Media and Propaganda

Media & Propaganda

Hello readers. I’m Kate Wills, and I have been fascinated by the Great War since my teens. I have written articles and present talks on the subject, and am Speaker Secretary of the Northamptonshire branch of the Western Front Association, and trustee of the Great War Forum. I happened to mention that most of my working life had been spent as news librarian for the Northampton Chronicle & Echo, which resulted in me being earmarked for the Media & Propaganda brief for Conflict & Community. Where better to start than with one of the greatest propaganda images of all time (the work of a Northamptonshire-born artist), and its effect in hurrying a young Northampton man into the army.

Let’s set off for war with 19 year old Charles Crutchley, of Wilby Street, Northampton:

“In early 1914, I was employed as a junior clerk in a bookbinding office. Each morning I had to pass the window display of the Army Recruiting Offices. Nobody in his right mind thought of war. The Spring of 1914 was, or so it seemed, such a tranquil period. It was the greatest pleasure to go for a bicycle ride in the country. Life was steadier. None of us could visualise four years of war, with all its beastliness and filth, its wholesale slaughter.

Kitchener made his famous appeal to the men of Britain. Great posters were displayed everywhere with his Lordship’s finger pointing accusingly. “Your King and Country Need You”, it read.

Many of my workmates enlisted. Few employers objected. Everyone felt they wanted to be in the fight of “right against might”. I felt proud to be accepted as a recruit in the 4th Northants Territorial Battalion”. (i)

Images with slogans that tugged at the heartstrings appeared everywhere. “Remember Belgium”, “Women of Britain say GO!” and “Daddy, what did YOU do in the Great War?” Charles Crutchley responded to a poster carrying what became one of the iconic images of the 20th Century, Kitchener’s pointing finger; and we in Northamptonshire can be very proud that this image was created by Alfred Leete, a native of Thorpe Achurch near Kettering.

Leete was born into farming family in 1882, but his father’s poor health prompted a move to Somerset when Alfred was 11. Mr and Mrs Leete swapped the rigours of agricultural work for the more genteel life of running a boarding house on the seafront at Weston-super-Mare. Alfred had a talent for painting and drawing, and by 1914 his illustrations were appearing in quality magazines such as Tatler, The Bystander and Punch.  Leete’s most famous work was published on the front cover of London Opinion on 5th September 1914.


Alfed Leete: The Kaiser Holds a Council of War

Alfred Leete: The Kaiser Holds a Council of War

Charles Crutchley was just one of many thousands of men who succumbed to the inducement of Kitchener’s fixed gaze and stern message, made all the more urgent by Leete’s use of bold colours and the unsettling reach of that accusing finger. The war would take Crutchley to Gallipoli, Palestine and Mesopotamia. Leete would heed the message too, and see action on the Western Front, though not before he had done more work for the war effort with his pen, by sending-up Germany and the Kaiser in a series of humerous cartoons.



Battle of Aubers Ridge

The Slaughter of the county regiment, the Steelbacks – the fateful 9th May 1915.

Geoff Grainger is a member of the international Western Front Association and has an MA in First World War Studies from the University of Birmingham. He specialises in family research about the Great War.

As part of Northampton’s Conflict and Community program I will be delivering a talk at Abington Park Museum on Saturday 9th May to commemorate the centenary of the Northamptonshire Regiment at the battle of Aubers Ridge, in Northern France. One hundred years ago to the day, the old regular 1st and 2nd battalions of the Regiment were on the Western Front near the villages of Neuve Chapelle and Fromelles respectively. Part of the British First Army, they were to go ‘over the top’ at 5.50am, in a general pincer offensive to break through the German front and seize the relatively higher ground of Aubers Ridge.

For the British Army, the 9th May 1915 was to prove a disaster. For the County of Northamptonshire it was to be arguably the blackest day in its history, yet the battle has been largely forgotten.

During the night of 8th May the men of both battalions had moved-up to their front-line positions. The hazy dawn promised a sunny spring day, as the Northamptons peered over the flat, marshy terrain to the enemy trenches some 350m away. Rum rations had been issued, morale was high and all ranks were eager for the coming battle.

Precisely on zero-hour, 5.00am, the British artillery unleashed a fierce bombardment onto the German front lines. The shelling seemed so ferocious that little resistance was expected- but resistance there was, and it came as a terrible surprise to the attackers.

The Northamptons and other regiments waited with fixed bayonets but things had already started to go wrong. Some units were hit by their own artillery shells that were falling short. Fifty minutes later the guns fell silent and whistles signalled the infantry attack. As the Northamptons climbed their ladders to charge over No Man’s Land they were hit by hurricanes of machine-gun, rifle and artillery fire. Within a short time both battalions suffered immense casualties and very few men reached the enemy positions. Those who did, unable to advance or retire, came under constant attack by the German defenders. Finally, after some fourteen hours and under cover of darkness, remnants of these isolated groups managed to regain their lines, crawling through heaps of dead comrades.

