The Great War at 100: studies on the periphery of Empire
Published at the end of the 1914 commemoration year, Itinerario’s most recent special issue sheds light on colonial volunteerism and recruitment in the British Empire during the Great War. Guest editors Andrekos Varnava and Michael Walsh have succeeded in drawing together together narratives of responses to the War from places and communities not often examined in this context. However, as they note in their introduction to the issue, it is precisely in these areas that the scale and impact of the War manifests itself: after all, the strongest shockwaves are not always felt at the epicenter. Across the British imperial world, the volunteerism and recruitment policies that accompanied the war effort coincided with the formative years of emerging nationalisms and political transitions. All contributions to this special issue deal with the impact of the War on ideas of community, citizenship, and belonging – and in turn with the myriad ways in which these ideas impacted the War itself. While there is a healthy body of scholarship on the Great War and Empire, the focus has hitherto largely been on the production of nationalist narratives in former settler colonies and Dominons. Varnava and Walsh, by contrast, have sought to compare colonial recruitment across continents, between settler and non-settler locations, and in both the formal and informal British Empire. In this way, they have brought together case studies that are not usually examined alongside each other.
As a result, the contributions range from the Eastern Mediterranean to Latin America. In the case of the former, Varnava examines the formation of the Cypriot Mule Corps, composed of almost 12,000 Christian and Muslim muleteers and interpreters. In the case of the latter, Trevor Harris narrates the participation of the Patagonian Welsh, a community that had, paradoxically originally settled in Argentina to avoid the unstoppable progress of anglicisation in Victorian England. Harris’ contribution is a great example of the tensions this special issue seeks to highlight: by the time the War broke out, the Celtic identity of this community was under threat due to attempts to incorporate it into the Argentinian nation-building process. This resulted in pro-British sentiments that led the community to become a recruiting ground during the War.
Three articles from this issue can now be accessed for free. Alison Fletcher investigates the participation of Maori soldiers and its impact on understandings of Maori nationhood. In ‘Frenemy Aliens’, Steve Marti examines Southern Slavs from the Dominions in allied campaigns, and allied hopes to exploit nationalist aspirations for a pan-Slavic state. Marti looks at the complex navigation, on both sides, of the categories of enemy aliens, friendly allies, and subjects of the British Empire. John Connor, finally, looks at the enlistment of Australian, Canadian, New Zealand, and South African men in the colonial metropole: the Dominion Expeditionary Forces in the United Kingdom.