If you were asked to conjure an image of the First World War, what would it be? Flanders Fields? Muddy trenches maybe? Perhaps the poetry of Wilfred Owen? Or poppies? Probably the final episode of Blackadder Goes Forth? If it happens to be one of the above or even all of the above, chances are that that image or those images will have iconic status. The problem, though, is that iconic images from the First World War do not offer us the complete picture of what became one of the deadliest conflicts in history. This is where the Centre for Hidden Histories: Community, Commemoration and the First World War comes into the equation as one of five First World War engagement centres that have been established by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) in partnership with the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to investigate the war and support community groups in their efforts to research and commemorate the war.
Led by Nottingham where it is based, the Centre is run by a consortium of universities made up of Derby, Nottingham Trent, Goldsmiths, UCL, Manchester Metropolitan and Oxford Brookes. Its aim is to help explore some of the lesser known stories of the years between 1914 and 1919. To this end, the Centre is working towards pairing local groups and societies keen to commemorate the role of their communities in the war with University academics who can offer guidance on how to make their vision a reality. The Centre is particularly keen to offer support to people in the Sikh, Muslim, West Indian and Caribbean, Eastern European and Jewish communities, which have been widely affected by the century-long legacy of the First World War but whose stories are often overlooked in the narrative perpetuated by the media.
This is underlined by Professor John Beckett, the leader of the Centre and an academic in the Department of History, University of Nottingham who observes that the Community, Commemoration and the First World War project “is particularly interested in the events and participants that fall outside of the traditional image of the Western Front. We intend to explore themes of migration and displacement, the experience of ‘others’ from countries and regions within Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas, and the impact and subsequent legacies of the war on diverse communities within Britain, remembrance and commemoration, and identity and faith. We are interested in hearing from community groups who are planning activities to commemorate the years 1914-19, especially those for whom the traditional Armistice Day celebrations may have strikingly different meanings”.
As well as academic and research support, the Centre will also be able to provide some financial grants to the community groups through dedicated Community Challenge and Research Development funds. Among the projects which the Centre is already supporting are:
• Assistance with arranging and recording anti-war songs in the West Indian tradition to commemorate the contribution made by the West Indies — the Caribbean colonies were represented by more than 18,000 officers and soldiers;
• The creation of a tapestry that tells the story of the Sikh contribution to the First World War, using traditional Northern Indian craft;
• The development of an exhibition of the Sikh contribution that could be taken out into the community to other faith groups to develop a deeper understanding of a shared history.
The Centre is keen to hear from community groups who have ideas on how to commemorate the First World One. Anyone interested in finding out more can contact Community Liaison Officer Michael Noble on 0115 748 4942 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.