I know it has been very quiet on the blog front here at the Welsh Historian, but it is because I have been working non-stop. Organising events programming at the Jewish Museum and working at a cocktail bar in the evenings, surprisingly, does not give much time for anything. Let alone blog entries!
2019 has been a massive year of change for me and an absolutely amazing year for exhibitions in the UK. In the little spare time I have had off work, I have visited some absolutely groundbreaking exhibitions focusing on a plethora of topics, ranging from Tutankhamun to Troy, Keith Haring to Hogarth, there were too many to choose from to pick one favourite. So, I have decided to give my top 5 exhibitions of the year…
The Art of Persuasion: Wartime Posters by Abram Games- National Army Museum
Although they did not call the exhibition ‘War Games’ (a missed opportunity I know!) I really enjoyed visiting this exhibition. Having visited the National Army Museum only a handful of times before, I was pleasantly surprised at the layout of this exhibition. Inspired by his Jewish heritage, his experiences as a soldier, and the turbulent politics of the time, Games used his talent for visual communication to recruit, educate and influence soldiers and civilians alike. His posters took on a modernist approach and would have stood out , becoming very effective in recruiting. He designed the iconic WAAF poster below which dramatically increased enrolment in young women.
The exhibition layout was extremely engaging, showing the thought process behind the designs. Games using simple imagery to convey a clear artistic image and message. One of the best displays was that the gallery showed posters under different coloured lighting to show how different aspects of the images stood out in different colours, completely changing the images and our concept of them.
Manga- The British Museum
This exhibition was a personal highlight for me as I had access to the exhibition after hours and managed to take my sister, who is a big fan of manga comics. As someone who had never read manga before, the opening graphics explaining how to read manga and what certain images and symbols meant to the story, were extremely helpful and made the exhibition more accessible to me as a viewer. One main topic that was notable was the spotlight that was shone on female manga artists who have made strides in a male-dominated field to make girl-comics more mainstream and open the genre to include young women. I enjoyed the exhibition so much that I wrote a blog article about it earlier this year. You can find the article here: https://wordpress.com/view/thewelshhistorian.com?site=thewelshhistorian.wordpress.com
Tutenkahmun- Saatchi Gallery
I want to say firstly, I had a strong moral objection to going to this exhibition as at £33 a ticket, I believe that the Saatchi Gallery were making this amazing exhibition completely inaccessible to a whole demographic of the British public and tourists. I think that it is wrong for museums and galleries to restrict exhibitions based on financial income and it completely cut of a whole new audience of museum goers who might have found inspiration when a museum would not normally be their first choice of entertainment. However, my parents were visiting me and decided to treat me with a ticket so I decided to go. I acknowledge the privilege that I have had to be able to spend that much on an exhibition ticket and thus, whatever I thought of the exhibition, I would not give it a review without mentioning how despicable I find it, as someone who works in the museum sector, to charge visitors such an extortionate amount.
I am also extremely dismayed to inform readers, after that outburst, that this exhibition was beautifully displayed. Every object was extremely well lit and well preserved. Half of the objects looked as if they were brand new, the level of care and conservation of these objects is the best I have ever seen. Golden statues with such ornate details shone amongst the alabaster and lapis lazul. I have been extremely lucky to view these amazing objects in my lifetime. I will say however, that the audio-guide (that was an extra cost, no surprise) did not have as much information as one would suspect due to the price of the ticket. It would have been extremely helpful to have a graphic at the start of the exhibition, such as the one in the British Museum’s Manga exhibition, of the common Egyptian symbols that were prominent in the collection and explaining their significance to the various Gods of Ancient Egypt.
If you can afford the price, and be lucky enough not to endure the crowds on the weekend, I would recommend this exhibition. Solely for the plethora of perfectly preserved objects.
Keith Haring- Tate Liverpool
The Tate Liverpool’s exhibition on Keith Haring was extraordinary. Stepping into the legendary New York art scene in the 1980s, you are submerged into a world of political activism through simplistic figures and shapes. The Director of Tate Liverpool Helen Legg states: ‘Haring united the realms of uptown high art and downtown street culture, in turn expanding the legacies of pop art to address the most urgent political and social issues of his time”.
Through the exhibition we see his natural talent being combined with performance art pieces as he draws characters on posters in the subway and draws a continuous piece barefoot until he is trapped on a corner of his own canvass. He blends themes of LGBT rights, space exploration and drug use into complex tapestries where each small aspect of his work creates a masterpiece of excitement and individualistic beauty. His voice being used as an advocate for LGBT rights has made him a very well known figure in New York, and it was astonishing to see how much his work resonated with visitors in the United Kingdom who had perhaps not known him before attending the exhibition. I personally enjoyed the exhibition so much I bought a poster AND a catalogue (I often have to restrain myself from buying museum catalogues but this one was too good to resist)! I loved that such a huge groundbreaking exhibition was shown outside London, making the art world open itself to new audiences.
Troy: Myth and Reality- British Museum
The Troy exhibition at the British Museum was one that I really enjoyed due to my severe lack of knowledge of the Ancient world. I had grown up reading the Greek myths through children’s story books, but had never studied Ancient Greece academically. The whole Helen of Troy and Paris story has been played out in Hollywood and replicated in so many different works of fiction. However, I did not happen to know the origins of the tale. As per usual, the plight of the people of Troy originated with the Gods fighting and causing trouble for each other.
Eris, goddess of discord, has not been invited to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis so she takes her revenge, throwing a golden apple amongst the guests to cause trouble. The apple bears the inscription ‘for the most beautiful’ and three goddesses fight to claim it. Zeus asks Paris, the Trojan prince, to act as a judge. Each goddess offers Paris a bribe for him to choose her. Aphrodite, who promises the love of the world’s most beautiful woman, wins. The woman is Helen, married to Greek king Menelaus. Paris steals her and takes her across the sea to Troy. The Greeks retaliate and assemble a large fleet commanded by king Agamemnon of Mycenae and lay siege to Troy for many years.
This introductory story was shown through many objects, such as pottery, and through very interesting visuals, projections of the Gods, helping explain the imagery on the pottery.
The exhibition then tells the tale of the great battles between Troy and the Greeks. Many stories of different characters get brought to the forefront of the exhibition, but one mention that stood out was the mention of potential homosexual relationships. On a sarcophagus we see Achilles grief-striken as his friends bring him the dead body of Patroclus, his closest friend and probably lover. Achilles takes out his revenge soon enough and eventually gets wounded, which, a prophecy once foretold, meant that death was soon to come.
I would recommend this exhibition to those who wish to gain a further insight into the tale of Troy and the famous Trojan horse. As the objects were not in great shape due to wars, colonialism and general damage due to age, the British Museum made a great deal of effort explaining the stories behind the artwork and objects, more than the Audio-guide at Tutenkahmun. It helped me gain a great foundation to build upon, to explore more ancient history in 2020.
