Every November, Remembrance Day takes place.
Thousands observe a two-minute silence on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, as this is when World War I finally ended.
The first two-minute silence took place on 11th November 1919 when King George V asked that ‘the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead’. Since then, the day has been used to remember those who died in battle from the Great War onwards.
Poppies have long been associated with Remembrance Day as they grew on the battlefields when the war ended and reflect the blood that was shed on those fields. The Poppy Appeal is run by a charity called The Royal British Legion. Money, often raised by volunteer sellers, is given to servicemen and women whose lives have been affected by war.
Colin Hyde from the East Midlands Oral History Archive at the Centre for Urban History was selected to research and present some of the 1400 stories planned to be broadcast on TV and radio as part of the BBC’s ‘World War One at Home’ project.
Can you explain what work you have carried out with the BBC recently and what led you to getting involved with this project?
Colin: The Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) put out a call for researchers to work with broadcast journalists in the BBC Regions in England between September 2013 and January 2014 to source, select and showcase stories related to the First World War.
Recently the AHRC has been putting money into a variety of schemes that encourage academic researchers to work with non-academic groups. In the School of History we have had some success in applying for these funds and have been working mainly on community heritage projects.
The idea with the current BBC scheme is for us to advise on the war’s impact on the regions and highlight links with broader national and international events and themes. This support will help the BBC journalists to place their local stories into a broader context.
Why do you think it is important for young people to learn about World War One?
Colin: The impact of World War One is still being felt today, although many people don’t realise this. For example, on an international level there are still many tensions in the world that have their roots in changing national boundaries and political decisions made after WW1.
On a national level, the War spelt the end of the Liberal party as a political force for the rest of the 20th century and gave added impetus to social changes (such as votes for women, social housing) that had their roots in the pre-war years and eventually came to fruition after the War.
On a more personal level, many families and communities suffered loss and hardship and the many memorials across the country bear witness to this.
What is the most memorable story you have come across so far in your research?
Colin: For me, the most memorable story is that of Alice Wheeldon in Derby. This story touches on suffragist, conscientious objection, poison, spies, court cases and imprisonment.
Wheeldon was active in the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) until the outbreak of the First World War when she disagreed with the WSPU’s strong support for the War. She and her family were all charged with conspiracy to murder the Prime Minister Lloyd George and Labour Party member Arthur Henderson, but MI5 had infiltrated their household and had put them up to the idea of poisoning guard dogs, not the prime minister.
After a remarkable court case, possibly the first to feature evidence from government spies, Wheeldon served time in prison. Now, there is a blue plaque about her, there is a campaign to clear her name and the story is still going strong nearly 100 years later.