First World War soldiers kit: image from Shutterstock

First World War announcement given historic perspective

As part of the World War One centenary and its outbreak on 4 August 1914, University of Exeter historian Dr Catriona Pennell will be looking back at how Britain entered the war on BBC Radio 4’s World Tonight for a special hour long edition from the Imperial War Museum.

Dr Pennell will be joining a panel of historians on Monday 4 August to discuss the way in which the last hours before London’s ultimatum to Berlin to withdraw from Belgium was reported. The BBC programme starts at 10pm and includes live coverage of the candlelit vigil from Westminster Abbey.

Historical evidence of how people actually felt and reacted 100 years ago to the outbreak of war, is one of the main areas of focus for Dr Pennell’s research on the WW1 experience.  She is the author of A Kingdom United, the first comprehensive public opinion survey of British and Irish popular reactions to war based on solid historical evidence.

According to Dr Pennell, the 2014 centenary offers a unique opportunity to challenge popular images of enthusiastic and jingoistic responses to war from a population ignorant of the realities of war. She said:“Despite scholars agreeing that cheering crowds were only a small part of the picture, the vision of the outbreak of war being greeted by wild enthusiasm persists in the popular imagination.”

Dr Pennell added:“I have found a range of examples of the diverse responses to war in 1914 from across the UK, from shock to excitement, from grief to a stoic sense of duty.  There are reports of Exeter women going into premature labour, to fears in Essex of an invasion by the Germans being so high that evacuation routes were planned out. There was news in Lancashire of women being so upset at the prospect of their sons or husbands departing that they intervened in the recruiting process. In Edinburgh it was alleged that a woman was dragged under a train and killed as she tried to say goodbye to her soldier-husband departing for the front.”

During the period of the First World War and up to 1922, Ireland was part of the United Kingdom. Dr Pennell’s work is the first to deal with the state, as it was in 1914 which has revealed that despite the pre-war threats of civil war and instability, Irish nationalists reacted in similar ways to their British brethren supporting the war through dutiful acceptance.

Due to her work on Ireland and the First World War, Dr Pennell was one of a small group of VIPs to be individually presented to the Queen at a Buckingham Palace reception in advance of the visit of the Irish President, Michael D. Higgins, earlier this year.  As a historian she will be contributing to a discussion on the Irish broadcast channel Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTE) on 5 August, debating the experience and legacy of Ireland's 'forgotten war' hosted by John Bowman.  Dr Pennell is also part of an RTE radio 1 programme going out the same day 1pm till 2.30 on Ireland's entry into war.

Date: 1 August 2014

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