I wish to all my readers a very happy New Year. May everybody have a lovely 2020 and I hope to see you all return to this blog in the upcoming year.
It is a day that will unfortunatley be marked forever in Welsh history and the community’s personal memories. The day that the colliery spoil spread down the valley killing 116 children and 28 adults. If you ask many Welsh people, Aberfan will be listed as one of the worst disasters to happen to Wales and for good reason. For an entire community, their future and their loved ones were wiped out in a matter of minutes.
It started days before, with constant rain and terrible weather beating the mountainside, slowly gathering to cause the spill that would engulf part of the village. The spoil (tip no. 7) was debris and unusable wastage from the local mine shoved onto the side of the mountain, laid there as they had nowhere else to put it. The spoil reached eleven feet high and, to many historians, was seen as a disaster waiting to happen. In the 1960s there were few regulations in place regarding health and safety procedures, especially concerning the mines and where they dumped their wastage. The spoil gathering water from the terrible October weather conditions was swelling and gaining traction waiting for the base to give way to slide down the mountain.
Just before the local primary school was to have a half term break, the children of Aberfan were ready to start the lessons of the day when the spoil decimated the school.
One survivor Brian Williams recounts to the local paper:
I got up and went to school as normal. I always went with my older sister, June, and her best friend from up the street, Pamela. We called into George’s sweet shop, as we always did every morning, and then my sister would go the one way to the top end of the school and my class was down the bottom end.We got into class with Mrs Williams, who was my teacher.There was a bit of a kerfuffle because everybody wanted to be in the wendy house and I didn’t get to. So because I was having a bit of a strop I got moved from my seat by the door to sit by Gareth Jones to draw to keep me quiet.
If I’d been in my usual seat, we wouldn’t be having this conversation because the wall came down on my desk.
We were sitting there drawing and we could hear a noise coming. And the best way I could describe it later on – because I’d never heard anything like that at the time – was like when you go to an airport and you hear an aeroplane coming in to land.I stood and I watched because I thought ‘if something’s coming I want to see what’s coming’.I just watched the classroom wall split from the bottom to the top.The wall came through and stopped. And the next thing I remember was it went very quiet, and then a lot of screaming and crying.
Then I saw Mr Williams (a different teacher) in the doorway. You could just about see his head from the gap of the door to where all the muck had come in.We were handed out one by one then to the caretaker. What you’ve got to remember with the caretaker here is he was getting us out and his two children had died further on up the school. You’ve got to think what was going through his head. We were told ‘get home as quick as you can’. But, of course, I knew as soon as I came out of the class that my sister was gone. You only had to look up the top end of the school and it was just… well, it wasn’t there basically.
The local men and women did not stop in their efforts to rescue the children and bring out the bodies of those who had perished in the disaster, families headed to the local church to identify the bodies of their young children. The community was devastated by this disaster, relying on each other for support due to the tragedy.
The National Coal Board was subjected to a national enquiry at the time, questioned as to whether they knew that the spoil rested on underground springs. The report placed the blame squarely on the NCB. Lord Robens, the organisation’s chairman, was criticised for making misleading statements and for not providing clarity as to the NCB’s knowledge of the presence of water springs on the hillside. Neither the NCB nor any of its employees were prosecuted and the organisation was not fined.The Aberfan Disaster Memorial Fund (ADMF) was set up on the day of the disaster. It received nearly 88,000 contributions, totalling £1.75 million.
Wales will always remember Aberfan. A day in which many innocent lives were wasted due to poor safety regulations. The graves are visited by the community on the anniversary of the disaster and Wales still mourns to this day. This was the day that the local children paid the price for coal.
‘Me thought I heard a
voice proclaim. ‘God crowns with sovereign good.
The Sacrifice and triumph
of the Welsh at Mametz Wood.’
Arthur George’s poem, quoted above, winning the Chair and Prize Poem at the Porthcawl Eisteddfod in 1918 highlights how Mametz Wood will always live in infamy within the Welsh public consciousness of the First World War. It was at Mametz Wood where the 38th (Welsh) Division was to first face the harshest fighting at the Western Front. The battle rests in public memory as a disaster costing many Welsh lives, submerging Welsh communities in grief and mourning and the army officials deemed it a disaster. Welsh newspapers commemorating the centenary of the battle mention numerous times the casualty rate and yet omit the fact that the battle was a victory and the Welsh succeeded in capturing the wood. The media reports follow the same structure in which the British media reported, and still reports today, on commemorations of the Somme and the First World War in general. They focus on the lives lost and remembering the dead and omit the fact that the Allies won the war. This is mainly because the Somme campaign and indeed, the fighting on the Western Front in general was, and for many members of the British public, still seen as a futile slaughter of British troops.
Yet, revisionist historians such as Gary Sheffield are trying to erase the myth that the Somme was a disaster. The battle at Mametz Wood does not get this revisionist attention attempting to change public perception about the fighting of the 38th (Welsh) Division. Like the Somme in general, the battle at Mametz Wood was an eventual victory with the Welsh capturing the wood, but the public perception of the battle still deems it a disaster. This needs to be rectified as although the battle was costly, it cannot be deemed futile since the Welsh Division succeeded in capturing the wood. The Battle of Mametz Wood, in the end, was a victory for the Welsh Division, albeit a costly one. The fact that soldiers died and the Division did not take the Wood immediately does not qualify it to be remembered as futile. In this chapter I will discuss the events of July at Mametz Wood and attempt to highlight why it was deemed a failure rather than a victory; whether it has fallen into the public narrative of the Somme, or whether it should be classed as a victory and discuss whether prejudices against the Welsh were a factor in labelling Mametz Wood a calamity.
As part of the Somme campaign, the German Army was
driven back in several sectors after the disaster of the first day and by 5th
July the British Army was facing them across the valley near Mametz Wood.
The 38th (Welsh) Division was given orders to capture the woods and
the battalions, such as the 14th Battalion marched to Mametz to
receive their orders from commanding officers.
The attack on Mametz Wood was not to be an easy operation. Mametz Wood was the
largest wood on the Somme which covers an area of over two hundred acres being
close to a mile in length, overlooking a valley.
The Germans were well situated to the north midway between Fricourt and
Montauban, with their second line of defence at Mametz Wood and had used their
positions in the wood to their advantage.
The 14th battalion of the 38th (Welsh) Division relieved
the 1st Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers (RWF), 91st
Brigade on the front line in preparation for the capture of the wood. A
patrol by the 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Regiment on the night of 3-4th
July reported back that the wood was very dense with thick undergrowth which
would make movement very difficult for infantry.
They also reported trip wires in the undergrowth and well placed machine guns
at Acid Drop Copse which fire directly into the valley.
