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Keep your heads. There is no need for panic. Try and go on in the ordinary way. It is however necessary to exercise economy for the good of the community; and above and beyond all to render such assistance as lies in your power to those poorer than yourselves. All who can should offer their services to the nation in whatever capacity is open and acceptable.”

The Lord Mayor of London, Sir Thomas Vansittart Bowater, to the citizens of London on the outbreak of war in 1914. (Reference: COL/SJ/05/002)

2014 centenary

In 2014 the nation marked the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. The Prime Minister David Cameron made a formal announcement in October 2012 at the Imperial War Museum in London about the national commemoration, although many heritage organisations have been working towards the anniversary for some time. London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) also plans to tell the stories of London and Londoners from 1914-1918. Not narratives of frontline warfare or international politics (although LMA as presenting London does always look outward to the rest of the world), but the responses of Londoners within their families, communities and city; the deliberations and actions of London government, hospitals, industry, businesses, charities and religious organisations to the conflict. Charlotte Scott introduces a guide to major sources across LMA’s holdings.

As a preliminary step before 2014, LMA staff compiled a guide to major sources across the holdings which is linked to this article. It is the first time this has been done and it shows something of the wealth and spread of information held at LMA: familiar and expected sources appear alongside some new insights. The list of sources ranges from the very personal, for example letters and photographs from individuals, to the more strategic overview of the capital at war as provided by authorities such as the London County Council (LCC) and the City of London Corporation. While some entries in the guide will refer to individual items, in other cases there are references to entire series or collections.

Themes covered by the guide

Military service

These include correspondence, photographs, and memoirs from individuals in the armed services living in London. Lloyd’s of London archive has war casualty books listing all ships lost or damaged due to war and details of captured German ships.

Memorials and Rolls of Honour

Rolls of Honour, photographs and related documentation from large employers such as the London and Middlesex County Councils to smaller businesses, schools, churches, synagogues and communities. Material on memorial buildings including faculty papers for parish churches. Photographs of peace celebrations across London.

Air raids and civil defence.

The Zeppelin raids in the First World War were heavily focussed on London and as the anniversary commemorations take place much interest is expected in this area. LCC archives include daily returns of air raid fire calls and inquests on air raid victims. Photographs and art work of damage, raids, grounded Zeppelins can also be found.

Home front

Includes personal correspondence, diaries and personal impressions from Londoners. The archives of the Worshipful Company of Makers of Playing Cards includes packs of cards on the themes of Britannia leading the Allies into Battle, Battle Honours and the Angel of Peace.

Government and administration

Food and coal rationing, air raid precautions, recruitment and staffing were increasing pre-occupations for public authorities throughout the war.

Industry, supply, business and finance

Records from the financial sector on business during the conflict; the effects of impressment, damage, seizure and insurance of assets and goods across the globe. Within the capital, as women covered more work for men on active service, there are photographs of women workers on active service in industry.

Welfare and relief

Charities and voluntary organisations, Boards of Guardians who were responsible for welfare at the time. LMA has a variety of information on assistance for refugees from Belgium. Interned aliens and their families also received aid from the Boards of Guardians.

Hospitals and medical care

The archives of St Thomas’ Hospital with its military wing the Fifth London (City of London) General Hospital are significant here; on an individual note these include Vera Brittain’s registration as a VAD nurse.

Religious archives

The Church of England and Jewish communities are represented. LMA also has the archives of the German Dietrich Bonhoeffer Church in Sydenham which was forced to close due to public hostility. The personal papers of the Reverend Tubby Clayton, the founder of Talbot House in Belgium, are in the archives of the parish of All Hallows by the Tower. From the Jewish community, papers of Chief Rabbi Joseph Hertz and the Board of Deputies of British Jews include topics such as food rationing, permission to fight on the Sabbath and refugees from eastern Europe.

What happens next?

The guide will be reviewed and revised over the next few years with more material added as it is discovered by staff, volunteers and users. We have examined some “known unknowns”, specifically samples of magistrate court registers for information on deserters and infringement of rationing rules, and samples of school log books to see if there are glimpses of everyday life for the youngest Londoners in 1914-18. There are sure to be “unknown unknowns” though, which could be really exciting…Please let us know if you find anything which is not at present on the list.

In February 2014 we published the second edition of the guides and Charlotte Scott detailed information about some of the new entries we discovered.

LMA will also be doing other work throughout 2014-18 to commemorate the First World War. The Development team will lead on outreach and education work.

Archive references

You can search the catalogue of any of our collections at our online catalogue. Some of the specific archives mentioned above include:

  • ACC/2805 - Office of the Chief Rabbi.
  • ACC/3121 - Board of Deputies of British Jews.
  • CLC/B/148 - Lloyd’s of London.
  • CLC/L/MA - Worshipful Company of Makers of Playing Cards.
  • COL/SJ/05/002 - Activities of the Lord Mayor and the Corporation during the Great War.
  • H01/ST - Records of St. Thomas's Hospital.
  • LCC - Records of the London County Council.
  • LMA/4288 - Dietrich Bonhoeffer Kirche (German Church, Sydenham).
  • MCC - Middlesex County Council.
  • P69/ALH1 - All Hallows by the Tower.

You can find out more about the collections held at LMA on our collections pages.