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Views from two communities on the outbreak of war in 1914 - Mike Crawford, Wolfgang Hombach and Nick Wilding

Monday, 27 October 2014

Views from two communities on the outbreak of war in 1914:

Commemorations of the war that began a hundred years ago often deal in generalities, but, rooted in the detail of local communities, become a moving tribute to ordinariness in extraordinary times.

Local historian Mike Crawford and Wolfgang Hombach, formerly director of the Erich Kastner Schule in Maintal, have mined the documents of their local areas - Calder Valley and Hanau in Germany - to gain insights into the reality of the experience of war. Local film-maker Nick Wilding has gathered together some remarkable oral histories and images which added an extra dimension to the presentation given to the Hebden Bridge Local History Society.

The declaration of war against Germany on 4th August 1914 war seemed to come out of the blue for people of the Calder Valley. One day they were preparing to board the special trains heading for the seaside; a few days later local reservists were marching away, and at the White Lion in Hebden Bridge horses were being selected for service. In less than three weeks local men were among the thousands who died as part of the expeditionary force at Mons. The love and concern expressed in a letter from a German mother to her injured son must have been repeated in letters from Yorkshire mothers.

Reports in local newspapers in both communities give some insight into the mood: on August 4th the Halifax Courier published a full page plea for opposition to the 'wicked and stupid' war, but this was soon followed by reports made by local men writing to their families. The Hanauer Auzeiger, local paper of Hanau was subject to censorship and its pages portrayed 'the enemy' according to national stereotypes - the brutal Russians, the untrustworthy French, and the English pressed into military service, 'making the world bleed for moneybags'

Oral history and newspaper reports paint a picture of an enthusiasm for enlistment, fired by a sense of solidarity with those men from the community who were being battered in France. Local relief funds were started, and knitting and sewing on a grand scale. When Belgian refugees arrived in the Valley their voices were heard at recruitment meetings, and many young men were encouraged to join up.

In Hanau too there was initial enthusiasm, but soon there was real hardship being felt by civilians: a letter from a new mother, destitute after her husband was conscripted, begs for help to pay the midwife. There were limited social benefits, and sky high prices, panic buying and fear of bank closures. By 1916 the baking and selling of cakes became a criminal offence. 700,000 German civilians died of malnutrition in the first world war, far exceeding the 500,000 killed by bombs in the second.

The enduring impression lies in the ordinary voices and the photographs of young men in uniform collected in Nick Wilding's films. Martha Lord's memory of her brother, joining up at seventeen and killed on the Somme: "dreadful things are wars, you know". Bill Beesley's logic: "they could have killed all of us.. you've got to kill the other side or they'll kill you." Michael Gibbon recalling his father's story of responding to the call of a young German in a shell hole, calming him and telling him to lie low, then having to be restrained in his anger at seeing him killed by another English soldier. This talk was indeed a tribute to ordinariness.

Mike Crawford's book Going to War is available from Hebden Bridge Local History Society and local book shops.

The next meeting of the Hebden Bridge Local History Society will be the (short) AGM on 12th November followed by a talk on local anniversaries by Diana Monahan and Frank Woolrych. On 19th November Stephen Jagger will talk about the early history of Calrec Audio at the Literary & Scientific Society AGM. Meetings are held at Hebden Bridge Methodist Hall and start at 7.30. Details on the website

Many thanks to Sheila Graham for this report

Previously, on the HebWeb

Valley of a Hundred Chapels by Amy Binns (29 Sept 2014)

History Group Study Day report: Power and Potability (11 Sept 2014)

Whose land is it anyway? How parliamentary enclosure shaped the landscape of the Calder Valley: speaker, Sheila Graham. Read more (6 April 2014)

Yorkshire Life between the Wars: speaker, Ian Dewhirst. Read more (20 March 2014)

Industrialisation and the Calder Valley: Communities in a unique landscape - Talk by Dr Stephen Caunce Read more (3 March 2014)

Quarrying in Calderdale: George Bowers gave a talk on the history of stone quarries in our local area. Read more (15 Feb)

Calder Valley Buildings of the Seventeenth Century: the craftsmen and their patrons Read more (27 Jan)See Small Ads (12 March)

Some thoughts on historic buildings and their repairs by Alan Gardner

Anne Kirker tells of Sam Hill of Making Place, Soyland Read more (22 Dec)

Local History Talk: A Postcard from Sunny Bunce's, a local destination that became known as the playground of the north. Read more

Withens Reservoir, the subject of the latest Local History Talk, was part of a fascinating story . . . not so much Cragg Vale's reservoir as the property of distant Morley. Read more (19 Nov)

Local History talk on Witchcraft in the Upper Calder Valley: As make-believe witches come knocking on our doors John Billingsley, folklorist and author of many books on the subject, told members of the Local History Society that to our ancestors witchcraft was very real indeed. More info (27 Oct)

Local History talk on Mytholmroyd's Moderna: Joan Laprell spoke to the Hebden Bridge Local History Society where she recalled the village within a village that was the Moderna Blanket Factory in Mytholmroyd, where she worked for ten years. More info (12 Oct)

Local History talk on maps: The first meeting of the new season of lectures for the Hebden Bridge Local History Society was launched by Tony Morris speaking about the history of maps and map-making as well as cartographic crime. More info (30 Sept)

Bridge Mill: History on our doorstep. Justine Wyatt, with the support of the mill's current owner David Fletcher, has uncovered more of the story of the building, and gave a fascinating talk to the Hebden Bridge Local History Society. Read more (3 April)

Working from home in 1825; Working from home is not a new concept, Malcolm Heywood told members of the Hebden Bridge Local History Society. William Greenwood's described his several different occupations. Read more (20 March)

The Grave of Robin Hood: mysterious goings-on in Calderdale. Kai Roberts told the local history society about Robin Hood in Calderdale and especially the monument known as Robin Hood’s Grave. Read more (11 March)

Todmorden Weavers and the Great War. Alan Fowler, former lecturer in Economic and Social History, told a meeting of the Hebden Bridge Local History Society that the local Weavers’ Association had 4000 members at its peak. Read more (19 Feb)

Our Railway Station in the 19th century. David Taylor told a meeting of the Local History Society about how the early railway developed in Hebden Bridge. Read more (28 Jan)

Untold Stories: A glimpse into the lives of local people - Tony Wright has for the past ten years been collecting personal life stories on film and audio tape. Read more (18 Jan)

City in the Hills - Corinne McDonald and Ann Kilbey told a meeting of the Local History Society of Dawson City, the building of the Walshaw Dean Reservoirs and the publication of a new book. Read more (16 Dec)

Lament for the Mills - Robert Cockcroft, poet and academic told of his childhood spent close to mills owned and operated by his grandfather, John Cockcroft and his father, Keith. Read more (2 Dec)

How much thought do you give to a war memorial? - Mike Edwards told a meeting of the Local History Society, war memorials can be found in many forms and in unusual places. Read more (17 Nov)

Clubhouses: self help and co-operation - A small row of houses in Old Town, called Clubhouses, encapsulates some of the history and spirit of the Calder Valley explains Julie Cockburn. (30 October 2012)

Small Town Saturday Night - The story of a love affair with rock 'n roll at its peak in the 1950s and 60s from speaker Trevor Simpson.

The world of Cornelius Ashworth, speaker Alan Petford, Local History talk of 10 October 2012

Hebden Bridge Local History Society

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