In total the Northamptons suffered 984 casualties, or nearly 60% of the soldiers who had seen the dawn. Apart from the wounded and the dead who could be named, many hundreds disappeared in No Man’s Land, never to be identified, except as ‘The Missing’.

My talk will explain why it all went wrong, who was blamed, and the repercussions. It will also focus on some of the effects on the County’s communities.

In order to fully understand the landscape and military situation, I have just been over to research Aubers Ridge myself. Kindly received by the Mayor of Aubers, and guided by two local historians, I was able to visit many of the features of the area.

But I had also gone to Aubers in an attempt to discover if fate had played another role during the tragedy. Might the whole destiny of the modern world have hung in the balance on that one day in May 1915?

I will be pleased to share my findings at Abington Park Museum on 9th May.

For tickets please contact Northampton Museum & Art Gallery on 01604 837397.


Geoff Grainger at Aubers Ridge, 22nd March 2015

Geoff Grainger at Aubers Ridge, 22nd March 2015


Private William Green: Conflict and Community

Vikki Green – volunteer

Holding the pair of Emil Busch binoculars, it was hard to believe that they had seen trench warfare on the Hindenburg Line in 1918, and that they had passed through German and British hands. It was even harder to believe that they had belonged to my great-grandfather, William Green; a souvenir of the battles he had fought. When I first held those binoculars, it was instinct to take a look through the eyepiece. I wondered what William had seen when he did the same, and how different that sight must have been.

When I was asked to create a display for the Tourist Information Centre as a part of the Conflict and Community Project, I never imagined that I would also uncover my own past. I had taken on the challenge with the hope of being able to tell forgotten stories of wartime Northampton by showcasing some of the incredible items in the collection. The display will feature everything from shells to trench-art and Bovril to boots, as well as more personal items like a Christmas card belonging to Corporal A. Gilbert, and a pocket watch carried by Private J. H. Lack. As an Archaeology graduate, material culture has always fascinated me, and I wondered about the men that these items had belonged to, and what the story of their war had been. It was on this note that I began to do a little family research of my own.

I gradually began to uncover the story of Private William Green’s war, starting with his enlistment in 1915 at 20 years old, younger than I am now. He quickly qualified as a 1st Class Machine Gunner and Signaller, and was deployed in France. From his service records, I learned that William was quickly injured, and sent home to England after receiving a gunshot wound to the shoulder. However grievous his injury, it was this wound that led him to my great-grandmother; William was posted in Chatham, Kent, where he met Gladys Taylor.

Private William Green

Private William Green

He was soon back in France, however, now serving as a Lance Corporal. Though not long after, he was wounded once more, catching a bullet in his left leg. He convalesced in the 1st Southern General Hospital, Birmingham. Curiously, the University of Birmingham’s Aston Webb hall, the site of the military hospital, was the very same place in which I graduated in 2014. Our lives, though generations apart, had taken us both to the same place. William spent a lot of time convalescing in Woldingham, Surrey. His notes suggest he may have been suffering from shell shock.


After a long recovery, William returned once more to Chatham, in late 1917. Gladys must have been relieved to be reunited with her Tommy boyfriend and, consequently, he was stripped of his Lance stripes for being absent without leave on Valentine’s Day 1918.

It was not long before William was back in France with his battalion, to join the assault on the Hindenburg Line. It was in these late stages of the war that William found himself in Ronssoy Wood, one of the many battlefields of the Somme. For brave actions on the 18th of September 1918, he was awarded the Military Medal. Under heavy shellfire, William pulled his wounded comrades from the battlefield, until he himself was injured. 

He was one of those fortunate enough to return home in 1919, though he never spoke of his war experiences. It was very clear to me that World War I had stripped William of his youth; he transformed from the cheeky young man who chose dates over duty, to a stern adult. As this was so often the case, the TIC display became even more important to me. It is my privilege to showcase the lives of the men who served in the Northamptonshire Regiment, and of my great-grandfather, who did not receive the commendation that he rightly deserved for his bravery.

M M Certification

M M Certification

The Conflict and Community project is encouraging us all to tell the stories of those who are no longer able. Finally, on the centenary of WWI, we are now able to talk about things the soldiers could not. Though it comes too late for my great-grandfather to appreciate, I hope that he knows just how proud we are of his actions on the front line, and that his story will not be forgotten.

