Throughout my time at Leeds University I have often heard the phrase “make the most of every opportunity”. Aware that studying for a PhD and a place on the Men, Women and Care Team was a fantastic opportunity, it is only recently that I have started to see my research and my position as a researcher at as a platform for development outside of academia.
How could I create opportunities with my research? This was playing on my mind when I visited the ‘Women, Work and War’ Exhibition at the Armley Mills Museum in Leeds at the start of March. This trip was a chance for the Women, Gender and Sexuality Research Cluster Group at Leeds University to learn more about the role of women in the First World War. The exhibition focused on the type of work local women carried out to support the war effort. It also highlighted the significance and dangers of what they did, with a wonderfully individual case study of the ‘Barnbow Lasses’. This detailed the story of thirty-five women who were killed by an explosion at the Barnbow Munitions Factory in Leeds in 1916. The exhibition runs until the 24th September 2017 and more details can be found here: http://www.leeds.gov.uk/museumsandgalleries/Pages/Women-Work-War.aspx
As well as giving us an insightful tour, the curator, Lucy Moore spoke to our research group about her job progression, what was involved in putting an exhibition together and the importance of local history groups, historians and their relationships with academics. Naively, the thought of creating a local network had not occurred to me until then. Inspired, I contacted Lucy with a brief outline of my project and asked if she knew anyone who would be able to develop my ideas. Thanks to her kindness, I am starting to build my own local network and take part in ‘engagement and impact’ opportunities that I would have known nothing about if I hadn’t made the most of this museum trip!
One of these opportunities was to give a talk at the Leeds Discovery Museum at the start of April. This was to a group of volunteers who are researching the Leeds Pals. They regularly blog about their findings and they are in the process of writing a book about their research. Their impressive work can be found here: http://leedspalsvolunteerresearchers.wordpress.com
Although apprehensive, the audience was very welcoming, engaged and offered suggestions on my project based on their own research. Encouragingly, one volunteer works for a military charity which helps disabled ex-servicemen and it was fascinating listening to his interpretations on charities and the First World War (as this will form a large part of my thesis) and their role in the present day. Usefully, primary sources were mentioned in this discussion which I may be able to use in my own project. Engaging with people who have similar research topics is, as I am quickly learning, a thought provoking process and an enriching opportunity.
As part of this speech, however, I was asked to focus on the archives I have used and to give a few examples of what they have revealed about religious charities for disabled ex-servicemen locally here in Yorkshire. Because my thesis is a national rather than regional study, preparing this speech made me re-evaluate and re-assess previous sources found.
Archives and Local Examples:
In October, I first started looking for primary sources at the West Yorkshire Archives in Morley, Leeds. They hold Parish records for every area in the city and usefully there was a subsection in each record labelled ‘charity’.
However, whilst I could find many examples of vicar led charities which aimed to help the poor, such as the KIRKE’S CHARITY in Adel and Eyres Park Charity in Armley, I have so far not come across a specific disability or disabled ex-serviceman charity. Perhaps there aren’t ‘hundreds of them’ to be discovered as Rachel Halstead argues.
Armley coincidently has been the most useful local case study so far. In 1914, Miss E. Eyre Park left a Legacy to her Vicar and Churchwardens for the benefit of the poor. The net amount received in respect of this legacy was £412 9s 6d, but instead of it going to the local poor, it was invested by the Charity Commissioners as 5% War Stock. Charities, even religious charities do not always act in alignment to what is requested of them.
It is therefore ironic that in the Armley Parish magazine of 1916, the Vicar writes:
‘Thousands of men are risking and some laying down their lives to save England. We must share in their self-sacrifice by making the England they are saving a better place to live in, by bringing the nation back to obedience to the Christian Law for this is and always has been the Church’s work. Can anyone be so indifferent, slack or cowardly as to refuse to take a share in such a work?’
The vicar and parish he is preaching too does not take a share of this work. They offer no financial or social helped to the disabled veterans on their return to Armley. It is fitting then that in the Armley Centenary Church Magazine (1877– 1977) collection held at the archive, there is no mention of the First World War or the immediate years after. The disabled veterans appeared forgotten by their parish on their return to this part of the city. More work needs to be done to draw any conclusions about how and why certain parts of the same city or different cities within the same county responded differently to the returning disabled ex-servicemen.
