Tag Archives: Nature

Transcribing the Letters of John Jarmain: reflections on a remote internship project

Earlier this year, Special Collections launched its first remote internship for University of Exeter students. Unable to run our usual in-person work experience programme, and knowing that another lockdown at the start of 2021 was highly likely, we were pleased to offer an opportunity for students to gain valuable archive experience whilst working from home.

The collection we chose for this remote internship was the Letters of John Jarmain (EUL MS 413). William John Fletcher Jarmain (1911-1944) was a novelist and poet. He served throughout the Second World War as a gunnery officer with the 51st Highland Division during their campaigns in North Africa and Sicily. He took part in the D-Day landing and was killed in action on 26 June 1944. The collection comprises 120 manuscript letters that he sent home to his wife Beryl between June 1942 and November 1943. 

EUL MS 413/1/66 – Aerogram dated 10 March 1943

Digitised images of all of the letters are available to view online through our Digital Collections website, making them ideal for our interns to access and transcribe from home. Once proofread, the transcripts produced by the interns on this project will be uploaded to the website to sit alongside the digitised letters, enabling letters of interest to be more easily identified, accessed and understood.

We would like to take this moment to thank our interns, Beth Howell and Ruby, for their hard work, diligence and enthusiasm for this project. Through a combined effort, they recently completed the transcription of all 120 letters – an amazing achievement! Below you can read their reflections on the project.

Reflections by Beth Howell

Transcribing the letters of a person is always a very involved experience, and working on John Jarmain’s war-time correspondence has proven to be no exception. However, perhaps because Jarmain was so engaged with the process of writing, (often demonstrating himself to be an almost obsessive editor of his own poetry), he always seems to write with a real sense of how his words might be read and interpreted in the future, making his letters a real privilege to read. Though most of his correspondence is addressed to his wife, Beryl, he often appears to imagine a reader beyond her, documenting the world around him with a real sense of capturing the present moment. His letters are therefore not only interesting because of what they reveal about his poetic practice, but also the landscapes he found himself in, the relationships he fostered, and his hopes and anxieties for a future after the war.

My favourite element of Jarmain’s writing, though, was probably the way in which he balanced larger concerns with little details. His ability to find joy in the spaces around him, even though the vision of those landscapes necessarily meant his separation from home (and, of course, were imbued with the ever-present anxieties of potential battles), is really heartening and beautiful to read. He loved birds, and many of his letters are preoccupied with identifying species from a little bird book he bought and carried around with him. (Though I have to say that deciphering rare specimens from his sometimes quite hastily-scribbled writing presented a few challenges- I had certainly never heard of a rufous warbler before!)

EUL MS 413/1/85 – Letter dated 30 April 1943, in which Jarmain writes about birds, including the rufous warbler (highlighted)

I also admired his confidence in informing his wife that he had fallen in (platonic) love with various women during his time in service- including Yone May, the subject of one of his poems. Jarmain presents a tangible picture of contemporary technologies (or quite the opposite), which affect his writing in a very material way- he finds himself scribbling in pencil, writing by candlelight in the wee hours, hastily penning an aerogram when he knows the post is leaving soon. He laments his ability to construct suitable diagrams of views and barracks, continues to marvel at unexpectedly quick postal deliveries, and to agonise when the opposite proves to be the case. His letters are a fascinating and absorbing insight into his life away- checked only by the knowledge that his observations would be tragically cut short. Jarmain died, killed by a fragment of mortar shell, on Saturday 26th June, 1944.

EUL MS 413/1/19 Letter dated 11 October 1942, next to transcript by Beth Howell

Reflections by Ruby

It hardly seems right to call this internship “work”. Work refers to something laborious, something that has to be done, but I found transcribing John Jarmain’s letters delightful. It saddens me that the World War II poets don’t receive the same attention as the World War I poets. Jarmain, though brilliant and sensitive, is far from a household name and does not even have a poetry collection currently in print. This is what makes me so genuinely honoured to have been involved in this project, typing up his letters, so that we can start to make Jarmain’s literature more accessible for more people. I hope that, going forward, people will read these letters and be touched in the same way that I was. 