The Conflict and Community display is situated in the Tourist Information Centre, Sessions House. I hope to continue to uncover such incredible artefacts, and tell their stories to the public. The display material changes every two months and, at present, represents life in the trenches. Please come along, and remember those of the Northamptonshire Regiment. 

TIC Display

TIC Display

If, like me, you have a story to tell, or family research that relates to the Northamptonshire Regiment during the First World War, please get in touch. You can email



World War One

Dale – volunteer

Northampton Museum and Art Gallery cares for an extensive array of objects and archive material in its World War One collections. These range from military equipment, uniforms, and footwear, through to more personal items such as medals, gifts from loved ones, and letters sent home from the front.

Much of these collections are held in storage, with only a small percentage on display at any one time. As part of the WW1 Conflict and Community project, we have been working to make these collections more readily accessible, and to a wider audience.

A team of museum staff and volunteers have spent several days in recent weeks removing items from display and storage, to be individually photographed by a professional photographer. This effectively meant setting up a photographic studio each day either in the museum in Guildhall Road, or at Abington Park Museum. Many objects, and especially some of the paper archive, are quite fragile, so great care was needed in preparing them to be photographed. Often one image was enough, but for some objects we took two or more pictures to capture any detail we felt was important. As we went along, we recorded details of each object to match to the corresponding image.

The objective was to have at least one digital image of everything related to the First World War in the collections, and to have these available for everyone to see on the museum’s Flickr stream. With everything now available to look at online, we hope to increase people’s awareness of the collections, the conflict itself, and the role played by local men and women.

As a volunteer on this project I’ve very much enjoyed having access to so many things that are usually kept in storage. Even with objects on public display, it’s been particularly pleasing to be allowed the next step of actually handling them and having a closer look. Somehow it gets you closer to the past and people’s lives during the war.

Reading some of the descriptive labels alongside those objects recently on display also caused me to think more about the impact of the conflict on the local community, and Northampton’s involvement in the war effort. An incendiary bomb dropped by a Zeppelin airship illustrated how close the war came to this area, while the range of army footwear was a reminder of the huge contribution made by town and county in the manufacture of boots and shoes for the military. The great number of medals held by the museum, awarded to local men for bravery and to commemorate their participation in the war, signposts the fact that for four years a great many men were called on to serve.

One notable object in the collection is a chess set, the board made of wood with the pieces finely made from spent bullet casings. Trench art as it’s known, especially things made from shell and bullet casings, was popular amongst soldiers and POWs.

Chess Set

Chess Set






Another stand out item is a bugle. Beautifully made of wood and metal, the name Ypres reminds us of the town and salient which was the scene of three major battles involving the Northamptonshire Regiment









Some objects are items of German military equipment, presumably taken as trophies of war. This type of helmet, known as a “Pickelhaube”, was used in the early part of the war.


Pickelhaube Helmet
Pickelhaube Helmet






The project has been a pleasure to work on, and hopefully people will enjoy looking at these images over the coming year.


Review of Aftermath

Review of Aftermath

A vibrant and challenging production exploring the transition between the home front in Northampton and the theatre of war that brought personal Northamptonshire stories to life. The letter scenes were incredibly moving highlighting the importance of letters between the home front and the theatre of war as a way of communicating with loved ones.

The play encouraged questions around big themes including the aftermath of war. What happens next? How did families cope when absence meant people  grew apart and moved on? Also how do we relate to this today? At the point where facts and emotions collide how do we understand what our ancestors went through? How does this impact on our lives today?



The young people were incredibly talented and it was clear through this really thoughtful production they had learnt a lot about themselves and their ancestors.

 If you have a chance go! Tickets available from the Box Office on 01604 624811

The Northamptonshire Regiment Collection

A group of soldiers in India, late 1930s

A group of soldiers in India, late 1930s

In 1970 the Northamptonshire Regiment collection was moved to Abington Park Museum, where it can be seen today. Previous to this the Regimental Collection was based at various barracks in Northampton since it was first formed in 1933. In 1960 a major reorganisation took place of the Army. The Northamptonshire Regiment was included in this and the collection was moved to Gibraltar Barracks, Northampton before being moved to Abington Park Museum.

The collection includes photographs acquired by the Regiment over many years, some of which are the personal photograph albums of individual soldiers. Some of these photographs show life serving in a various number of places including Waziristan, India, Egypt, Iraq, China, Korea and other tours of various bases in Europe.

For the last three years Northampton Museums Service which currently looks after the collection on behalf of the Regimental Assosciation has been working to digitise the photographic archive. The results, over 1700 images so far, can be seen on the Northampton Museums Flickr stream:

Northampton Museums and the regimenatal Association would welcome comments on the history of these photographs, especially if you can identify any of the soldiers pictures.