*Guest post by Dr Sam Edwards, Manchester Metropolitan University*
As I found out later, the weather was much the same as the day, over 90 years previous, that the monument had been dedicated. The sky was grey, the breeze fresh, and rain threatened. I’d spent the morning cycling around some of the old airfields that still mark the Lincolnshire Wolds, an obsession that’s been with me since I was a teenager. But that day, and largely on a whim, I decided to head home (to family in Grimsby) via a detour to the Humber. I’d been told of a monument in the village of Immingham that might be of interest.
At Immingham I aimed – by instinct – for the church tower, and it was as I neared St. Andrews (fifteenth century in origins) that I saw it: a tall pillar of granite, weathered by decades of coastal storms. Dedicated to the ‘Pilgrim Fathers’ who had set sail from ‘this creek’ in 1608, the pillar was clearly the result of some concerted effort. But it was the name of the organisation responsible that drew my attention – the Sulgrave Institution. I’d only recently completed some research at Sulgrave Manor in deepest Northamptonshire and so the question soon arrived: why had those responsible for establishing the Manor as a memorial to George Washington (it was his ancestral home) also erected this pillar near the Humber? What was the connection? Cycling home in the last of the autumn light I decided to resolve the quandary. As I was to learn, the answer lay in a variety of factors which, when combined, ensured that in the post-First World War period Immingham became an attractive location in which – as at Sulgrave – to celebrate the Anglo-American ties of history and memory.
The memorial today (photo by author)
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Historical pageants were, at one time, the most popular form of engagement with the past in Britain. Bursting onto the social stage in 1905, they took place across the country and the Empire, from the smallest villages to the largest cities. Amateur casts up to 10,000 people – and that is not a typo – were brought together by ingenious ‘pageant-masters’ to perform their local history, and audiences of up to 100,000 packed themselves into outdoor arenas and fields to spectate. In the early days of the ‘pageantitis’ pandemic, the storyline of pageants usually began in the dim and distant past of ancient Celtic Britain, before the arrival of the Romans heralded the beginnings of civilisation. Following episodes cycled through the conquering Saxons and Normans, then the different monarchical reigns from Tudor to Elizabethan. Usually ending with good old Queen Bess, these romantic re-enactments told a story of local and national progress: the setting of historical foundations for great power in the present. Continue reading →
Commemorative 1917 wartime postcard. Manufactured by Birn Brothers, Ltd, England.
This embroidered silk postcard commemorated the official entry of the USA into the First World War. It was made in England by Birn Brothers, Ltd – a large printing house that manufactured both cheap pictorial books and postcards. On the front of the postcard, the Stars and Stripes and the Union Jack hang out from behind a laurel wreath and an anchor: symbols of nationhood, victory and naval power intertwined. Joining the composition together are two pennants adorned with ‘Mayflower 1620’ and ‘Allied April 1917’. Mayflower-mania had been reaching fever pitch on both sides of the Atlantic in the final years of the 19th century and especially in the lead-up to the First World War. New editions of important fiction and non-fiction works about the Pilgrim Fathers were published, monuments erected in towns and cities that linked themselves to the story, and committees formed to plan largescale celebrations for the 300th anniversary in 1920. Around the same time, a rapprochement between Britain and the USA was taking place after a long period of animosity following the American Revolution. To achieve the sense of a new alliance, diplomats – from the highest echelons of government to the everyday Anglo-American enthusiast – actually looked back to history. The tale of the Pilgrim Fathers was ripe for using as a tool to create a shared identity. ‘The return of the Mayflower’ had already become a familiar expression in previous decades, referring to the 1621 return voyage on which no Pilgrims had chosen to journey. But during the War the phrase took on a new meaning: the return in the present of now-American Pilgrims to save their mother country. Rudyard Kipling popularised this idea in 1917 when he described how the world had seen ‘The second sailing of the Mayflower’ and tentatively asked ‘What shall grow out of her return voyage our grandchildren may, perhaps, comprehend.’ In a bright and colourful way, this postcard captured that spirit.
 Metro Postcard – http://www.metropostcard.com/publishersb1.html
 Rudyard Kipling, ‘The second sailing of the “Mayflower”’, Daily Telegraph (August 17th 1918).
By 1916 the entry of the United States into the First World War was considered a vital step in securing an Allied victory against Germany. However, for the first two years of the war diplomacy between Britain and America had been marked by uncertainty. Woodrow Wilson had publicly declared America’s policy of neutrality shortly after the outbreak of hostilities between the European powers. In early 1915 Wilson explained America’s policy, ‘The basis of neutrality, gentlemen, is not indifference; it is not self-interest. The basis of neutrality is sympathy for mankind. It is fairness, it is good will at bottom. It is impartiality of spirit and of judgement.’ American public opinion from 1914-1916 also strongly favoured neutrality. Britain’s diplomatic efforts were therefore focused on finding a way to break this impasse and convince a reluctant United States help end the deadlock on the Western Front.
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