THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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30 June 2016

"We go into action in a day or two and I'm leaving this in case I don't come back". On the eve of the Somme.

On the eve of the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme, Laura Walker, our Lead Curator of Manuscripts 1851-1950, looks at diary accounts of the Battle. Tomorrow, on the day itself, Michael Day, our Digitisation Preservation Manager, considers the death of a British Museum clerk and soldier at the Somme.

The Somme is one of the most well-known battles of the First World War fought on the Western Front. It is chiefly remembered due to the scale of the casualties with over one million dead, wounded or missing by the end of the offensive. The British Library holds eye witness accounts of the fighting at the Somme from Major General Hunter Weston and Captain Roland Gerard Garvin.

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Private War Diary of Major General Hunter Weston, Add MS 48365 f.53v Cc-by

Major General Hunter Weston was commissioned as a lieutenant in 1884 and saw active service on the North West Frontier, present-day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, in Egypt and in the Boer War before he was given a command on the Western Front in 1914. Hunter Weston kept two diaries of his experiences of the First World War one official and one private. These diaries provide us with a fascinating insight into the fighting in 1914 on the Western Front, in Gallipoli in 1915 and at the battle of the Somme in 1916.

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 Private War Diary of Major General Hunter Weston, Add MS 48365 f.54 Cc-by

In his private diary for 1916 Hunter Weston has included photographs showing the advance of the troops under his command, the 8th Corps to their assault on the fortified hamlets of Beaumont-Hamel, Beaumont-sur-Ancre, and Serre on the first day of the battle on 1st July 1916. Despite their efforts the 8th Corp’s objective was not achieved and they suffered 14,581 casualties on that day alone.

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 Private War Diary of Major General Hunter Weston, Add MS 48365 f.55v Cc-by

Captain Roland Gerard Garvin was the son of journalist and newspaper editor James Luis Garvin. The First World War broke out the week after his last day at Westminster School. Despite winning a history scholarship for Christ Church, Oxford, Garvin enlisted in the 7th Battalion South Lancashire Regiment.

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Photograph of Captain Roland Gerard Garvin, Add MS 88882/10/2 Cc-by

Garvin attended a staff training course in Chelsea in December 1914 and this continued in Camberley in April 1915 before he was sent over to France on 17th July 1915. The Library holds his notes from both of these courses and diary extracts from when he was serving on the Western Front. The diary extracts below record his account of the first day of the Somme.

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Field Message Book of Captain Roland Gerard Garvin, Add MS 88882/9/31 Cc-by

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Field Message Book of Captain Roland Gerard Garvin, Add MS 88882/9/31 Cc-by

On 20th July Garvin wrote a letter to his family saying good bye as he knew he was going into action in a day or two. Three days later between 12pm and 1pm Garvin was killed by machine gun fire. His body was never found.

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Letter from Captain Roland Gerard Garvin to his family, July 20th 1916, Add MS 88882/3/9 Cc-by

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Letter from Captain Roland Gerard Garvin to his family, July 20th 1916, Add MS 88882/3/9 Cc-by

The complete diaries of Hunter Weston and the papers of Garvin can be found online at http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/.

Laura Walker, Lead Curator, Manuscripts and Archives 1851-1950.

23 June 2016

Chronograms: dangerous dogs and escaping elephants

Chronograms are sentences, phrases or poems created so that the letters, which are also roman numerals add up to a certain date. In order to achieve this, the letters that are also roman numerals are attributed with a numerical value. So for example I is 1, V is 5 and X is 10. They can found in historical tracts, on buildings and grave stones.

James Hilton (1816-1907) was an avid collector of chronograms in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He found and copied out examples from many different manuscripts but he also received new chronograms from chronogram enthusiasts.

Reverend Cecil Deedes (1843-1920) was a key contributor of chronograms to Hilton’s collections. His chronograms were based on local events and national news stories including the death of Gladstone, the situation in South Africa and escaped tigers.

One chronogram from 1898 reveals Deedes’ empathy for the dogs of Sussex who due to the persistence of rabies were ordered by magisterial powers to be muzzled. Any dogs found not wearing a muzzle were disposed of by the police. Deedes’ chronogram is as follows:

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Detail from a chronogram in James Hilton's Papers, British Library, Modern Manuscripts Collection. Cc-by

Luckily for the dogs the order was revoked later on in 1898 by which time Hilton notes that many dogs had grown very fat due to a lack of exercise. Deedes celebrated with his canine friends with the chronogram below:

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Detail from a chronogram in James Hilton's Papers, British Library, Modern Manuscripts Collection. Cc-by

A couple of years later in February 1900 Deedes was concerned with the fate of Archie the elephant. Archie was an elephant in Sangar’s exhibition at Crystal Palace, Sydenham. Irritated by his keeper prodding him with a spear, Archie crushed him under his foot and broke loose. Hilton reports that he caused ‘much mischief and alarm in the neighbourhood’. Deedes’ chronogram reports what happened next:

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Detail from a chronogram in James Hilton's Papers, British Library, Modern Manuscripts Collection. Cc-by

Deedes enjoyed writing many of his chronograms in Latin but luckily Hilton includes a transcription for those like me who have trouble translating it. The translation is as follows:

‘From Sagars beast enclosure
Within the Crystal Palace
An elephant just bolted
Who bore the name of Archie
He levelled walls and fences
And ruined people’s gardens
In a big wood was concealment
Till here the herd revealed him
Now that his jaunt was over
To work returns the rover’

In order to draw Archie out, a number of other elephants were herded around the wood. On seeing the other elephants Archie emerged from his hiding place. Hilton and Deedes don’t record what happened to Archie but Hilton notes that at the coroner’s inquest ‘magisterial interference caused punishment to fall on certain of Sangar’s people’.

The British Library holds a number of volumes of Hilton’s published and unpublished works on chronograms, which include both historical and current affairs chronograms. Many can be found at Add MS 68939-68941. There are four more volumes from this collection currently being catalogued which will shortly be available.

Laura Walker, Lead Curator, Modern Archives and Manuscripts 1851-1950.

22 June 2016

National Insect Week

For National Insect Week, here is an extract from the very first volume of the Calcutta Journal of Natural History, published in 1841. The Reverend Frederick Hope, a well-known entomologist from Oxford, solicits information about insects in India and asks for specimens.

 

Insects (2)

  Insects (1)

 Calcutta Journal of Natural History 1841 Noc

 

In the same edition are an article on a species of civet, a review of Robert Wight’s Illustrations of Indian Botany, and an account of a particularly ill-tempered meeting of the Asiatic Society of Bengal (‘A committee that would lay down rules for the direction of a curator, ought to know the difference between minerals and rocks’).

Many of Hope’s entomological collections are now in the Museum of Natural History, Oxford.

Antonia Moon
Lead Curator Post-1858 India Office Records