I have also analysed some of the Public Assistance Committee Minutes in the interwar years held at the West Yorkshire Archives. It was here I first came across any mention of Toc H in Leeds. Toc H is an international Christian Charity. It was founded by Neville Talbot and Reverend Tubby Clayton in Belgium, 1915. It is an abbreviation of Talbot House – a recreation centre designed to promote Christianity amongst soldiers of all rank. Toc H members seek to ease the burdens of others through acts of service and the charity still operates today
I uncovered that an application from the Harehills Branch of this charity had been made for a visitor’s card for Toc H members to visit patients in St James’s hospital, Leeds. Interestingly, the application was denied. Even in cases where religious charities wanted to help disabled ex-servicemen they were often unable due to practical reasons such as a lack of funding.
The archives for this charity are held in the Special Collections at Birmingham University. Whilst there, I came across various newspaper articles relating to Toc H and Yorkshire. The ‘Hospitals Library- Bringing Happiness to Convalescents’ scheme in Sheffield was particularly interesting. On the 13th July 1924, the Sheffield Daily Telegraph reinforced the arguments of Toc H that those who have endured pain and illness and have arrived at the convalescent stage can appreciate and understand the dark cloud of depression which sometimes settles on disabled ex-servicemen. Believing that one of the best ways for preventing the patient from indulging in introspection, was by reading, Toc H started handing out books and reading to patients from 1924 in Sheffield.
Frustratingly from the researchers point of view, however, systems like these were very localised – it is hard to trace continuity within Toc H and their efforts in helping disabled ex-servicemen. What also alters is how Toc H (and other religious charities) was reported. For example, the charity is frequently mentioned throughout the early 1920’s in the Halifax Guardian but from a financial rather than care perspective, and the Scarborough Post, but repeating Toc H principles such as equality amongst all classes rather than specific rehabilitation schemes the charity ran to aid the recovery of disabled ex-servicemen. As such, locating specific examples of religious charity acts towards disabled ex-servicemen will continue to be a challenge as my research progresses. Even within the above Sheffield example, there was no indication of how long the scheme ran for.
Aside from connections with Toc H, Scarborough in East Yorkshire is emerging as an interesting case study. Whilst looking through the LIDDLE and BAMJI collections, the First World War collection and medical archive respectively, at Leeds University Special Collections, I came across the 1996 Brochure and Annual Report of the Sir Oswald Stoll Foundation.
In 1916 the foundation was founded by Sir Oswald Stoll to provide self-contained housing with welfare and medical care for disabled ex-servicemen and their families. Money was raised during the war by selling ‘war seals’ for a halfpenny each. They were used to seal letters when writing to family and friends at home or abroad. The site was developed by Sir Oswald after planning permission to build a theatre on the land was refused. The original house was near Fulham, London.
Between 1917-1923- sir Oswald Stoll Mansions was built, consisting of 138 two bedroom flats with wheelchair access. The innovative design of the estate enabled families to live independently in their own accommodation, with advice and medical care on hand if needed. There were playgrounds for the children and if the wife wished, she could be give free training in nursing so that she may be able to tend to her husband in the best way possible.
In a 1918 brochure advertising the homes, it makes clear that (and quote): ‘THERE IS NO IDEA OF CHARITY ABOUT THIS GREAT SCHEME FOR EACH MAN WILL BE A ‘TENANT’ WHO PYS RENT FOR HIS FLAT.’ Thereby recognising the loss of identity experienced by disabled veterans as explained by historians such as Jessica Meyer and Wendy Gagen.
It goes on to say that sites will be built in Cardiff, Blackpool, Scarborough, Glasgow and Edinburgh. Interestingly all areas are surrounded by country scenery or the sea. There is a large body of medical literature that argues peaceful surroundings and open air aided a soldier’s recovery – Scarborough as a location suits this analysis as does Yorkshire more generally. In Ilkley, North Yorkshire for example, there was one of the main St Dunstan’s homes for the permanent care of men who, besides having lost their sight, have received injuries which make it impossible for them to carry on in the workday world. By March 1918, it held 560 men.
Whilst these are only a few examples of the way in which my county aided the returning war disabled of the Great War in terms of charity and religion, I look forward to finding out much more as my project progresses both in terms of primary research and engagement and impact opportunities.