BATTLE BUS RESEARCH VOLUNTEER PROJECT – SESSION FOUR

This blog is part of a mini-series of updates about the Battle Bus Research Volunteer Project. To keep up-to-date with all the latest programme activities, please visit the ‘Battle Bus’ section in London Transport Museum blog.

Session Four

Getting started on the research

This week the group started to research their chosen topics, which included the use of the b-type buses during the war and the role of transport workers. Research volunteer Carrie Long writes about her discoveries whilst exploring the Museum library and photo collection.

British army soldiersBritish and Indian soldiers posing on a B-type bus in France, c 1914

‘A new type of hero in war. The man of the moment at the front is the London bus-driver’, reported the Daily Mail in 1914. Throughout the First World War, bus drivers swapped their foggy routes along the Strand in central London for the ‘veritable hell of shell and shrapnel fire’ on the Western front. Many of those drivers volunteered to go with their bus when they were commandeered for the war. Publicly named as ‘heroes’ as early as 1914, it was clear that the sacrifice and mechanical skill these men were providing was incredibly important to British victory. But, in popular memory the stories of these brave London bus drivers have been forgotten, until now.

This week our research team began a mission to uncover their stories from the archives. The Museum’s photo collection in Collections online was fantastic for allowing us to see the transformation of the bright red buses to their war-time khaki colours. It was notable that the drivers maintained their cheerful smiles and spread a visible culture of ‘comradeship’. However, it was clear the change of scene from London to the Western Front was no holiday for the drivers. Photographs of vehicles transformed into military troop carriers or buses lying burnt-out in a ditch, highlighted the immense danger and high level of responsibility they played in the war.

To understand how these men and their families coped with their transformation from civilian life to soldiering, the T.O.T magazine (T.O.T was shorthand for Train, Omnibus, Tram)  proved an archival treasure trove. The magazine, published fortnightly and later monthly after 1915, was produced for members of staff serving at the Front and their families and colleagues at home. It is a fantastic resource for documenting the changes throughout the war. The editors actively encouraged soldiers to write letters and to be personal about their experience, writing that ‘saying what you mean and what you feel’ is most important. The magazine was not intended to be a public newspaper, but rather a news forum for transport workers and their families.

TOT-1914-1921

Remarkably, the magazine didn’t read as war propaganda as I expected, but instead provided insights into a diverse range of experiences and emotions. Published letters from the men reveal the attachment drivers felt towards their buses through their affectionate reference to them as ‘old tubs’, provide insight into their personal sense of loss through sometimes graphic accounts of comrades’ deaths, to sharing their joy at meeting other drivers on the road.

A personal research highlight was discovering that London bus drivers were connected to a much wider global story of war. Drivers were at the forefront of forging Commonwealth connection through transporting Indian soldiers to the front lines, driving the wounded to hospital, and facilitating days out for dominion soldiers on leave in London. The international community spirit is clear from Corporal E. Scuffell, who wrote ‘Australians, Canadians, Indians and French … we are mixed up a bit, but all of one mind’.

Research-session-four

The T.O.T was consistently described as a joy to read by soldiers. It provided them with a connection to home as they used it to communicate birthday wishes to their children, see pictures of their families on days out, and learn about how women were contributing to the war effort through becoming bus conductors in London. Today, the accounts of the T.O.T provide a permanent record of the bravery of the transport workers who went to war, and of the drivers and buses that supported them there.

Comeback every week to read the latest instalment on how our volunteers are getting on with their Battle Bus project.

Advertisements

C&RE

A modern couple who brought a new aesthetic to 1930s poster art

Unique among the artists featured in London Transport Museum’s Poster Girls, Clifford and Rosemary Ellis were a husband and wife design partnership. They married in 1931 after meeting at the Regents Street Polytechnic, and henceforth virtually all their commercial work was jointly signed, often with the initials ‘C&RE’. At the time, this was an unusual demonstration of artistic and marital equality, underlined by the occasional use of the signature ‘Rosemary and Clifford Ellis’ (rather than ‘Clifford & Rosemary’) which can be seen on one of the London Transport posters in the exhibition. In describing their collaborative approach, Rosemary explained that either one might have the original idea for a design which they would then finalise together.

