It's a Long Way to Tipperary... from Prague
This week has seen the launch of Adam Matthew's much-anticipated Service Newspapers of World War Two, our first newspaper collection. Featuring over 200 publications produced by and for military personnel serving around the worldâ€“ searchable at article-level thanks to METS/ALTO technology â€“ the resource offers a fascinating global perspective into the wartime experience.
Working on the thousands of documents that make up this collection has been an experience all of its own: often captivating, frequently moving and regularly hilarious. The Czech-language newsletter, NaĹˇe noviny (which translates roughly as â€śOur Newsâ€ť), is a prime example of all of the above. Although it may not immediately look like much with its typewritten layout and crude, hand-drawn images, it is one of the longest-running titles in the collection, and was printed almost daily between July 1940 and March 1945. It is also one of the most unusual, being as it is a publication produced by a national army in exile.
A relatively new country, Czechoslovakia found itself an early target of German expansionism. After the signing of the Munich Agreement in 1938 and the subsequent occupation of Czechoslovakia, the ousted leadership established a government-in-exile in London with the support of the Allies. The Czechoslovak Army, initially disbanded, reformed as a division of the French Army, taking part in the Battle of France. When France collapsed in 1940, the Czechoslovak forces were evacuated to England, where they again reformed as the 1st Czechoslovak Mixed Brigade Group.
NaĹˇe noviny first appeared on the 3rd of July, 1940, printed aboard the evacuation ship, S.S. Neuralia. It continued to be published throughout the war, charting the unusual experience of this exiled army looking to maintain a connection to their occupied homeland. Its news reports, which unflinchingly cover each daily atrocity committed by the Nazis in Czechoslovakia, make for grim reading. Yet alongside this are cartoons, puzzles, notes on upcoming cultural events, and anecdotes about Czechoslovakia and England, emphasising the history of friendship between the two nations and giving advice on how readers might â€śfit inâ€ť in their new home. Among the most heart-warming of these is a brief article giving the words to the popular wartime song, It's A Long Way To Tipperary â€“ helpfully, in both English and Czech.
For me, it's a poignant reminder of the power of music to mean the same in any language.
Service Newspapers of World War Two is available now.