on everyone’s heart strings, they were amazing to listen to. The best part of the night was when we drove the bus through the crowds to close the ceremony. A sea of people either side watched in awe and clapped joyfully as we drove past. I must say, I think we all felt pretty proud at that point and it was a perfect way to end the day.

Overall, my time on the tour was extremely enjoyable and I was thrilled that I got the opportunity to be involved in such a wonderful project.

web-events-olebill

The story of London’s busmen at the front is also told in our new book by Dr William Ward, Ole Bill – Londons Buses and the First World War.

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