The report by the Royal Irish Regiment highlights the unfavourable conditions
of the wood in which any infantry would have trouble capturing, let alone an
inexperienced division that was going to be first tested in battle.
According to Barlow, the capture of Mametz Wood was thought to have been so
difficult, that General Headquarters (GHQ) left it out of the orders for 1st
Thus it brings into question why GHQ ordered the inexperienced Welsh division
to capture such a difficult objective especially considering that the German
army defending the wood was far more experienced in combat and warfare. The
higher army authority has also been questioned by historians such as Hicks who
claims that XV Corps Headquarters failed to capitalise on the intelligence
gathered by the Irish Regiment,
and the ‘official’ history of the Great War states:
‘it would appear that if
XV Corps had encouraged more vigorous action on the afternoon of the 3rd,
a hold on Mametz Wood could have been secured and Wood Trench and Quadrangle
Trench occupied. The last named objective was taken on the morning of the 5th,
but the others were to cost many lives and much precious time’.
The planning of the attack on Mametz Wood has come
under question by historians as there were arguments between officials over
tactics and the lack of appropriate plans led to General Phillips’s removal
from command in the middle of the operation on 9th July.
This will be revisited later on in this chapter in detail as I will approach
the battle at Mametz Wood chronologically to achieve more transparency over the
events that occurred in order to achieve an analysis of whether it was an
The attack was to begin on 7th July with 17th
Division attacking Acid Drop Copse which was to the west of the main wood. The
14th Battalion B and D companies came into Dantzig Alley coming up
towards the German dug out in Pommiers Trench.
The 17th Division would attack the western edge of the wood to draw
fire away from the 115th Brigade’s advance that was going into the
Hammerhead and the first attack was scheduled to start at 2am.
Near the Hammerhead was the valley named Death Valley which was so named
because the Germans would pound the area with shells as it was not visible and
thus used for the transportation of troops and supplies. The Hammerhead was a
very dangerous area of fighting but due to the limited visibility of Death
Valley, the 115th Brigade did get some cover during their attack.
The first attack was scheduled for 2am and an intense
preliminary bombardment was ordered for 7.20am to 8am after which a series of
barrages would be fired.
On the same morning at 8.30am the 16th Battalion Welsh Regiment and
the 11th Battalion South Wales Borderers moved out of Caterpillar
Wood and began an uphill advance westward towards Mametz Wood.
The battalions spread out attacking the wood from both sides, as Caterpillar
Wood is to the east from the Hammerhead, they opted for a tactic of drawing
fire away from the Hammerhead so the wood could be infiltrated by the 115th
Brigade. The 113th Brigade had the job of providing heavy rifle and
machine gun fire on the southern end of Mametz Wood from 8am until 8.30am from
their positions in White Trench and Cliff Trench.
At 11am after another artillery bombardment, another attempt was made to enter
the wood but the well placed enemy machine guns made progress into the wood
impossible and by the end of the 7th July the Welsh Division was
back in the same place as they had started only with a large number of casualties
with 177 men and 3 officers who had lost their lives.
The following morning all communication wires had been
cut by heavy German fire and even though the artillery stuck to its schedule,
no smoke barrage was formed due to the unfavourable wind conditions that day
and thus the enemy would have unobstructed
views of the attacking battalions. A
report from Captain Hinton at 9.25am, which was received at 10.10am, stated
that the Welsh attack was being held up about 200 yards from the northern side
and about 400 yards from the southern side of the wood. Another report at
around 9.50am stated that conditions were getting progressively worse as German
guns were firing on what remained of the two attacking battalions which were in
By around 4.40pm the 16th Battalion, the 10th and 11th
South Wales Borderers were exhausted and disorganised due to the loss of the
majority of the officers and were ordered to withdraw. The attack was failing
tremendously at this point with the battalions taking heavy casualties. The
main explanation for the failure of the first two days of the battle can be put
down to unfavourable conditions. The unfavourable wind conditions on 8th
July meant that the attacking battalions were out in the open giving the
Germans clear and somewhat easy targets for heavy machine gun fire. Also, the
artillery bombardment can be deemed as unsuccessful as visibility of the enemy
positions was poor and the German Army had better defensive positions. One
could argue that the reconnaissance from the Irish Regiment was not valued as
much as it should have been, as wood fighting in itself is very hard due to
poor visibility, thick undergrowth and uneven terrain making the advancement of
infantry units very hard. One would think that more care would have been taken
during strategic planning to factor in the enemy’s advantageous positions and
uphill fighting. Hicks argues that ultimately, the fault of the disaster of the
first two days at Mametz was due to the artillery fire not being properly
coordinated as the men were exposed to uninterrupted German fire and because
artillery was so poor on the Welsh side, many of the shells would fall short
and cause casualties on their own side.
The central fault, however, was the failure of the smoke barrage which would
have given the Welsh Division adequate cover to proceed into the wood, and yet
one could question why the attack went forward as planned. There were also
reports of poor weather conditions, rain eventually falling churning the ground
into mud making movement far more difficult.
Due to the miscalculations and unorganised attack on 7th
and 8th July, General Phillips was dismissed from his post.
Plans on the 9th were not much better due to confusion and
miscommunication once again. The 14th Battalion were ordered to the
front line but congestion in the trenches meant that they were unable to get to
their starting positions in time for the ordered attack. They then received
orders late to return to their bivouac as it was too late to attack.
Due to the confusion most of the battalions used the day to regroup and make
their positions more secure so that there would be no more large casualty
numbers. The day of 10th July was to be a larger operation with the
14th Battalion RWF, with the 16th Battalion taking the
left side of the wood setting off to the attack at 4.12am. The soldiers were told to take the wood ‘at
all costs’ showing that the commanders at Headquarters were desperate to take
the wood after the failure to capture it on the first day.
One account from E.M. Edwards remembering the attack described how the Welsh
identity was used to stir the troops before battle; ‘We attacked at 4am on July
10th 1916. We were led by Lieutenant Venmore whose last words before
going over the top were ‘Don’t forget the regiment you belong to”.
In the 14th Battalion’s war diary it is noted that there was some
confusion with the positioning of the 114th Brigade but it did not
stop the advance.
The accounts written by Major General Marden give us a clear depiction of the
start of the battle on 10th July:
‘At 3.50am the smoke
barrage commenced at Strip Trench and drifted northeast effectively. At 4.05am
the 13th and 14th Welsh advanced in waves of platoons at
100 yards’ interval in accordance with tactical instructions issued by the
Fourth Army. It is very doubtful if this was a suitable formation considering
the strength of the enemy’s machine guns, and it had already been abandoned by
the French, who advanced as we did later in the war, by ‘packets’.