Whatever the origins of their ideas may have been, the results were extraordinary. Their unmistakable style was characterised by a lively use of colour and form, creating unusual and memorable poster designs. Travels in Time (1937), for example, is almost surrealist in its depiction of a disembodied Charles I against an imagined landscape. Luckily for Londoners, this bewildering image was paired with an explanatory poster (also designed by Rosemary and Clifford) promoting the Capital’s museums. In contrast, their representation of animals and birds, seen in their designs for Green Line Coaches (1933), was wonderfully naturalistic and alive with movement.

Ellis artwork

By the late thirties, the couple were much in demand, having designed posters for London Transport, the Empire Marketing Board, the Post Office and Shell-Mex. Their joint output included book jackets, lithographs, murals, mosaics and wallpaper. Clifford was also the headmaster of the Bath Academy of Art and instrumental in re-establishing it as one of Britain’s foremost art colleges at Corsham Court after the Second World War. During the war, Rosemary and Clifford worked together on the monumental Recording Britain project, but are perhaps best remembered today for the 60+ dust jackets they designed for the long running New Naturalist book series.

The couple’s extensive personal archive was auctioned in 2017 following the death of their only child, the sculptor Penelope Ellis. London Transport Museum acquired two rare ‘proof’ versions of ‘Museums’ (1937), showing annotations made by the artists before final printing. These included the replacement of the printed London Transport logo with a hand drawn alternative, which was accepted for the final design.

To find out more about Clifford and Rosemary Ellis, visit the Poster Girls exhibition at London Transport Museum in Covent Garden, or go behind the scenes to explore the Museum’s famous poster collection at Acton Depot Open Weekend, 21-22 April. Full details of Depot tours and times can be found here www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/museum-depot/open-weekends

David Bownes is co-curator of Poster Girls and director of Twentieth Century Posters (www.twentiethcenturyposters.com)

Battle Bus Research Volunteer Project – Session Three

This blog is part of a mini-series of updates about the Battle Bus Research Volunteer Project. To keep up-to-date with all the latest programme activities, please visit the ‘Battle Bus’ section in London Transport Museum blog.

Session Three

Introduction to research

Volunteer Rhys Davies-Santibanez reflects on session three of the project, which introduced the volunteers to the resources available to help them start their research.

Having spent the previous week out and about visiting other museums, being back at the London Transport Museum was a welcome return to soft seats and having tea on tap. A quick recap of our impressions of the different ways other museums displayed their exhibits revealed many diverse opinions in the room. With that in mind, how were we going to agree on the direction of our research?

We split into two teams to discuss subject areas and approaches to researching the B-type buses. My group’s interests lay in the tales of the soldiers on board, together with the broader (and political) story of the First World War’s effect on women’s rights and on workers in general. Before we knew it, our guest speaker had arrived.

Andrew Robertshaw talk

Andrew Robertshaw is a man of boundless energy and passion. He introduced himself by rattling off a handful of impressive credentials (and a quick Google search easily doubled this list). Armed with just a USB stick and a boxful of trinkets, Andy effortlessly proved that curiosity and some online tools are all you need to start researching First World War military personnel. I thought he’d just briefly touch on the generalities of research, but by the time he left I had two pages packed full of notes. Lunch provided time to digest his many insights before the afternoon’s activity, our library induction!

Library induction

Caroline Warhurst, the Library and Information Services Manager, warned us it was normally pretty cosy with just two people working in the library. Nevertheless, ten of us managed to squeeze in to listen to her. Despite the crush, the short time we were in there proved fruitful.

One book in particular, ‘The London B-type motor omnibus’ by G J Robbins and J B Atkinson, 3rd ed. 1991, was packed with excerpts of soldiers’ letters about the B-type buses. They were originally published in ‘News of T.O.T’ (which stands for Train, Omnibus, Tram) a wartime newsletter produced by the transport companies, which the Museum has had digitised. A quick keyword search revealed a treasure trove of stories from the front line. I started following the adventures of W H Davis, a former signal repairman from south of the river who first popped up in T.O.T’s wounded list in December 1916, but by March 1918 was awarded a medal and promotion for his bravery and leadership. If I could find that snippet in just an hour, I wonder what might appear over the coming weeks…

Research

The day wound to a close with a group discussion revisiting the research interests we had explored. In contrast to my group’s focus on personal and social stories, the others had been thinking about the Battle Bus as an object in its own right: what the B-type buses had been used for during the Frist World War, and even the materials and process of production.

Plenty to think about between sessions! How do we tie our various interests into a single thematic thread? What do we look into next? Next week we start researching in earnest, thinking about what our Battle Bus exhibition might look like.

Comeback every week to read the latest instalment on how our volunteers are getting on with their Battle Bus project.