The Bodleian Libraries' summer 2014 exhibition tells the story of the first two years of World War One, focusing on compelling eyewitness accounts ranging from the Cabinet table at 10 Downing Street to outposts of the Empire in Africa.
The Great War: Personal Stories from Downing Street to the Trenches draws upon the Bodleian Libraries extensive collections to reveal the different meaning and impact these first two years of the war had on politicians, soldiers and civilians.
Highlights of the exhibition include the diary entries of Cabinet member Lewis Harcourt, who secretly kept a record of Cabinet discussions during the war even though this was forbidden. These are going on public display for the first time.
The exhibition will also feature personal letters from Prime Minister Herbert Asquith to his confidantes, a letter from future Prime Minister Harold Macmillan to his mother from the trenches, a draft of Edmund Blunden’s poem ‘Thiepval Wood’ written at the Somme, and letters from T.E. Lawrence ('Lawrence of Arabia') describing his intelligence work in Egypt.
The exhibition opened yesterday (18 June), on the same day that the winners of an Oxford University-run language contest for schools were awarded their prizes by Michael Steiner, the great-nephew of author Franz Kafka. The contest asked young people to create a piece of work on the theme of ‘1914’. It was run by the Oxford German Network in the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages.
The exhibition is on display in the Exhibition Room in the Bodleian Library’s Old Schools Quad on Catte Street until 2 November 2014. It is free to enter, and opens from 9am-5pm on weekdays, 9am-4.30pm on Saturdays and 11am-5pm on Sundays.
Image: A war memorial in Thiepval Wood, the site of a battle in World War One which inspired Edmund Blunden's poem 'Thiepval Wood'. A draft of the poem written while Blunden was at the Somme is currently on display in the Bodleian (credit: Bodleian Libraries)