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December 2014

  Archive of the Month

Lantern slides of Boer War and Great War images online

To view the slide show of Boer War and Great War images click here
(clicking on images below will open in a larger window)

[insert 1]For December, we continue our commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War by presenting the complete collection of lantern slides relating to “The Great European War” and related items from the earlier Boer War which originated (before their transfer to the RCB Library) in St Patrick’s Cathedral Deanery in Dublin, and were used to inform contemporary audiences about these conflicts.


A selection of these slides formed part of the cathedral’s “Lives Remembered” exhibition (see this link www.stpatrickscathedral.ie/Lives–Remembered.aspx) which explores the Cathedral’s connections to that War and the cathedral’s solemn tradition of remembering lives lost or affected by war and conflict ever since through its annual Remembrance Services. This is first time however that all 54 slides have been featured online together for a worldwide audience.

The “Great European War” and related Boer War slides collectively form part of a bigger collection of lantern slides that were transferred from the Deanery (where successive deans of the cathedral have lived) into the library during the past 18 months. As regular followers of Archive of the Month will know, this is not the first collection of lantern slides to come to light recently in a Church of Ireland deanery. In 2012, the library took custody of almost 300 slides from Killaloe deanery in county Clare, which cover a wide range of topics including the Church’s mission in Chota Nagpur India, available here and of a tour in Palestine, available here, as well as rare shots of the Industrial Exhibition held in Dublin in 1907 and other varied snapshots around Ireland over 100 years ago http://ireland.anglican.org/about/174 – all of which are digitally re–mastered and displayed online at the links above.

[insert 2]

Like the Killaloe collection, the St Patrick’s collection reveals the important role that the church and church personnel played in disseminating visual materials in times past when photography was a relatively privileged and rare occupation. As a relatively easy apparatus to use, the magic lantern proved a particularly important medium used by religious bodies and individuals. In an article, entitled “The magic lantern, education and prostelizing (2011)”, Dr Kevin Rockett of TCD’s Film Studies Department has demonstrated how lantern presentations enabled clergy, educators and clergy to spread their message for a variety of charitable and educational purposes.

The St Patrick’s collection fits into this genre. Since its acquisition by the library it has been arranged, catalogued and listed into five main groups. We found that most of the images relate to the antiquities of the Church of Ireland and its Celtic origins; the Church’s mission outreach to India, China and elsewhere, and other aspects of church life (a selection of which we hope to feature as a future presentation) but unusually they also include this box of images of the “Great European War” which on closer examination actually include a small number of earlier slides of the Boer War which preceded it on the South African continent as well as action from the First World War itself.

[insert 3a, b, c as collage]

The box containing the war images has absolutely no identification marks on it to explain where it might have come from, but it seems likely that it was made up as a set to demonstrate to audiences the progress of the war, and perhaps at some later stage earlier Boer War slides were added to demonstrate contrasts and different aspects of conflict. In our recent digitization of the Church of Ireland Gazette for 1914, available at this link, we came across this advertisement for “lantern slides of the war” available for sale or hire from the main supplier optical supplier in Dublin Mason’s who made up commercial sets complete with readings. As early as November 1914, such visual evidence was clearly available and in circulation: as Mason’s advert reveals the volume of slides was all the time increasing as the war progressed.

[insert 4]

Whilst there is no labelling on the box containing the wartime images, another box in the St Patrick’s deanery collection gives us an idea of how these items were originally stored and transported for the entertainment of audiences country–wide. This box may also provide a vital clue to the originator of the entire collection, as it was addressed to the Revd W.E. Vandeleur MA at 25 Mountjoy Square Dublin.

[insert 5]

The Revd Canon William Elder George Ormsby Vandeleur was Warden of the Divinity Hostel in Mountjoy Square (where ordinands training for Church of Ireland ministry – who studied at Trinity College lived) between 1928 and 1934, and thus centrally involved in education within the Church.

He played a major role in the Church’s Commemoration of St Patrick in 1932 (which we featured in detail as the Archive of the Month for March 2013 at this link) including drawing up the programme for a series of lectures to be illustrated by lantern slides the aim of which was to visually present Patrick’s ‘Life and Times’; the ‘Missionary Tradition of the Irish Church’ and the ‘Connection of the Parishes of the Church of Ireland with the ancient Irish Church’. Hiring of each set of slides cost 10s.6d, which were posted out to interested parishes for free, together with the typed script of the relevant lecture.

