In the pursuit of tangible traces of history

For Ellie Grigsby, a third year History student at Goldsmiths University, finding the artifacts that portray past lives is an essential element in covering history.

Ellie Grigsby

Ellie Grigsby. History student, Goldsmiths University. Image by Nancy Delaney

Together with a group of fellow students, she is involved in a History Department project that aims to research teachers and students, connected to Goldsmiths, who fought in the battlefield at Gallipoli in 1915.

Among the brave and memorable men lost in the war is the academic and First Warden of Goldsmiths, William Loring.

As a Captain in the Second Scottish Horse, he went into the bloody battle, losing his life and leaving his loved ones in grief when he died of gangrene, having been shot in the femur a few days before.

To look for knowledge and traces of William Loring and the Scottish Horse, Ellie went to the National Archive.

She found his death certificate, his marriage certificate and a drawing of a map of the trenches, from 1915.

The latter was just the size of a hand, and drawn with color pencils, presumably in the trenches.

Furthermore she found the war-diary account of the action leading to his death, and a review by General Peyton, where he glorifies those who took part in the very operation that injured Loring.

The report brings to notice the gallantry of several individual officers and men I should be glad to bring to notice. I certainly think that Captain Loring should be included. The general discipline was excellent. For the work at the Whitehouse I would like my congratulations conveyed.

A snippet of the review by General Peyton.

Rather than the military and political. Ellie is attracted to stories and historical material that highlight social history:

When you look at war people are going to look specifically at military battles, but I think the day-to-day trench-life is far more of interest to me personally. I like to include a lot of psychology in my work, which makes it more human. 

As for William Loring, he left his nine-year-old son without a father and his wife Mary without a husband and a body to bury.

Ellie believes this is an important dimension of war that needs to be taken into account, rather than merely covering the history of where the military deed is done.

The poem “For the Fallen” by Robert Laurence Binyon (1869-1943) touches upon the premature death of soldiers in the battlefield and the emptiness it creates among their comrades and families. The poem was published in The Times newspaper on 21st September 1914.

Click on the link below to hear Ellie reading out segments from the poem, which marries up to different stages of the life of William Loring.

“For the Fallen” by Robert Laurence Binyon

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.


Read more about the Poetry of Gallipoli

Archival investigation

Working with archive material isn’t necessarily an obvious academic choice anymore, since technology can give you online access to the same or similar information.

For Ellie Grigsby, though, working in front of a screen looses the sense of history of emotions:

It’s cold I think, when you’re reading things on the Internet. To go to an archive, and physically hold a piece of paper, that somebody held a hundred years ago, with a pencil, is very grounding. It made me so much more emotionally attached, to my research. 

Amongst the yellowed papers and well-kept stories about our predecessors lies an inescapable incentive. Ellie concludes that since not everyone can go to an archive, discovering an historical artifact brings a sort of commitment to communicate them and do them justice.


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