This internship has shown me that there is a big difference between reading for pleasure and reading to transcribe. Transcribing Jarmain’s letters has forced me to read them carefully, sensitively and attentively. I have had to pay attention to punctuation, names and form which I might not otherwise have paid much attention to. When I’ve read letters from authors in the past, I don’t tend to focus on people who are off-handedly mentioned (cousins, distant friends, colleagues etc.), and only really focus on those they are closest to. However, when writing up these letters I had to pay attention to every name — zooming in to make sure that I got every surname right — and, in doing so, I noticed certain people who popped up time and time again (his friend, Harry, for example). Jarmain’s handwriting also means that it’s easy to mistake a semicolon for an exclamation point. At first glance, his semicolons can look like exclamation points, but when you look more closely, they’re usually not. If I were reading these letters at a glance, I would think that he was just heavy-handed with exclamation points, but this project showed me that he is not, and that he actually uses exclamation points quite sparingly. Over the course of the internship, I became more familiar with Jarmain’s writing style and more attentive to quirks in his handwriting. For example, when writing “a”, he tends to attach it to the word in front (i.e. if he says “a ship”, he will write “aship”). This led to some tenuous guessing at the start of the project; however, I was familiar with this by the end, and found transcribing his letters much easier. 

EUL MS 413/1/14 – Aerogram dated 28 September 1942, mentioning his friend Harry (highlighted)

The internship showed me how important it is to read letters attentively and slowly — to savour them and their images and their kindnesses. This is what Jarmain’s wife, Beryl, would have done, and so we perhaps get closer to the experience of these letters when we read in this way. Having to read Jarmain slowly was probably my favourite part about and, as a consequence of having done this, I feel like I know him better than I otherwise would have done. 

One particularly striking part of Jarmain’s letters is just how little he refers to the actual events of war. He hardly talks about what his troops are doing, and any danger they might be in. Rather, he documents domestic experiences — for example, how he spent his time on leave, or how he goes swimming in the morning before starting work, or a joke told by one of the men. Jarmain separates himself from his identity as the “soldier” and presents himself as a real man, the same husband to whom Beryl waved goodbye. Though this is humbling to see, it also points to the separation between war and home which he documents in his poem ‘El Alemein’. The separation between Jarmain as husband and soldier in these letters makes the dramatic irony of his death all the more upsetting. Reading the letters, I knew that he would never come home and safely settle back into domestic life. In one of his last aerograms (EUL MS 413/1/153), he writes of the Christmas presents he plans to give them, clinging to the possibility that the war will end soon and he will be home with Beryl and Janet-Susan. When the letters abruptly stop, there is no warning and, since he was so secretive about his life as a soldier when writing to Beryl, it seems strangely incongruous that he could have been killed in war. 

EUL MS 413/1/33 – Aerogram dated 8 December 1942: draft of poems ‘For Alamein’

Possibly my favourite parts to transcribe were his descriptions of nature — and, in particular, his descriptions of Italy in his final aerogram (EUL MS 413/1/154): “Away to the right, tier upon tier lit in streaks of sun and shade and clotted with white clustering towns, were the hills of Italy across the strait. In England you cannot imagine such beauty, such a scene”. You can feel the wonder in his voice here and the sheer extent of the view he relays. These nature descriptions are occasionally shown in his poems, but only fleetingly, and I enjoyed reading this different writing style from him. It is also so illuminating to see the poems embedded within these letters because the poems will often refer to images he’s already described for Beryl. For example, in letter one (EUL MS 413/1/1), he writes that he “was struck suddenly by willows, English willows, how they stand in rows like thick-handled powder-puffs, grey-green in the evening”. Then, in a poem in letter two (EUL MS 413/1/2), he writes that the train “Passed willows greyly bunching to the moon”. In this, we can see his poems as snapshots of real, personal experience. Indeed, the fact that they are embedded within letters shows just how intimate and personal they are, which can and should encourage us to read them contextually in new ways. 

Ruby has very kindly recorded herself reading John Jarmain’s first letter (EUL MS 413/1/1). Click on the play button below to listen to the recording. 

Cataloguing the Common Ground Archive: Project Completed!

I’m very pleased to announce that after two years and four months (extended due to the coronavirus pandemic), the project to catalogue the Common Ground archive has now been completed. The new catalogue descriptions will allow this extensive archive (measuring approximately 125 linear metres!) to be more easily searched, accessed and used. The archive has been arranged into sections, series and files, and descriptions are available for all to browse via our online catalogue. You can explore the new archive catalogue here.

