‘Never look backward, always look ahead’: The First World War drawings of Gerald Rickword

As the centenary of the end of the First World War approaches, we are delving into our collection looking at some of the fascinating wartime documents we look after. Join us on Saturday 10th November 2018 to mark 100 years since the Armistice at ‘Is this really the last night?’ Remembering the end of the First World War.

Gerald Rickword’s advice to ‘Never look backward, always look ahead’ appears on his sketch of a First World War soldier whose gaze is set firmly on the drinks at the bar in front of him. While never looking back is not advice that we could advocate at the archive, it must have been one way of coping with life on the Western Front, where Rickword was based when he made the sketch.

‘Never look backward, always look ahead’; more than one of Gerald’s sketches feature the theme of alcohol and bars

Gerald Rickword was born in Colchester in 1886, the second of four children. His brother John Edgell Rickword also served in the war, and is the better known of the two. John Edgell was a poet, critic and journalist, and in the 1930s became a leading communist intellectual.

Both were the sons of George Rickword, who was Colchester Borough Librarian, and attended Colchester Royal Grammar School. In later life Gerald maintained a lifelong interest in Colchester’s history.

Before the beginning of the First World War, Gerald was an insurance clerk. During the war, he served first with the Royal Berkshire Regiment, and then with the Labour Corps as a transport officer. It was during this period that Gerald drew the sketches shown here.

A collection of about 30 sketches made by Gerald during the war survive today at the Essex Record Office, each full of evocative little details that provide windows into scenes that Gerald witnessed. The sketches are all in pencil, and most are monotone, with just a few in colour. The sketches are all loose, and on scraps of various paper stocks.

‘A Sentry, not one of the Lifeboat crew’ – a soldier is shown on sentry duty in driving rain

Some of the sketches show men of different nationalities and regiments observed by Gerald. One of these is dated 8 January 1917, and shows different soldiers Gerald had seen on the Boulevard Jacquard (he doesn’t give a town, but this could perhaps be the Boulevard Jacquard in Calais). One head and shoulders sketch is of a French Algerian soldier, while a full length portrait is of a French cavalry officer. The sketch is in black and white, but for the cavalry officer Gerald has noted the colours of his uniform – a red hat, a light blue tunic, red breeches, and red cloak lined with white.

Soldiers seen by Gerald on the Boulevard Jacquard on 8 January 1917

Several of the sketches are humorous, such as ‘A portion of the rear of the British line’, showing a rear view of a rather wide British soldier, his uniform straining around him. In another sketch, two mice help themselves to cheese and crackers. In another, a sentry stands in driving rain, his jacket buttoned up over his face, a large wide-brimmed hat hopefully ensuring he didn’t get rain water pouring down the back of his neck. The caption informs us that despite appearances, this man is ‘A Sentry, not one of the Lifeboat crew’. Other sketches are more haunting, such as the one of a soldier in a gas mask.

After the war Gerald returned to Essex, and in 1923 married Florence Webb in Colchester. He lived until 1969, when he died aged 82.


More of Gerald’s sketches will be on display at our Armistice event on Saturday 10th November 2018, ‘Is this really the last night’? Remembering the end of the First World War. Find full details and booking information here.

Also on 10th November, we will be at Chelmsford Library in the morning running a drawing activity for children based on Gerald’s sketches – find the details here.

First World War stories from ERO’s collections will also be featuring in a remembrance concert at Chelmsford Cathedral in the evening of 10th November – find the details here.


 

The Fighting Essex Soldier – now launched

On Saturday 6 May we hosted the launch of The Fighting Essex Soldier: Recruitment, War and Society in the Fourteenth Century.

Three years in the making, this book has grown from a conference held at ERO in March 2014 looking at the contribution made by Essex to the fighting of the Hundred Years’ War.

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Hot off the press, the related chapters in the The Fighting Essex Soldier add up to a wide-ranging survey, exploring military, social and economic history in fourteenth-century Essex.

The volume is a collection of papers based on those given at the conference back in 2014:

Introduction: crown, county and locality

Christopher Thornton and Jennifer Ward

Essex and the Hundred Years War: taxation, justice and county families

Jennifer Ward

The contribution of Essex gentry to the wars of Edward I and Edward II

David Simpkin

Organised crime in fourteenth-century Essex: Hugh de Badewe, Essex soldier and gang member

Gloria Harris

The fighting men of Essex: service relationships and the poll tax

Sam Gibbs

Shipping the troops and fighting at sea: Essex ports and mariners in England’s wars, 1337-89

Andrew Ayton and Craig Lambert

Military aspects of the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381

Herbert Eiden

The editors and some of the contributors to The Fighting Essex Soldier, from left to right: Neil Wiffen, Gloria Harris, Dr Jennifer Ward, Dr Christopher Thornton, Dr Herbert Eiden.

The editors and some of the contributors to The Fighting Essex Soldier, from left to right: Neil Wiffen, Gloria Harris, Dr Jennifer Ward, Dr Christopher Thornton, Dr Herbert Eiden.

The original conference was the brainchild of Neil Wiffen, who is an ERO team member and one of the editors of the new book. His inspiration was reading Arms, Armies and Fortifications in the Hundred Years War, edited by Anne Curry and Michael Hughes, and wondering what part was played by Essex in all these upheavals.

Throughout the fourteenth century, the wars waged by English kings against France and Scotland resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of men involved in warfare, both on land and at sea. The new research published in this book seeks to identify these soldiers at all levels of society, focused within the historic county of Essex. Questions considered include how forces were raised to serve the king, and the impact on communities of the demands of taxation and the supply of ships and men for the war effort. Other chapters consider the effect of militarisation on men returning from the wars.

The book is now available to purchase from the University of Hertfordshire Press website.

The launch of the book was celebrated with plenty of cake (as all things in archives ideally are)

The launch of the book was celebrated with plenty of cake (as all things in archives ideally are)

Movember: Military moustaches

We are taking part in this year’s Movember campaign, which raises money for and awareness of men’s health issues.

Throughout November, we are providing you with daily moustache inspiration from the archives on our Twitter account, with weekly round-ups here on the blog, showing you the photographs which the individual moustaches posted on Twitter were taken from, plus a few extras.

Having looked previously at sportsmen and firemen, this week we turned to the military for your dose of archival moustache inspiration.

Remember, our own ERO chaps are taking part in Movember themselves to raise money for Prostate Cancer UK, and you can find their Just Giving page here.