January 26, 2015

York in the Great War

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 3:02 pm by historywardrobe

105015The city of York has a long, vibrant and occasionally violent history.

Until very recently the four years of the Great War have been comparatively overlooked by historians and memorialists.  Books, TV programs and films had previously focused only on the military aspects of the war.  Thanks to the war’s Centenary we now have a far greater appreciation of how immense the war’s impact was on all levels of society… and on the Home Front too.

Karyn Burnham’s history York in the Great War is part of a neat series by Pen and Sword books.  As such, it suffers under the constraint of the series’ word limit. Frankly – it’s too short!  Happily, what we have is a nicely-researched, well-written overview of a fascinating city during a tumultuous era.

York in the Great War will enable locals to see their city with fresh eyes, wondering – Was this where the Zeppelin bombs fell? Was this where the women from the Cocoa Works had their allotments?  Did troops march down this street?

In York in the Great War details of daily life touch on so many aspects of the wider war, both home and abroad.  For example, the book covers issues about recruitment – and conscientious objection.  We read of the welcome given to Belgian refugees… and the fearful bigotry behind the internment of so-called ‘enemy aliens’.  Zeppelins raid; food is rationed and influenza strikes. 1559 days of war are endured, until the bells of York Minster are free to peal again in peacetime.

Adding to the book’s appeal are previously unpublished images from the collection of local historian, the late, great Hugh Murray.

Above all, it is the personal stories which make this book a treat.  My favourite?  The tale of Sgt T.J. Williamson of the 5th King’s Own (Royal Lancaster) Regiment.  His life was saved during the second battle of the Somme when a potentially fatal bullet was stopped… by the tin of Elect Cocoa sent out as a ‘comfort’ by Rowntree’s Cocoa Works.