 

Common Ground is an arts and environmental charity, which was established in the early 1980s (founded in 1982 and charitable status gained in 1983) with a mission to link nature with culture and use celebration of the everyday as a starting point for local action. The charity has raised awareness of a variety of environmental issues through its innovative projects, which have involved public participation; the commissioning of new artistic works; the organisation of exhibitions, events and conferences; the launching of new calendar customs; and the publication of books, pamphlets, newsletters, leaflets and postcards. Many of the projects – in particular, ‘Parish Maps’, the ‘Campaign for Local Distinctiveness’ and ‘Apple Day’ – have proven to be highly sustainable, continuing long after Common Ground’s active involvement in them ceased.

The Common Ground archive comprises a wide range of material created and collected by the charity in the course of its activities between 1982 and 2013, including project planning papers, correspondence, reports, financial papers, research material, press clippings, photographs, promotional material, and publications. The largest section of the archive concerns Common Ground’s work on its various projects. These files are organised into sub-sections according to project, reflecting the archive’s original order and the use of the material by Common Ground. However, as many of the projects overlapped chronologically and thematically, some sub-sections relate to more than one project. It is therefore worth browsing the archive both via the hierarchical tree, as well as through an advanced search of the entire archive (enter EUL MS 416 followed by a * in the ‘Ref No’ field and enter a keyword e.g. Parish Maps in the ‘Any Text’ field.

 

For me personally, the aspects of Common Ground’s work that really shine through the archive are project conception, public participation, and engagement through the arts. For each project there are project proposals and project planning notes, which reveal the thought processes and creative ideas behind Common Ground’s projects. The excitedly scribbled questions and ideas on pages of lined paper are particularly wonderful! All of Common Ground’s projects involved public participation to a certain degree, but my favourites are those that invited members of the public to share their own knowledge and experiences. Thousands of letters from people around the UK (and, in some instances, around the world) relating to projects such as the Flora Britannica, Orchard Observances and Parish Maps provide fascinating insight into the relationship between people and the environment. And finally, the archive contains correspondence, photographs and publications relating to Common Ground’s collaboration with artists, sculptors, craftspeople, photographers, writers, poets, playwrights and composers. The directors of Common Ground understood that the arts are an effective means to engage and excite people about their local environment, and made a special effort to work with a wide variety of practitioners, including Peter Randall-Page, David Nash, James Ravilious, David Wood, James Crowden, and Karen Wimhurst.

The Common Ground archive has the potential to be used for research in a wide range of areas, including environmental studies, geography, literature, visual arts, cultural studies, sociology, and business studies. The archive may also be of general interest to anyone keen to know more about environmental issues, arts, culture, or their local area (the archive includes material relating to thousands of towns, cities and villages across the UK). We hope that this cataloguing project will enable the archive to be more easily and effectively accessed and used for research, teaching and pleasure.

To find out more about the different Common Ground projects and the archive material relating to them, you can browse the past project blog posts, or visit our online guide to the Common Ground archive. The online guide has been designed to help you to navigate the archive catalogue, provide guidance on access and copyright, and answer some of your questions. You are also welcome to contact Special Collections by email at libspc@exeter.ac.uk for more information about the archive.

So that just leaves me to say goodbye for now! However, I am delighted to be continuing in my role as project archivist at the University of Exeter Special Collections, where I have already embarked on my next cataloguing project…

By Annie Price, Project Archivist

Cataloguing the Common Ground archive: Orchards and Apple Day

Cataloguing Update

Following the announcement of a national lockdown in March, the physical work involved in cataloguing the Common Ground archive had to be temporarily put on hold. Attempting to catalogue an archive from home without access to the physical material was challenging, but I was able to draft out arrangements for the final sections of the archive, and use box lists to create file level descriptions. However, important processes such as repackaging and removing harmful fasteners, as well as labelling and moving files, had to wait. As a result, much of my focus between March and August shifted to promoting the archive, which included the creation of an online guide to the Common Ground archive, which I hope will be a useful resource for users to navigate the archive.