The fact that the smoke barrage was favourable this
time bode well for the second movement on the wood. The criticism of the
‘platoon formation’ going at intervals is justified as although it might work
on paper, human error and changes of circumstance must be accounted for as
troops would most definitely not meet every target at the precise time,
especially when factoring in enemy fire. This criticism is also re-stated by
Hicks who writes that because the undergrowth was so thick and visibility was
poor, the soldiers had to rely on timed barrages and because ground conditions
were not considered, the Welsh attack started to waver.
The fact that the French had abandoned the tactic of the platoon formation
should have been an indication that the strategy was not the best when
approaching heavy German fire, especially considering the more adverse
conditions that the Welsh Division were faced with due to wood combat. The
problem with timed platoon advancement is the fact that it opens up the
possibility of soldiers being shot by their own side if they don’t reach their
objective on time. This would have resulted in many avoidable casualties. The
Division was given strict orders during this period to stay off roads and when
advancing in the wood they should advance in ‘small columns’.
During this second movement on the wood reports were
conflicting and confusing as to companies’ locations and successes. All battalions demanded reinforcements either to
ensure success but very little resulted in several new officers being
dispatched to the wood.
The brigades became intermingled due to the lack of officers and orders and
also the front line became congested
causing confusion over where certain battalions were meant to be. The 13th
Battalion had forced the Germans in Wood Support Trench to surrender after
heavy bombing and this lifted the spirits of the men after having hardly any
success in the wood. The advance by the 113th Brigade to within 200
yards of the northern edge of the wood also lifted spirits and it seemed as if
there was a turning point within the battle after these successes.
After strengthening their position in the wood, the task for the 38th
(Welsh) Division was to drive the enemy out of the wood completely. By 5.40pm
the 11th South Wales Borderers reached the north east corner of the
wood but the 16th Welsh and 17th RWF met sterner
opposition and were held up and by 9.20pm the battalions had returned to their
The Germans planned their retirement to their second line under the cover of
night as another attack from the Welsh would have seen them defeated, thus by
the morning of 12th July the 38th (Welsh) Division was
relieved from Mametz Wood as the fighting was over and their objective of
capturing the wood was achieved.
In the 14th Battalion, casualties made a
huge impact on the troop’s numbers with five officers killed and ten wounded,
67 other ranks killed and 233 wounded.
The 13th Battalion also suffered huge losses with one soldier
recalling many years after the attack; ‘Our Battalion (13th Welsh)
went in over 1000 strong, (Clerks, Cooks and everyone) and at roll call 2 days
later I am told that 136 men answered the call’.
The Welsh Division suffered casualties totalling 190 officers and 3803 other
ranks killed, wounded or missing during the assault on Mametz Wood.
However, despite the official history of the war stating that it was a
disaster, like the Battle of the Somme in general, militarily it could be
viewed as a success. Yet, many historians still class Mametz Wood as a disaster
with the 38th (Welsh) Division only having succeed in restoring its
honour at the battle of Pilckem Ridge which was captured during the assault on 31st
July until 4th August 1917.
Although it was costly, the account of Mametz Wood should be adjusted in order
to highlight the victory of the Welsh Division.
The aftermath of Mametz Wood was described as a scene
of horror by many who witnessed the fighting or even passed through after the
wood was captured. Captain A. Radcliffe Dugmore of the King’s Own Light
Infantry labelled the scenes as ‘indescribable’ and that ‘the whole place was
literally carpeted with bodies, the enemy having put up an especially vigorous
resistance in the attempt to hold the wood’.
Yet the devastation among the ranks of the Welsh Division distorts the actual
facts of the battle in general and steers public perception away from it being
an actual victory, towards the narrative of the futility of war due to lives
being lost. The battle of Mametz Wood is in danger of succumbing to the same
fate that the Somme has in being branded as a disaster due to the number of
casualties regardless of whether the wood was actually captured or not. The
desolation of the 38th (Welsh) Division seemed, for many, to gain
more resonance than the victory with many other battalions passing by
witnessing the horror that was the aftermath of Mametz Wood. One Irish soldier
depicted the views at Mametz Wood stating that;
‘the bodies of the Welsh soldiers that were
killed fighting for the woods were so numerous, and the amount of remaining men
to bury them so few, that it meant a large number were lying on the ground the
entire time it was there…No longer can anyone claim that war is romantic who
has been testament to the sight of rotting bodies that have been neglected
without care and understanding that what remains is a person that was once
With the gift of hindsight one can blame some of the failures
of the first few days of battle on some strategic errors made by headquarters
and officers which caused confusion among the ranks, which lead to the
dismissal of General Phillips. However, the main fault over the first few days
would lie with the failure of the artillery fire and the smoke barrage due to
unfavourable weather. The attack should have been postponed as the soldiers did
not have anything with which to conceal their advancement, and the
communication failures leading to confusion and congestion within the trenches.
Also one could blame the lack of effective command being the cause of the
soldiers’ confusion, not the soldiers’ ineptitude in battle. Hicks argues that
due to the high casualty rate of officers and NCOs, there was confusion amongst
the men as to what the battle plan was and nowhere more than during wood
fighting is leadership vital in order to prevent men from losing their way in
the tough conditions.
Yet, Haig blamed the so-called disaster of Mametz Wood on the Welsh troops stating
that ‘the 38th Welsh Division, which had been ordered to attack
Mametz Wood had not advanced with determination to the attack’.
Blaming the Welsh soldiers for the amount of casualties by stating that they
did not advance with “determination’ can be seen as a misguided view. The fault
was clearly not with the soldiers as there are numerous accounts of the bravery
of the Welsh soldiers advancing to face some of the harshest fighting on the
Western Front such as the account given by an officer of a neighbouring
division who states that the advance of the Welsh soldiers on 10th
July was ‘one of the most magnificent sights of the war’ with waves of men seen
‘advancing without hesitation and without a break over a distance which in some
places was nearly 500 yards’.
In contrast, reports from soldiers or observers
actually at Mametz Wood are far more likely to give an accurate description of
the course of battle and the state of the soldiers as Haig would have only
received reports in which someone would have had to take the blame for failures
other than his command and the tactics of the officers in charge of the
operation. One could certainly class Haig as misinformed on this issue as he
would not have been anywhere near the battle to witness for himself what
happened and would only have received updates through the communication
networks, which have already been labelled as flawed during the Mametz Wood
operation. Many Welsh historians have taken the chance to argue that Haig’s
statement could be classed as discriminatory as the Welsh eventually achieved
their set objective against the odds, even though for the majority of the
division it would have been their first experience of battle. Hicks argues that
Haig had been misinformed as to the casualty numbers suffered on the 7th
July and of the effectiveness of the artillery bombardment and thus states that
if he had known about the scale of casualties suffered by the Welsh Division
his opinion might have changed.This
feeds into the point once again about the miscommunication between the front
line and the Generals at the Headquarters.
