Listening to Dr Peter Liddle talk about his forthcoming conference on the First World War, it’s clear he’s keen to ensure next week’s exercise is not a purely academic excursion.
Dr Liddle, 79, a former lecturer at Sunderland and the University of Leeds, has spent more than 40 years researching the First World War and during that time he’s built up a staggering amount of information, including first hand accounts from German and British soldiers.
He is possibly more qualified than most to offer an objective commentary on the causes of the war, how it played out and its legacy.
“There are a lot of people out there, who are not academics and yet they will have an academic interest in the war or aspects of it and this conference is designed to appeal to them.”
Next week will see the beginning of a week-long conferernce in Leeds to co-incide with the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War.
The First World War in Retrospect conference will be held at Weetwood Hall Conference Centre and Hotel from Monday July 28 to August 1, with a packed diary of events, beginning at 8.30am.
Dr Liddle, a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, who is responsible for the establishment of the Liddle Collection of war experience archives at the Brotherton Library, University of Leeds, said topics under discussion would be wide-ranging.
“I think people today would still be shocked if they knew what the Germans did when they invaded Belgium and sacked the Medieval town of Louvain - they shot hostages and burned one of best Medieval libraries in the world.
“But they would also be shocked to learn what we, the British, did with it in terms of propaganda.
“Another example of propaganda was the shelling of Hartlepool, Scarborough and Whitby. At the time, Churchill was Lord of the Admiralty and this should have been an embarrassment for him but he, quite rightly, turned it around and so the Germans became the babykillers of Hartlepool and Scarborough.
“I have a propaganda poster aimed at recruiting people - it was so successful, it even convinced people as far away as New Zealand to join the war effort. The Germans were envious of how we used propaganda and how it helped us win the war, which it did.”
Dr Liddle is keen that the conference is a learning exercise - he added: “In order to understand how people reacted from a certain period in history one has to be steeped in the values of that time. Anyone who thinks we today have a more enlightened view of the world should come back in a couple of generations and see how people view all the mistakes we are making in places like Iraq and Afghanistan but the point is we are doing the best we can at the moment.”
Dr Liddle added they would be videoing all the sessions and would, eventually, produce a DVD for purchase.
Session one on Monday from 9.30am-10.30am will be taken by Prof Gary Sheffield, chair of war studies at the University of Wolverhampton and is entitled ‘Trails of gunpowder, the tinder box, the spark and the explosion’ and will look at how Britain became involved in a conflict which was essentially European; and what kind of conflict it envisaged and how the reality differed.
Academics from across the country will be attending the conference, which will look at a varied array of subjects connected with the conflict.
There will also be attention paid to local connections, including a 60-minute guided tour of Lawnswood Cemetery led by chair of the Friends of Lawnswood Cemetery Andrea Hetherington.
On Monday at 9pm there will be a special screening of rare films from the period, courtesy of the Yorkshire Film Archive - the session, entitled Filmed and Not Forgotten, will be held in the Lawnswood Suite and will last approximately one hour.
On Tuesday, Chris Baker, former chairman of the Western Front Association, will give a talk about the kind of military service our forebears experienced, together with a personal story of how his father was awarded the World War One Iron Cross.
On Thursday, motorcycle enthusiast Noel Whittall will be looking at his favourite bike, a 1918 550cc Model H, while Darryl Foxwell and Roy Hirst will be displaying a model railway with typical First World War scene.
Also on Thursday there will be a ‘hands on’ look at the weapons used by soldiers at the time, presented by Lt Col John Whitchurch, commanding officer at the Infantry Land Warfare Centre - it will involve volunteers to play ‘Tommy’ and ‘Fritz’. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.