MHN Takes In a Treasure Trove of WW1 Documents on Display in London

The British Library in London is opening the book on an exhibit featuring some stunning First World War artifacts.

The British Library in London is opening the book on an exhibit featuring some stunning First World War artifacts.

By Nick Britten,
Special to MHN

One of history's most persuasive recruiting posters.

One of history’s most persuasive recruiting posters?

This week the British Library in London unveiled its contribution to the U.K.’s First World War Centenary program with a new exhibition, Enduring War: Grief, Grit and Humour.

Featuring a stunning array of documents, letters, posters, the exhibit succeeds in covering the whole of Britain’s War effort from 1914 to 1918. From the home front to the life and death struggles in the trenches, the artifacts collectively tell a moving and poignant story of a country at war.

Items include a handwritten manuscript of Wilfred Owen’s Anthem for a Doomed Youth, complete with corrections and advice from Siegfried Sassoon. Also featured is letter from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in which the Sherlock Holmes creator expresses worries about his son who is serving on the Western Front.

One of the more powerful items is an original of the famous enlistment poster issued in 1915 by the Parliamentary recruitment committee. It shows a father at home with is children it has the tagline, “Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War?” – testament to the tremendous moral blackmail men faced before conscription in 1916.

“The exhibition brings together material that has come to have national significance, such as the manuscripts of now famous war poets, with less familiar items like Christmas cards and concert programmes that people might not expect to find in the British Library’s collection,” said Alison Bailey, co-curator of the show. “For example, we have both a manuscript of Rupert Brooke’s poem ‘The Soldier’ and a card sent to him about socks. Personal stories sit alongside public statements and literary manuscripts, giving an enduring voice to some of the men, women and children who lived through the war.”

Enduring War: Grief, Grit and Humour runs until 12 October. Admission is free. For more information, visit http://www.bl.uk/whatson/exhibitions/enduring-war/.

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Nick Britten is the founder of Under Every Leaf, a blog dedicated to the British military of the Victorian era. He lives in Rochester, England. You can follow him on Twitter.

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