Tag Archives: World War I

How did the First World War affect Bradford people?

What was life like for people living in Bradford during the First World War?  How did they cope with the challenges of “long working hours, restricted opportunities for recreation and relaxation, … darkened streets, the increased cost of living and the rigid economy“*?

In her new book, Bradford: remembering 1914-1918, published today, local researcher Kathryn Hughes discusses these questions in the light of new discoveries in Bradford archives.  I am very much looking forward to reading it!

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*Bradford Sanitary Association Annual Report 1915, quoted by Dr Hughes on the Bradford WW1 website.

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Postscript Sunday 4 August 1940

In this radio broadcast, Priestley looked back on 4 August 1914, the day Britain declared war on Germany. The previous day, he had visited a fair near his Bradford home, Manningham Tide.  He remembered how hot it had been, and how a fortune-teller told him his life was about to change completely.  It did, for him and his generation: no more Manningham Tides, and “half my generation was doomed”.  He soon volunteered, and by 1915 was at the Front.

Priestley described his life as a road through different scenes: a “sunlit plain” before 1914, the “black and terrible avalanches” of the war years, confusion during the 1920s, a stony wilderness in the depressed 1930s, then terrible mountains again.  Lessons had not been learned and this new war came out of past mistakes.  However, Priestley felt that this war was different from the First World War.  It was not between countries, but between despair and hope.

As in the previous Postscript, Priestley shared his experience with listeners, many of whom would have travelled the same road.  This would have made what he had to say and what he concluded from it more credible.  I am writing a piece at the moment about fan letters to Priestley: part of his appeal to these readers and listeners was undoubtedly that he had been through the same world- and life-changing events as them, and was able to articulate what perhaps they could not.  More on this another time!

Yorkshire in the Great War

On 7 June, I went to a seminar at Leeds University where archives, libraries, museums, academic staff and students from all over Yorkshire shared details of their First World War materials and interests.  The event was organised by the Centre for Heritage Research; the papers can be seen on their website.

Our most significant Great War collections relate to J.B. Priestley’s wartime service: letters, photographs, possessions.  I have written and spoken about these elsewhere, particularly in my chapter on Priestley in the book published by the Bradford Mechanics’ Library,  Bradford in the Great War.   The war had a huge influence on Priestley’s life and career although he wrote little about it directly.  Most of our archives date from the 1930s onwards, but writing my piece for this seminar made me reflect on how the two world wars, plus the Cold War, shaped the  lives of those creating the archives.  I’ll write in more detail about this sometime.

Priestley’s Wars

J.B. Priestley’s World War One service changed his life. He lost all his friends and felt compelled to leave Bradford which would never be the same again without them. He never talked about his war, and wrote about it directly only 50 years later in “Margin Released”. Great Northern Books, who have already reprinted several Priestley novels, are publishing a new book, “Priestley’s Wars”, by Neil Hanson, which follows Priestley’s journey through war and peace, from enthusiastic WW1 volunteer, to inspiring WW2 broadcaster, to his essential role in the founding of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. The book uses many of Priestley’s writings, most exciting of which are his vivid and moving letters home from the trenches, never before in print. This book is a unique chance to see Priestley’s political and social views form, set in historic context by an expert author. The book is being launched at several events, featuring Tom Priestley and Neil Hanson: Cheltenham Literature Festival is next on 19 October.

More details about book, launches and press coverage on the Great Northern books web site.