Most of the boxes of deanery slides appear to relate to this Commemoration programme. Interestingly, the lecture notes for the series survive with the slides. Just like a modern day Powerpoint, here we see page one of the first lecture alongside the accompanying first slide. And it is clear from the number of stamps and other distribution marks on the box addressed to Vandeleur that they were posted out several times, indicating how widely circulated the St Patrick’s lecture series became during and after the commemoration year. For whatever reason, the complete collection ended up in St Patrick’s after 1932 – as the national cathedral, dedicated to the patron saint, it was probably not the most unlikely location.

[insert 6a and 6b side by side] [insert 6a and 6b side by side]

Similar lecture notes don’t survive for the Boer War and Great War images, and we can only speculate how they were used and viewed. It is interesting to note however that the Boer War materials which precede the Great War ones may have come from Vandaleur’s time in Africa. Ordained originally for the Church of England, Vandaleur served part of his early ministry in the province of Natal between 1902 and 1905; leaving during the war period, but returning again for a further stint in 1908–09. It seems reasonable to speculate that he could easily have obtained the Boer War images which may have been in local circulation at the end of that war, and on his return to the region.

As a lantern slide enthusiast, and someone who later was directly involved in education within the Church of Ireland, we can at least speculate that as well as having custody of the St Patrick’s lecture series, Vandeluer may have arranged the first nine slides in the collection which relate to the Boer War items with the remaining later images of the Great War for educative purposes.

[insert 7a, b, c, d as collage]

The Boer War slides are different to the remainder of the collection, because they don’t bear any mountings and are labelled in a scrawled pencil hand as oppose to the more commercial–type set format of the Great War ones which follows them. This suggests they may have originated as a personal collection and not have been purchased. Two of the slides refer to ‘Col. Long’s Battalion Colenso’, which helps to provide further context. Colonel C.J. Long was in command of the Royal Artillery at the Battle of Colenso in December 1899 (some 115 years ago) and these with the related images seem to show an unusual range of field activity including a retreat from wooded/jungle area; ‘ammunition mules’ a ‘naval gun in dug out’; communications in the form of ‘held telegraph and telephone’; native African military in action; and a makeshift ‘pontoon bridge’.

Of the series covering the Great War, virtually all are labelled “Great European War” suggesting they may have originated as a secondary or commercial set. Over a third are pencil drawings or artists’ depictions of action and events that had already taken place– underlying the fact that photography is still at a relatively early stage, and unlike the Second World War, or other more recent conflicts, few photographers actually covered real combat in the field so to speak. Instead, we get a range of depictions of trench warfare and canon in action.

[insert 8a, b, c, as collage]

The brave actions of individual soldiers such as Private L.C. Dwyer who won the Victoria Cross for bravery on Hill Sixty in 1915, and of Private Thomas William Holmes during the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917.

[insert 9a and 9b side by side] [insert 9a and 9b side by side]

Of actual events, the real time images in the collection tend to depict the aftermath of bombing – so we see the damage to the Grand Hotel in Scarborough, an air and sea attack that occurred on 16 December 1914 resulting in 137 fatalities and 592 casualties, many of them civilians; and additionally the result of ‘German frightfulness’ possibly in London following an aid raid. The devastation that befell the cities of Dinant in Belgium and of Louvain in France after bombardment is captured in two contrasting images that centre around the virtually destroyed cathedrals of both cities.

[insert 10a, b, c, d as collage]

There appears to be real time field action in the image showing ‘the London Scottish within 100 yards of enemy on hill 60’; and unusually those of ‘Congolese troops attacking Turks’ and of the Indian Army landing from the sea.

[insert 11a, b, c as collage]

Additional sea action is covered in several shots of naval vessels, while the only portrait in the entire collection is that of Admiral Jellicoe (John Rushworth Jellicoe 1859–1935, the first Earl Jellicoe and Admiral of the Fleet).

[insert 12a, b, c,d as collage]

A series of maps showing various coastlines and one depicting the comparative size of the Allied and enemy armies and navies, underlines the educative emphasis of whoever put this slide show together in the first instance.

[insert 13a, b, c, as collage]

As there was no particular order to this set of slides, they have been arranged with the Boer War materials first, followed by various types of images – the pencil drawings next; with maps concluding at the end.

Whatever their precise origin, there is no doubt these First World War slides were contemporary educative tools used to inform people what was going on in an otherwise limited visual era. In church halls, perhaps even churches and cathedrals themselves, audiences would gather to be brought up to date with on the realities of warfare, and specifically the progress of the Allied advance on mainland Europe between 1914 and 1918, and related events. 

Lantern slides from the Deanery

For further information please contact:
Dr Susan Hood
RCB Library
Braemor Park
Dublin 14
Tel: 01–4923979
Fax: 01–4924770
E–mail: susan.hood@rcbdub.org