It is not just Haig that blames the actual soldiers for
the failures of 7th and 8th July: most official military
history concerning this battle indicates that the Welsh soldiers were the cause
of the problems of the first two days of battle. Major Drake Brockman alludes
to a stigma that stuck to the Welsh Division after Mametz as it was ‘common
talk in the BEF that the 38th Division had ‘bolted” and the fact
remained that the 38th Division was never employed again on the
For many analysing the aftermath of Mametz Wood, this ‘official narrative’ put
forward can be seen as an insult to the soldiers that died trying to take the
wood. One could call the official history misinformation as many accounts of
officers who first criticised the Welsh soldiers often changed their perception
after the war was over due to hindsight. Certain officers such as Price-Davies
actually stated after the war that ‘possibly I may not have given my Brigade
full credit for what they did’ which highlights that many officers, arguably
Haig amongst them, did not fully appreciate at the time, the sacrifice of the
Welsh soldiers fighting for one of the
hardest objectives of the Somme.
Price-Davies’s original comments lashing out at his soldiers and junior
officers did a lot more damage than he would realise. The damage had been done
as the Welsh would become besmirched by his comments which fed into the
official military narrative of the war. The official perception of Mametz Wood
is still trapped within the myth that it, as well as the entire battle of the
Somme, was a futile disaster.
In contrast, the soldiers at Mametz Wood were labelled
as heroes in the Welsh press. Some would argue that the reporting in the press
of the heroic actions of the 38th Welsh Division can be seen as
making up for the disparaging narrative offered by the British Army, with many
local papers offering first-hand accounts of soldiers and reporting of the
brave acts of local boys. One newspaper cutting in the files of Major W.P. Wheldon praises the men of the 38th
Welsh Division in what seems like a speech with certain remarks such as: ‘The
men belonging to the division you have the honour to belong to are a credit to
their race’ and ‘the attack on Mametz Wood was one of the most difficult
enterprises which ever fell to any division. It was left to the Welsh Division,
and they swept the enemy out of it’.
The newspaper cutting does not give an indication as to which newspaper it
belonged to or what date it was printed.
However, the language used heavily suggests that this was printed after
the battle as it praises the Welsh soldiers sweeping through the wood to drive
out the enemy. Such reports were commonplace in the Welsh media at the time,
not only to honour the local boys that had fallen in battle, but to also praise
Welsh soldiers in general due to some of the preconceived views of the Welsh
not supporting the war effort. Articles titled ‘Mametz Wood Hero’ appeared in
newspapers across Wales about many different soldiers. Newspaper reports describing
soldiers gaining military awards such as the article written about Sergeant W.J
Beavan being presented with the Military Medal for bravery appeared in the Cambrian Daily Leader,
whilst others report of the heroic soldiers who had fallen during battle such
as the South Wales Weekly Post’s
report on the military funeral of Private Stanley Smale in Swansea after dying
from wounds sustained at Mametz Wood.
In nearly every article the word ‘hero’ is mentioned and is a recurring theme.
This highlights how the Welsh public perceived the soldiers at Mametz, in which
every soldier that participated was a hero to their community and the pride
that the Welsh people had for the soldiers despite the official reports that
they lacked determination and discipline. This alludes to the earlier points of
the survival of pre-war modes of thought within the Welsh community, the
community pride towards the soldiers and still supporting their war effort
despite the horrific scenes on the first few days of the Mametz Wood offensive.
The reports of the local newspapers are more useful for understanding the
aftermath of, and reactions to, Mametz Wood, rather than taking the official
army narrative as dogma. Through the local newspapers one can get a better
insight into the soldier’s experiences as they are reporting on members of
their own community that have served and far more personal accounts can help
shed light on Mametz rather than the reports from the headquarters and Haig’s
diaries that would carry misinformation due to poor communication.
The battle of Mametz Wood is often shrouded in
controversy due to the conflicting accounts from the soldiers and the official
narrative of the British Army. As revisionist historians have been working to
re-shape and demythologise public perceptions of the Somme, so that one focuses
on the battle as a whole being a victory instead of looking at the tragedy of
the first day, parallels can be drawn in respect to Welsh historiography.
Historians studying Mametz Wood are attempting to change the official narrative
that the Welsh soldiers failed and fought without determination and reform the
history of the battle to honour the soldiers that died. They state that there
was nothing wrong with the fighting spirit of the men, and
argue that even though the first two days incurred a large number of
casualties, the objective of capturing the wood was reached and completed by
the Welsh soldiers of the 38th Division. To deny them the victory
due to headquarters looking for someone to blame besides themselves can be seen
as an insult to the memory of those who gave their life for the battle to take
 Arthur George, The Welsh at Mametz Wood (H.W. Southey
& Sons, Merthyr, 1918), p. 4.
One of the perks of my new job at the Jewish Museum in London is that the staff get invited to exclusive events within the museum community, often this includes free entry and after hours viewing of museum exhibitions. As any sane person would, I try to take advantage of these perks as much as I can (to the point where I probably annoy my co-workers asking what other things we get for free). One of the most recent invitations was to an after hours community evening at the British Museum to view their Manga exhibit. This luckily coincided with my manga-mad sister Lauren visiting me for a few days, so we hurried along to the British Museum for my sister to see some of her favourite manga comics displayed, and for me to learn more about this art form.
Firstly, I need to admit that I knew next to nothing about manga comics so I was pleasantly surprised about how accessible the exhibition was to me, a non-fan of the art form. As soon as you enter the exhibition you are informed about where manga is said to have originated and how to read manga (for a beginner). There is no specific origin of the Manga art form as one could argue, the style of drawing has always been present in Japanese art. The comics are read from the top right to bottom left hand side of the pages and the museum had fun, engaging images displaying this.
You then, have interviews by prominent figures in the manga community explaining how manga became such an important part of Japanese culture and why it has, in recent years, a wider appeal to western society with Studio Ghibli films and cartoons such as Pokemon having had a big impact on adult and children’s entertainment in the last twenty years. One thing that was notable is the spotlight that was shone on female manga artists who have made strides in a male-dominated field to make girl-comics more mainstream and open the genre to include young women.
One artist, Hagio Moto, was featured as the leading author of shōjo (girls) manga. She published her first manga, Rulu and Mimi, in 1969, aged 20. She is a key member of the Year 24 Group who are said to have revolutionised shōjo manga in the 1970s. Hagio also writes in other genres such as Boys Love which is a popular homoerotic genre. Such pioneers show that the Museum is succeeding in showcasing multiple aspects of the manga universe and not just the male-dominated mangas that are well-known to the West.
