MERL Seminars: The Great War and the countryside

This special series of MERL Seminars has been convened in collaboration with The Friends of the University of Reading as part of a wider programme of events to mark a century since the outbreak of the First World War. The talks will reveal a range of narratives, including some connected with Berkshire and Reading. Others will chart the varied ways in which this terrible conflict came to impact upon the British countryside and beyond.

Please note the new time of 1-2pm for the MERL seminars. Each event takes place in the Conference Room at MERL. Please register in advance if you plan to come along, or contact us on the day to check there are still spaces available.


Battle hospital staff and patientsReading's First World War

Brendan Carr, Community Engagement Curator, Reading Museum

  • 29 April
  • 1-2pm
  • Free
  • Register in advance

When the announcement came that war was declared on Germany, few could have imagined just how profoundly this conflict would affect the lives of Reading’s people. Within months, the town had been mobilised towards the war effort as wounded soldiers began to arrive at hastily organised hospitals. Men and boys enlisted, leaving their loved ones to show fortitude at home.

Find out about the 'Reading at War' project 


The origins of the First World War: an historical perspective

Jolyon Lloyd, Independent Scholar

  • 6 May
  • 1-2pm
  • Free
  • Register

In July 1914, British foreign secretary Edward Grey penned the now infamous words ‘the lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.’ But what had impelled Britain and Germany to take up arms against each other? This talk explores the extensive scholarship investigating the origins of the Great War.


Albert Ball's Flying AcesPop-up lunchtime concert: Albert Ball's Flying Aces

Tuesday 13th May

  • 1.10pm to 1.50pm
  • Free, drop-in
  • All welcome

Not a seminar, but a little light relief with some entertainment from the Great War era. 

MERL is delighted to be hosting a University of Reading Lunchtime Concert featuring 'Albert Ball's Flying Aces' who will be performing music and songs from the WWI era on, variously, guitar, banjo, mandolin, percussion and accordion.

Find out more about them at or have a listen by clicking here .


Food security in the Great War: the contribution of wartime farmers

Dr John Martin, Reader in Agrarian History, De Montfort University

  • 20 May
  • 1-2pm
  • Free
  • Register

Prior to the outbreak of the Great War Britain produced little more than half of its food requirements. Yet during the war the country was neither starved into submission nor forced to endure the malnutrition which engulfed many other countries. This talk will evaluate the role played by the farming community in saving the country from starvation.

Find out more about John Martin and his 2010 -11 MERL Fellowship


England and the OctopusOpen spaces after the Great War: remembrance, recreation and reafforestation

Professor Keith Grieves, Professor of History and Education, Kingston University

  • 10 June
  • 1-2pm
  • Free
  • Register

Recollections of English landscapes offered some soldiers an antidote to the nightmarish Western Front. The rediscovery and preservation of similar spaces became a peripheral memorial form after the Great War. This talk explores the interplay of remembrance, recreation and reafforestation after the war, examining the effects of military service and sacrifice on the preservation of scenic landscapes in the 1920s.

Find out more about Keith-Grieves and his 2011-12 MERL Fellowship


Berkshire Yeomanry‘Be you Berkshire?’ The Berkshire Yeomanry during the First World War

Captain Andrew French, Assistant Honorary Curator, Berkshire Yeomanry Museum

  • 17 June
  • 1-2pm
  • Free
  • Register

The Berkshire Yeomanry was greatly expanded after the Boer War. It recruited from towns and countryside throughout the county including areas now in Oxfordshire. This talk explores the links between a regiment and its community, revealing the stories of some who served between 1914 and 1916, in the United Kingdom, Egypt, Palestine, France, and Flanders.

Click on the link for information about the Berkshire Yeomanry Museum


Food, diet and consumption on the Home Front: standard of living amongst rural households during the First World War

Dr Nicola Verdon, Reader in Modern British History, Sheffield Hallam University

  • 24 June
  • 1-2pm
  • Free
  • Register

In early 1918 government investigators were sent to examine the conditions of employment in English agriculture. A report published in 1919 contains an unparalleled insight into rural life and labour at the end of the war. This talk explores one important theme to emerge from the report: food, diet and the standard of living amongst rural labouring families.

Read about Nicola and her research interests


Eggs Enlisted? Egg production and the impact of war

Professor Karen Sayer, Professor of Social and Cultural History, Leeds Trinity University

  • 1 July
  • 1-2pm
  • Free
  • Register

Policy makers began to view egg-production as a profitable pursuit even before the Great War broke out. During wartime itself, eggs were collected via schools, drawn into charitable efforts, and used to raise funds for the wounded. Following the war, poultry farming came to attract many ex-servicemen. This talk will explore and untangle some of these histories.

Find out more about Karen's work



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