Luci Gosling from the Mary Evans Picture Library was introduced and began delivering her talk on 'Dark Streets and Light Laughter—Amusements and Entertainment during the Great War'.
She supported her talk with a fascinating series of slides of magazine drawings and photos including ones of popular actors and actresses of the day.
She explained that the arrival of the troops in London presented a challenge for accommodation which included the YMCA and Union Jack Club with entertainments provided. The vibrant London theatre scene continued through the war years and was very important to the troops, particularly being light hearted and not dealing with serious war matters, although theatres provided an important recruitment venue. Examples were given of women impersonating male troops and the popularity of some key figures including George Robey who raised significant sums through his fund-raising efforts. Films were also important and the film play 'The Better Ole' proved very popular. Also popular were Heath Robinson's sketches and those of H M Bateman. Newspaper and magazine adverts were shown including those of an entertainment nature such as Decca portable Gramophone and dancing adverts.1911 saw the start of nightclubs and supper clubs in London which were very popular with both civilians and troops in the war years.
The lecture was a fascinating, informative and entertaining one for which Luci was warmly thanked by all present.
Following the AGM, Dr Peter Hodgkinson, Military Historian and Chartered and Clinical Psychologist was introduced by WFA President, Professor Peter Simkins.
Dr Hodgkinson's lecture was entitled 'Battalion Commanders on the Western Front in 1914'. He began by pointing out that most battalion commanders in 1914 came from sons of professional soldiers, the upper class or had previous war or staff service and he posed the question how competent were they? He referred to J E Edmonds' Official History which suggested that seniority rules prevented some good quality candidates from progressing as senior officers. Travers' 'The Killing Ground' quoted Haldane saying that 3 out of 4 Battalion Commanding Officers were not fit for command. However, Peter provided evidence that promotion to Commanding Officers showed only a 38% failure rate, almost the reverse of Haldane's criticism. Of the regular Commanding Officers, he said that nearly three quarters were highly competent and of the territorial Commanding Officers, 31% were enduring or promotable commanders.
In summary he said that in 1914, they were the most able group of regular Commanding Officers the British Army had ever fielded. Of those needing to be replaced, 38% of the replacements were chosen on ability. He concluded by saying that the quality of the whole officer corps of 1914 has been underestimated.
Peter's lecture was much appreciated and he was warmly applauded by the audience.
Following his lecture, Colin Wagstaff gave a slide show update on the Centenary plan for the Arras event in August 2014. This was most impressive and the work done by Joanna Legg and Graham Parker was commended and applauded by all present.
Editor's note: watch out for video recordings of the two talks described above to be released soon on the WFA's YouTube channel and website.