There were the well known favourites such as Astro Boy which is manga-master Tezuka Osamu’s most popular manga and anime series. Astro Boy is one of the most well-known characters in the manga world and has had many spin offs as well as being adapted into Hollywood films. Other favourites, such as Deathnote and Attack on Titan were also featured in the exhibit, Attack on Titan being represented by the unnerving giant head of a Titan.
Lauren really appreciated that there was a manga library in the middle of the exhibit where visitors could sit down and peruse the different manga genres and different popular titles. This was also a massive positive for me, getting to actually read the comics after finding out more about the process behind it and finding out about the authors made me appreciate and take an interest in manga. There was even a comic about the British Museum where Professor Munakata (one of Japan’s most popular manga characters) investigates the disappearance of the Stonehenge megaliths. His investigation leads him to the British Museum where there is a plot that puts the Rosetta Stone in grave danger!
I would definitely recommend a visit to this informative exhibition. As someone who had no idea about manga comics I thoroughly enjoyed learning about this genre of art and it was great to be able to experience this exhibition with a fan of manga, my sister.
Has anyone ever travelled to the US or come into contact with American tourists and they say the dreaded lines “are you from England?”, and you graciously reply with one of two prepared lines: “I’m British” (the old James Bond line) or “actually I’m from Wales”. Often they ask whether Wales is somewhere in England or just say that Britain and England are the same thing in which i promptly try my best to end the conversation politely or sometimes ask whether the US is a part of Canada. This little rant is now a segue into my main post about the relationship between English and British history.
When general British history books describe events they often give more of a generalised overview of events, for instance the suffrage movement. They talk about campaigns, marches and the violent outbursts that occurred. However, these accounts are often from limited sources and refer to anglicised events. I should add further that these events are often further limited to Southern England, obviously London. Events in Northern areas of England are often grouped into a London narrative. Often other issues such as class and ethnic background are not mentioned when talking about experiences of such events in general histories. These often are provided by their own exclusive historical research projects. HOWEVER, in my own experience, not many historians focus on Wales as a more specialised study. It often gets lumped in with England.
Even when Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland get a brief mention, lot of older histories of Britain lump them together as a universal Celtic experience.
The Welsh, Scottish and Irish people have distinct identities that cannot be grouped in with English experiences and labelled as the general experiences of the ‘British peoples’. There has been constant debate over the issue of certain aspects of British history not necessarily being one of the four nations. Pocock states that British history denoted ‘the historiography of no single nation but of a problematic and uncompleted experiment in the creation and interaction of several nations’. This approach is so problematic due to historians not treating British history as one of several different nations but treating an often English narrative as one that is British.
In the introductory essay of Naomi Lloyd-Jones and Margaret Scull’s Four Nations Approaches to Modern ‘British’ History: A [Dis]united Kingdom?, the historians debate about this notion of British history being Anglo-centric and accurately argue that ‘the histories and historiographies of the four should not be subsumed under the monolith of the one whole’. British history should be one that incorporates the different narratives of the four nations, and thus more detailed histories of these separate nations should be investigated.
A study by Welsh Historian Angela John in Sitting on the Severn Bridge: Wales and British History, argues that ‘British has tended to mean English in much history writing’ and she finds most of her time being taken up with ‘asserting difference between English and Welsh trends’ when universal statements were made. This viewing of Britain as a singular country instead of adopting a four nations approach to history has meant that a lot of Welsh, Scottish and Irish history remains in the shadows often being assumed to have had an identical experience with England which normally is in effect labelled as ‘Britain’ when it comes to general history. As John accurately states: “Integration of Welsh history into ‘British’ history can ignore significant and peculiarly Welsh perspectives as well as risk seeing Wales only in terms of how it contributed to the forging of a British State”. There are many advantages of looking at a combined British history, such as examining the relationships between the four nations in relation to topics that affect the whole of Britain and the power struggles in forging a nation’s identity as separate from the subsumed British one. Such histories often label English narratives as British and then group the other nations into a united Celtic experience in which they are assumed to have all shared narratives. The Anglo-centric readings of British history often partition the non-English parts of the United Kingdom into a ‘Celtic Fringe’ a phrase used by Harrison to partition the histories of the Scottish, Welsh and Irish anti-suffrage activities. More comprehensive studies must be conducted rather than assumptions of Celtic experiences.
This debate is one that is ongoing and I have used parts of my own research to highlight my opinion on this matter. This post is meant to just introduce the debate to a wider audience and I am in no way directing this post at any specific historian. I hope that this prompts debate as well as highlights the need for more specialised histories unveiling local stories.
Being a newly employed historian working at a Museum in London, my life seems pretty amazing to those who want to follow in my footsteps or want to continue working in historically- themed jobs. I get to go into work with a smile on my face knowing that I am helping educate the public, assisting with the running of the Museum and being able to assist with all the events that happen (as well as getting into basically all the new exhibitions in London for free). Who in our field doesn’t want that?
I’m not going to lie, I absolutely love my job, every aspect is interesting to me and getting to work with people that share your passion for history is an absolute blessing. BUT getting to where I am now has not been an easy road. To get your foot in the door of this industry is a slow process and one that can really make you question whether you want to try to pursue this kind of career. So, I thought I would make my triumphant return to blogging and give some advice to those wishing to pursue a career in museums.
DISCLAIMER: I have only just got my first job, I am in no way an expert and I am sorry if any advice that I give does not work. It is a really slow process and I might have just gotten lucky.
GET A MASTERS DEGREE! – Now, this might not be a prerequisite for every single museum job in the world (I really hope it isn’t anyway) but through months of networking with people in the industry at different levels and with different jobs, they said that museums, especially for curatorial roles, tend to look for those who have at least an MA. Apparently it shows that you have in-depth research capabilities as well as an academic mind.
VOLUNTEER EVERYWHERE- This is my main point!! I cannot stress enough how much museums and heritage sites love seeing that you have volunteered at similar places so you know what is expected and how things run. Unfortunately with volunteering this can mean that those who do not have the means to work for free can often feel that they can’t enter into the museum field. I couldn’t afford to live in London whilst volunteering as soon as I left university and I was lucky enough to be able to live with my supportive parents whilst doing some work experience.
KEEP UP TO DATE WITH EXHIBITIONS/ BOOK LAUNCHES/ EVERYTHING!- Interviewers love it when you can show them that you are involved in the industry through knowing what exhibitions are about to come out, what books and research has just hit the shelves and generally what is going on within the industry. A casual name-drop never hurt anybody and it shows that you are passionate about working in the industry! It won’t be a boring 9-5 for you.
NETWORK NETWORK NETWORK- Ask to shadow someone for a day, ask someone how they got into the job. With a lot of jobs its more about who you know than what you know. Keep looking for those new opportunities to talk to people in the field you want to go into. Because so many people in this industry are passionate about what they do, they can be found exploring new exhibitions and attending book launches and workshops. In my experience they are all happy to help and are a very welcoming bunch!