Thanks to an extension to my contract (which had been due to end in July 2020), action was able to return to the Common Ground archive in August! The past two months have been ‘fruitful’ indeed, with two further sections of the archive – relating to Common Ground’s Orchards project and Apple Day project – now catalogued.

Orchards

In 1987, Common Ground began work on the Orchards project, also known as the Campaign to Conserve Old Orchards and Plant New Ones. The Co-Directors of Common Ground, Sue Clifford and Angela King, first became aware of the sharp decline in orchards in the UK whilst conducting research for the Trees, Woods and the Green Man project. They realised that, in addition to the ecological impact, this decline also signified a loss of associated cultural practices. The Orchards project aimed to promote the ecological and cultural importance of orchards, to campaign for orchards to be conserved and planted, and to revive interest in local fruit varieties.

Common Ground’s Orchards project involved a number of different campaigns and initiatives, including ‘Save our Orchards’, ‘Community Orchards’, ‘Apple Day’ and ‘Orchard Observances’. In addition to its own initiatives, the charity also supported other orchard initiatives around the UK. As part of the Orchards project, Common Ground also organised events and exhibitions, and commissioned artistic works, including photographs and sculptures. Several publications relating to orchards were produced by Common Ground, including ‘Orchards: a guide to local conservation’ (1989), ‘The Common Ground Book of Orchards’ (2000), and ‘The Community Orchards Handbook’ (2008).

Publications and promotional material produced for the Orchards project (EUL MS 416/PRO/6/3/9)

Material in this section of the archive comprises: files of assorted material relating to the administration of the Orchards project; material relating to Orchards projects and events; files of correspondence relating to orchards; research material about orchards; press clippings and papers relating to publicity; and photographic material.

The section of the archive relating to the Orchards project was the most challenging to catalogue due to its very large size, as it consists of material stored within 61 lever arch files, 43 box files, 30 ring binders, 23 boxes and 14 magazine files! The number of records that Common Ground compiled during this project reflects how wide-ranging it was and how much it captured the imagination of Common Ground and of the public. Despite being one of the smallest, my favourite initiative created by Common Ground is ‘Orchard Observances’. In 1994, Common Ground circulated a call out to owners and users of orchards in the UK to keep a diary about their orchards, and in particular to make a note of the orchard’s location, age, cultivation, management, tree varieties, and resident and visiting wildlife. The archive contains three files relating to this initiative, including many diary entries sent to Common Ground, which make for fascinating reading.

Apple Day

Apple Day was an initiative to create a new calendar custom based on the apple. The very first Apple Day was organised by Common Ground in the Piazza of Covent Garden on 21 October 1990. In the 20 years that followed, Common Ground took on an advisory role, supporting the increasing number of local organisers around the UK in promoting their Apple Day events, whilst also keeping a record of the development and success of the initiative. In 2010, Common Ground decided that Apple Day had become so well established as a custom that it was capable of continuing without extra support from the charity. Apple Day continues to be celebrated on and around 21 October each year. You can find out more about Apple Day in my previous blog post: Apples and Archives: Getting to the ‘core’ of Apple Day in the Common Ground archive.

Publications and promotional material produced for the Apple Day project (EUL MS 416/PRO/8/4/3)

Apple Day grew out of the Orchards project, but perhaps because Apple Day became such a significant project in its own right, Common Ground arranged the records into two different sections within the archive. Material in the Apple Day section of the archive includes: files of assorted material relating to the administration of the Apple Day project; material relating to the planning of the first Apple Day in 1990; material relating to Apple Day events between 1991-2012; press clippings; promotional material; and photographic material. You can find the full catalogue description for the Apple Day section here or by clicking the image below.

This year marks 30 years since the very first Apple Day was organised by Common Ground in 1990. To celebrate the anniversary, I have filmed a short video featuring some of the Apple Day material in the archive. I hope you enjoy it!

 

The next section of the archive to catalogue is material relating to the Trees, Woods and the Green Man project. If all goes well, cataloguing should be completed by the end of October and my next blog post should appear soon after. I look forward to writing another update for you soon!

By Annie Price, Project Archivist

Why not start your exploration of the Common Ground archive via our online archives catalogue today?

You can also find out more about the Common Ground archive cataloguing project by taking a look back at our previous blog posts.

