Over the next few months, interns and volunteers on the Reflections project will write a few blog posts to discuss their experience working on the project and some of the research materials they have uncovered. Starting this is intern and Northumbria University student Elliot Beck.
I began my research for the project with a somewhat selfish notion; using the Lit and Phil’s archives of the Northumberland Fusilier’s St Georges Gazette to seek out information on my great-Grandfather, Cecil Graham Carter, who joined the Fighting Fifth during the war with his three brothers.
As I scoured through the wartime journal, I was surprised by an abundance of humour, poetry and optimism. Commanding officers supplemented their war-reports with verse and jokes, and cartoons depicting men in training and on the front added a frivolity you do not expect from war journals. However, it soon became clear that ‘the Censor’ was the driving force behind ensuring that the journal avoided the true bleakness of the war. It was important for morale to be maintained, for both soldiers in the trenches and readers back at home. Despite this, the ever increasing lists of killed in action and wounded men littered the pages of the St Georges Gazette, often engulfing an entire month’s issue, clearly emphasising the sheer loss of life suffered by the Fusiliers and regiments all over the country.
As a literature student, I still maintained an interest in the poetry which was scattered amongst the battalion notes. I soon began to see the Gazette as a little literary hotspot, in which soldiers and officers and the family of those fighting could read and share their experience in verse. Some names became more regular as the war went on, some poems even seemed to have been influenced by works in previous issues. One officer neatly expressed within a battalion report, why I found this selection of hidden war-poetry so interesting: ‘we did not think the poetic temperament could survive many months of trench life’
I had soon found information on my ancestor. Within some 2nd Battalion notes was a picture of him. He was a signaller. He was lucky. His name, along with the names of his brothers do not appear among the lists of those killed. All four survived the war.
The majority of my research so has been reading and collecting interesting items out of the St Georges Gazette. War journals are indefinitely an interesting correspondence between the front, and their readership. I am grateful for this opportunity to work intimately within the Lit and Phil as an intern, and look forward to continuing my research as a volunteer for the project.