NEVER STOP SEARCHING JOB WEBSITES– Jobs and internships are posted nearly every day, especially in big cities like London. Here are some websites that I have found useful:
I am not saying that any of this will apply to you, and that it will magically land you as head curator of the V&A. But I wanted to share things that I have learned and advice that I have been given so that even of this helps just one person then I have done a service to this industry that I love.
The Foundling Museum was created to enlighten the public on the history of the Foundling Hospital that was established in 1739 by Thomas Coram. The aim of the hospital was, as Colley states, ‘to rescue young lives that would otherwise be wasted and render them useful to the state’. The history of foundlings has often been left out of the national narrative, thus the museum was established to shed light on the history of the ‘forgotten children’ of London and brought the history of foundlings into the national memory. Funkenstein argues that ‘collective awareness presumes collective memory’, thus by attempting to raise the awareness of the history of foundlings, the museum is attempting to re-insert it into our collective memory. The museum aims to educate children on this specific aspect of the past as they would be the same age as those who were taken in there and tries to evoke thought and empathy.
As the museum tries to make children relate to those of the past it is wondered whether children could relate at all given all the luxuries of modern society. The contrasts of childhood could prevent the child from engaging with the exhibits and putting themselves in the place of the foundlings. The museum provides a variety of interactive services to help children reflect on the past lives of those who were admitted into the Foundling Hospital. However, whether they are effective in engaging the child in experiencing empathy or any cathartic experience is another question beyond the scope of this investigation.
The museum aims to show the public what it was like
for some working class and illegitimate children, to be brought up with very
little to no recollection of their parents, their only connection to their past
life being a token that the mother would have left with the child on the day
that she gave him or her to the hospital. As adults, we could comprehend the
harrowing tales of mothers leaving their children, but it would be more
difficult for a child to experience the museum in the same way and understand
the social history that the museum reflects. Throughout the museum you could
see a range of interactive stations specifically catered for children to make
the experience fun but with the added aim to make them reflect on what it was
like for the foundlings and how they experienced growing up in a foundling
hospital. The children could dress as a foundling, showing them the uniforms of
the children with no choice of alternative dress, they could see the bed of a
foundling child indicating what little comfort the hospital could provide the
vast numbers of children admitted and they could create their own token,
reminding them that tokens were often the only connection that these children
had with their mothers and their previous life. According to Tosh, there is now a ‘keen
understanding that the public experiences history visually – directly through the
material remains of the past’,
thus by showing tokens, beds and clothing that the foundling children actually
used, the museum is heightening experience that the children gain and thus
inserting the narrative of the foundling children into the scope of public
What was immediately noticeable, was that plaques were
aimed specifically for children to make them engage with the exhibits and aimed
to provoke thought. Such plaques prompted questions like: ‘When children came
to the hospital they were given new names. Why is your name important and how
would you feel if it was changed?’, showing that the museum can be experienced
on a profound level by the child visitors. Questions that help the children
understand what children their age went through during the period of the
Foundling Hospital give us a unique insight into the thought process of
children experiencing the museum by witnessing how they react and what
questions they ask to try and get a better understanding. This helps us to
understand how they understand the exhibits around them Questions such as; ‘Imagine
how you would feel if you were a child living cold and hungry on these streets.
What would frighten you?’ directly makes children feel a range of emotions and
provokes the sense of empathy showing them that these experiences were real for
some children their age. This idea of specifically aiming questions at the
children harmonises with Gowing’s point that the plaques are aimed to make the
children display a range of emotions and puts them into the narrative of the
Another way in which the museum aims to engage
children into learning about the history of the foundlings is through literary
and television characters. Jaqueline Wilson, the children’s author, bases
numerous characters on foundlings and orphans, characters like Tracy Beaker and
Hetty Feather are well known household names to young children and the museum
takes advantage of their links with Wilson by housing first drafts of ‘Hetty
Feather’ in their exhibit. Wilson has strong connections with the museum, and
the museum advertises this in their brochure with direct quotes from the author
herself: “I think the foundling Museum is one of the most fascinating and
touching museums, giving you a real sense of what it must have been like to be
a foundling child”.
This reinforces the assertion that the Foundling museum is experienced by
children through empathy and helps children discover what foundling children
would have experienced in the hospital, which is the museum’s main aim, to shed
light on the untold story of the forgotten foundling children and to help the
public gain an experience of what it was like for these children. Wilson also
draws in on main features of the museum like the staircase and describes how
she can imagine her characters living there and interacting with the museum; “The
museum has a very large wooden staircase, which was there when it was a
hospital. Every time I go up there I imagine Hetty creeping up and down the
stairs, or sliding down the banisters.” References like these help visitors and indeed children
visualize children actually living in the hospital and gives a more personal
connection with artifacts and exhibits within the museum itself.
In the café the use of children’s
characters to evoke a personal connection with the museum is made more apparent
as the walls are filled with phrases such as ‘Harry Potter was an orphan’,
‘Rapunzel was fostered’, and ‘Superman was adopted’. Well loved characters
throughout history and every literary genre appear on the walls helping
children engage with the fact that many of their heroes experienced life at one
point without parents or suffered the fate of being a foundling. The sheer
amount of names of characters that were foundlings must have a profound effect
on the child’s experience of the museum as often having a personal connection
with these characters can help the children become more empathetic towards
experiences and artifacts in the museum rather than just looking at pictures
and photographs of children in the 18th century onwards. By directly aiming
certain interactive elements such as the direct accounts of past foundlings via
video and radio aids the child’s experience at the museum as they can hear
first hand accounts of what it was like to live in the hospital. Thus these
elements make the experience of the museum itself more profound and helps
children understand what foundlings had to experience, giving food for thought
to help the child try to experience the emotion of a foundling themselves. It puts children into
the narrative and thus brings the history of the foundlings in Britain forward
into the national narrative and thus our national memory.
Although we as adults are able to comprehend the
plight of the foundling children it may appear to be harder for children to
fully comprehend how children their age were given up by mothers as they could
not imagine being given up by their own mothers, given new names and new
identities when their identities were just forming. Children experience the
museum in a different way unable to fully retain facts and figures so it has to
be explained in a different, more interactive way. The museum provides a
variety of ways in which children can experience the museum and experience the
history of the abandoned children of London. However, the ways in which each
child would experience the museum would undoubtedly be different as not each
person experiences the same thing in the same way. There cannot be a completely
universal experience. The museum itself ‘paints a vivid picture of family separation,
the stigma of illegitimacy and the search for birth parents’, which creates emotive
responses within the children visiting and the
strong feeling of empathy causes us to insert the history of the foundlings of
London back into our national memory.