‘Holding Your Ground’: Exploring research resources relating to the environment and the climate emergency in the Common Ground Archive

In response to growing awareness, acknowledgement and concern about the Climate Emergency, the University of Exeter Library is highlighting a variety of resources on this subject. You can find these resources usefully drawn together in the Library’s Climate Emergency: Resources LibGuide. Of course, we in Special Collections are also keen to highlight archival resources relating to the environment in our collections! In particular, we are very lucky to look after the archive of the arts and environmental charity, Common Ground. This archive contains a multitude of records relating to environmental concerns, which may be useful for anyone conducting research in this area, as well as for those simply seeking guidance on caring for the environment.

Boxes and files in the Common Ground archive

Common Ground is an arts and environmental charity, which was founded in 1982 in the UK. The charity has pioneered many innovative projects designed to excite and inspire people to become more engaged in looking after their local environment. For almost 40 years, Common Ground’s projects have been raising awareness of environmental concerns through arts and culture, in particular, through the commissioning of artistic works; the organisation of exhibitions, events and conferences; the launching of new calendar customs; and the publication of books, pamphlets, newsletters, leaflets and postcards. Projects launched by Common Ground have related to a variety of aspects of the natural environment, including trees, rivers, fields, orchards, and flora. Particular projects that have had a significant impact on the cultural geography of the UK include the Campaign for Local Distinctiveness, Parish Maps, and Apple Day.

A small selection of Common Ground publications, including books, pamphlets and leaflets

The Common Ground archive consists of a wide range of material created and collected by the charity in the course of its activities between 1982 and 2013. It includes correspondence, project planning papers, financial papers, publications, promotional material, press clippings, research material, photographs, and audio recordings. It also includes lots of material relating to a range of environmental issues.

For each of its projects, Common Ground published a range of books, pamphlets, leaflets and other promotional material. Produced through careful research by the team at Common Ground, these publications provide information on environmental concerns and ideas for actions that could be taken. One of Common Ground’s earliest publications was ‘Holding Your Ground: An Action Guide to Local Conservation’ (1985), which provides information on how to care for your locality, reasons why local conservation is important, case studies of local initiatives, and advice on who to contact for help and support. Particularly interesting are also posters created by Common Ground, which were first published as full-page advertisements in a national newspaper and were then available for people to purchase in colour. One example is the poster pictured below, entitled ‘Mayday! Mayday! Nature’s Call for Help’, which was published on 02 May 1988 in ‘The Independent’ newspaper.

EUL MS 416/PRO/9/2/2 – Two copies of Common Ground’s ‘Mayday! Mayday! Nature’s Call for Help’ poster

In the 1990s, Common Ground also conducted several crowd-sourcing projects to collect data. One such project was Flora Britannica. An invitation for people to send in their personal knowledge of local plants was circulated by national and local media, and Common Ground received responses from thousands of people all around Britain, which were then used by Richard Mabey to write the book ‘Flora Britannica’ (1996). As part of Common Ground’s Orchards project, a call was put out to orchard owners to record ‘Orchard Observances’ in the form of a diary from October 1995 to November 1996. The letters and diaries received by Common Ground in response to these projects provide fascinating insight into biodiversity in Britain. This data has the potential to now be used to study the changes in biodiversity and the impact of human activity on the environment since the 1990s.

EUL MS 416/PRO/7 – Material relating to the ‘Flora Britannica’ project

Finally, the archive also includes a large number of press clippings, reports, strategies, action plans and publications on a wide variety of issues, including deforestation, flooding, land development, water pollution, pesticides, droughts, natural disasters, global warming and climate change. This material was collected and used by Common Ground from 1980s to 2010s for research purposes and informed many of their projects and campaigns. This material may be of particular interest to anyone studying climate change and how governments and environmental organisations in the past 40 years have responded to it.

A small selection of research material in the Common Ground archive

We hope you have enjoyed reading this blog post about climate resources in the Common Ground archive. If you have a particular interest and would like to know whether there is any relevant material in the Common Ground archive, you can browse our online catalogue (please note that the archive is currently undergoing cataloguing) or send us an email at libspc@exeter.ac.uk. We look forward to hearing from you!

 

By Annie Price, Project Archivist

Why not start your exploration of the Common Ground archive via our online archives catalogue today?

You can also find out more about the Common Ground archive cataloguing project by taking a look back at our previous blog posts.