Humanities activists and humanitarian aid in the First World War: G.M. Trevelyan, the British Red Cross and the Italian wounded

Marcella Sutcliffe (University of Cambridge)
15 February 2016

In 1915, as Italy entered the war on the side of the Allies, a group of British humanities scholars formed the British Committee in Aid of the Italian Wounded. At the head of them was Cambridge historian, G.M. Trevelyan, who organised a convoy of British Red Cross vehicles to cross Europe and reach the theatre of war in the North-Eastern Italian Alps. Amongst Trevelyan's fellow scholars were Thomas Ashby, archaeologist, photographer and Director of the British School at Rome and Francis William Sargant, a sculptor in Florence. As fluent Italian-speakers, these men and other BSR men and women eased the communications between the British nurses and the Italian wounded. Yet the peculiarity of this group of volunteers rested in their commitment to the arts and humanities; as 'humanities activists' these scholars were confident in their ability to boost morale and provide 'spiritual ammunition' to allied soldiers in the so-called 'European war'. They were based on the Isonzo front, at Villa Trento, a place which became known behind the war zone for its 'home comforts', which included theatre performances and pantomimes. It was here that these British humanities activists were able to play their part in the transnational contest of internationalist aid.

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