 L. Colley, Britons: Forging the Nation 1707-1837,(London, 2006), 59.
 Amos Funkenstein, Perceptions of Jewish History, (Berkeley, 1993), 3.
 John Tosh ‘Public History, Civic Engagement and the Historical Profession in Britain’, History, Vol 99, No. 355, (2014), 195.
 Laura Gowing, Podcast on the Foundling Museum no.2.
St Dwynwen’s Day is not a well known Welsh holiday, in fact many Welsh people today forget about this ancient celebration. So it is not a surprise that the rest of the world is unfamiliar with the story of St Dwynwen.
Who was she? Well Dwynwen was one of the twenty-four daughters of Brychan Brycheiniog, the king of Breconshire in the 5th century and she was widely regarded as the most beautiful in the kingdom. Story tells that Dwynwen fell in love with Maelon Dafodrill, but unfortunately her father had already arranged that she should marry someone else. Maelon was so outraged that he raped Dwynwen and left her. Dwynwen, distraught, prays to fall out of love with him.
In a woods she ran to in distress, Dwynwen was visited by an angel, who appeared carrying a sweet potion designed to erase all memory of Maelon and turn him into a block of ice. God then gave three wishes to Dwynwen. First she wished that Maelon be thawed from the ice, second that God meet the hopes and dreams of true lovers and third that she should never marry. All three were fulfilled, and as a mark of her thanks, Dwynwen devoted herself to God’s service for the rest of her life.
Dwynwen became a nun, fulfilling her wish to never marry. She founded a convent on Llanddwyn, off the west coast of Anglesey, where a well named after her became a place of pilgrimage after her death in 465AD. Visitors to the well believed that the sacred fish or eels that lived in the well could foretell whether or not their relationship would be happy and whether love and happiness would be theirs. Another tradition claims that if the water boils while visitors are present, then love and good luck will surely follow. Remains of Dwynwen’s church can still be seen today.
St Dwynwen’s day today is considered a type of Welsh valentines day due to Dwynwen’s wish that God fulfill the dreams of lovers as we are supposed to cherish those around us and remember Dwynwen’s selflessness and wish for love to be spread to all. Most people who celebrate today mainly use St Dwynwen’s Day as a way to celebrate Welsh culture singing hymns and eating Welsh delicacies. No matter how you celebrate the day, St Dwynwen’s story deserves to be told and remembered.
Information courtesy of St Fagan’s and Historic UK.
I recently visited London in order to graduate from King’s College London, saying goodbye to the student part of my life and saying hello to the hopefully short ‘unemployed historian’ chapter. As I was spending a week in the city I desperately want to get back to I decided to put on my tourist gear and head to the museums (a hobby I regrettably never took full advantage of whilst living in London). My first stop was to see Ian Hislop’s exhibition “I Object”: Ian Hislop’s Search for Dissent and I was not disappointed.
If anyone doesn’t know, Hislop is an entertaining character in the British media having been the editor of renowned satirical paper ‘Private Eye’ since 1986 and for his witty, cutting comments on ‘Have I Got News For You’. Naturally, since satire and political lampoonery have shaped his career, it seems very fitting that he chose to create an exhibition on dissent and resistance all over the world, hand choosing objects, artwork and clothing that have defied religions, governments and wars throughout history. The objects that show dissent in this exhibit hail from a wide range of countries across very different eras and regimes. The acts of dissent as well vary from possible mistakes such as a misprint ‘thou shalt commit adultery’ in a King James Bible, to outright political statements such as a coin defaced by the women’s suffrage movement stamped with the slogan “votes for women’. As well as choosing the objects himself, Hislop has plaques around the exhibit telling the audience the reason why he chose these specific objects and asking questions about how we might oppose the status quo in our everyday lives. He interacts with the public throughout giving the reader a chance to think deeper about the objects on display and how dissent is shown in national media today.
These photographs from the exhibit above are just a small number of objects on display at the exhibit. The plate ‘Say yes to vodka! Papa Mikhail says no to vodka!’ from Russia around the year 1991 reproduces a Soviet-era anti-alcohol poster from the 1950s. The plate satirises the temperance movement of the 1980s instigated by Gorbachev. This type of satire is perceived to have been made after the collapse of the Soviet Union as an act of blatant opposition such as this would have no doubt had dire or even lethal consequences.
The image of the Hindu goddess Kali shows a very popular act of political dissent of creating images where a figure ‘wears the enemy’ to show violence and victory. The image, estimated to be created around 1895, shows the goddess of destruction wearing a necklace of severed heads to signify the death of the ego. The heads being painted akin to European skin tone and fashion can be seen to signify the politicians of colonial powers as the Indian people start to form a fight for independence. This act of sedition, showing Kali to represent all of India defeating the British colonisers is a great image to represent the tensions in India at the time.
Trump. Oh god I know I know, everything in the media today is all about Trump since he won in 2016 so it would be irresponsible not to include an object of dissent from the Tump era. On January 21st 2017, women from all over the world gathered in cities to march against Donald Trump being elected to the highest office in the United States. One of the main reasons why women marched all over the world was for his derogatory comments and actions towards minorities, disabled people and women. The infamous “grab her by the pussy” comment sparked outrage from women across the globe. One act of defiance in the march was the wearing of pink ‘pussy’ hats which aimed to reclaim the word as a form of empowerment and show that women can and will fight these comments and injustices. This modern act of defiance sparked other movements such as the Me Too campaign which highlighted sexual assault across the globe and sought to hold those accountable for their crimes.
My favourite piece from the exhibition however, was one that directly poked fun at the British Museum itself. This piece of wall art was created by the infamous graffiti artist Banksy showing a seemingly primitive drawing of a man with a trolly going out to fetch a killed buffalo. This ‘cave painting’ fragment was hung in the British Museum unbeknownst to the museum staff for three days. It was even given a fake identification number and label mimicking the other labels at the museum. Part of the label reads that the painting was created by a Banksymus Maximus stating that the majority of his work has not survived due to “zealous municipal officials who fail to recognise the artistic merit and historical value of drawing on walls”. The museum was alerted to this fake by Banksy’s website and it is a perfect representation of dissent at the expense of the museum.
The exhibit is a must see for anyone who enjoys satire and resistance to the status quo and depicts both funny and very serious acts of defiance to regimes around the world. It teaches us that we should always question our governments and not just willingly accept the status quo if it does harm or promote injustice. It is a love letter across the ages to those who sought to have their voices heard and defy those who ruled them no matter how covert or outrageous. It is a homage to satire and resistance telling the audience that there should always be debate and opposition to make the world a more learned place.
(All images were taken at the British Museum and all objects belong to the museum. The exhibit ‘I Object: Ian Hislop’s Search for Dissent’ is in the British Museum until the end of January)