Over the past year I have thinking about the two Great Wars and how it still has an impact upon us today. More specifically I was interested in the War narrative we get told and War memorials we see around us in the towns, parks and churches, and I started to think about what excluded from the narrative. For example, there was over a million Indian soldiers in Europe during the First World War, yet we never see them in memorials. The first memorial in the Black Country for these men was put up in Smethwick only last year.
There are many interesting War connections in the Black Country. Rudyard Kipling, whose family came from Wolverhampton, lost a son in the War. He was one of the few who wrote about the War as a parent sending their children in battle, and its often remembered for the lines "If any question why we died/ Tell them, because our fathers lied’. Even Kipling became disillusioned with the War.
After the War many of the Indian men went back to India and faced a heightened security state, where many arrests were common. This also happened in Britain, where the great depression, poverty, food, housing shortages, and the fear of Bolshevik revolution created a heightened state of fear of rebellion. The drama, Peaky Blinders, set in the Black Country, captures this post-war period well. Although the drama is fictional, many of the sentiments resonate with history. In July 1919, during a year of riots and rebellions across the country, Bilston police station was set alight after some locals fought with the local police. These stories are really part of the War narrative, but we don’t get told this.
I am based at the Newhampton Art centre and recently ran a pop portrait studio, the conversations some useful connections, and over the coming months I am going to explore some of these histories and see what connections I can find between the different communities in Wolverhampton during this inter war period.