Date of release: Monday, January 20, 2014

Concert parties and the British Army on the Western FrontEntertaining the British Army during the horrors of the First World War is the subject of the first ‘University of Greenwich History Papers’ talk this year. The talk will be held at the Greenwich Heritage Centre, in Artillery Square, Woolwich, on Wednesday 22 January.

Dr Emma Hanna, a Lecturer in History at the university, will focus on the work of the YMCA’s Music Department on the Western Front. At the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, the YMCA was an international philanthropic association which turned its attention to providing support for the troops. Originally providing soldiers with food and a place to rest, the organisation began providing musical entertainment to troops on both the Western and Eastern Fronts.

A designated Music Department was quickly established which carried the motto ‘Whatever cheers the warrior helps to win the war’. Instruments were provided to the troops and well-known musicians travelled to give talks in YMCA huts. Alongside these educational activities, the well-known actress and theatre manager Lena Ashwell applied to form groups of performers who would entertain the troops. The first concert was held on the Western Front in February 1915, and by the summer of 1916 it was reported that Ashwell’s groups had put on 2,000 concerts in hospitals and YMCA huts.

In her talk, ‘Whatever cheers the warrior helps to win the war: Concert Parties and the British Army on the Western Front, 1914-18’, Emma will focus on the wartime work of the YMCA, and of selected individuals, to show how music played a key role in maintaining the morale of British troops between 1914 and 1918.

She says: “Many historians are hoping that the forthcoming centenary commemorations will provide opportunities to explore elements of the conflict which have been previously neglected. I believe it is time we looked into how the men and women who fought and worked for the war effort maintained their morale during four years of total war.”

Emma’s talk is the first in the series given by university historians at the Greenwich Heritage Centre. Upcoming topics include British imperial power, exploratory science, the history of the Medway Towns, and the Women’s Voluntary Service in the Second World War.

The talk is free and open to all. Doors open at 6pm for a 6.30pm start and refreshments will be provided.

To find out more about studying history at the University of Greenwich, go to http://www2.gre.ac.uk/study/courses/ug/his/v100

Story by Public Relations