Commemorating World War I: Collections, Events & Exhibitions

by Antony Ramm, Local and Family History, Central Library

We are now roughly mid-way through the centenary of the First World War and the Leeds Library and Information Service continues to mark that anniversary with a series of regular events – including exhibitions, talks and workshops. Our most recent set of such commemorative offerings were timed to coincide with the national remembrance of the Battle of the Somme.

These events have been grouped together into a series entitled “Fragments of War: Leeds 1916”. Although several of these have now passed, some are still available – and you can see the full programme of events by clicking here.

One event that took place last week – and which proved highly successful – was our very first film screening in the library. This was the acclaimed adaptation of Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth, her autobiographical account describing her work as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse – and the shattering emotional consequences of the War on Vera and those close to her. We chose to show this film primarily for its timely subject matter – but also because one scene was filmed here in the Central Library itself.


Before the screening, viewers were invited to peruse a curated browsing collection, containing items selected from our Collections and which were of relevance to the film and the broader themes of Leeds and WW1. These included such treasures as our 15-volume collection of news-cuttings covering events in the First World War as they affected Leeds; some representative letters from the 10-volumes of correspondence relating to the Leeds Flag Day Committee; R.H. Gummer’s classic account of the Barnbow Munitions Factory; scrapbooks of news-cuttings about the Leeds Pals; a manuscript copy of A.V. Pearson’s Summoned by Duty: Autobiography in Verse, a poetical account of the author’s experience in the 15th Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment; and the Leeds volume of the Record of the National Ordnance Factories, which includes photographs of the factories, munitions workers and management. Full details of further locally-relevant First World War material can be found here. Click here to see a full list of books available by and about Vera Brittain.


Also on display were some posters and playbills from the First World War. The latter – including productions such as The Unmarried Mother – can be seen via the playbills section of our Leodis website, or by visiting the Local and Family History department. Some examples of First World War posters can be currently seen in the atrium of the Central Library, alongside a fascinating exhibition detailing the experiences of Leeds people during the War, including some poignant poetical responses to the conflict.


IMG_4936 IMG_4932

Also to be seen in that space are some examples of First World War postcards made by visitors from the Peer Support Cultural Partnership.

IMG_4974 CP postcards 1 CP postcards 2

These were created in response to another of the treasures held at the Central Library: Edith Cliff’s Gledhow Hall scrapbook (officially known as The Great European War, Gledhow Hall Hospital). This wonderful collection includes photographs, newspaper cuttings, soldier’s artwork and other ephemera relating to the Voluntary Aid Detachment Hospital at Gledhow Hall. Some images from the scrapbook can be seen below and you can browse more images via our Flickr page. Further information about Gledhow Hall Hospital can be found on this blog here and here.

Scrapbook 1 Scrapbook 10 Scrapbook 30

Scrapbook 32

The Gledhow scrapbook also made an appearance at a talk by Dr. Jessica Meyer of the University of Leeds. Dr Meyer spoke on Leeds Hospitals during World War I, specifically the different types of care found in each type of hospital, while also examining the long-term impact the war had on hospital provision for the city’s population. This talk was part of our ever-popular Lunchtime Talk series – further entries in that series can be found here. You can read more about Dr. Meyer’s research on her blog.

Visitors to our Information and Research department will find a small exhibition of First World War material from our lending archive. On display are contemporaneous books such as an edited version of Sir Douglas Haig’s Dispatches, featuring specially-prepared maps, sketch plans and portraits; volumes of poetry by John Masefield; and a complete facsimile of The Wipers Times, “the famous World War One trench newspaper”. You can see a fuller list of contemporary responses to the War period by clicking here.


Finally, further poignant images are also available to view in the Local and Family History Library, where several panels detailing the burial sites of servicemen at Lawnswood Cemetery are currently on display.




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