WWI: An Armenian Story

As a volunteer at Archives+ I’ve been researching the history of Manchester’s Armenian community between 1850 and 1950 at the Greater Manchester County Record Office. During one of my searches I came across some material in the Documentary Photographic Archive which links Manchester, Armenia and WWI. Following this post on the Archives+ blog, I refer to a story that begins almost one hundred years ago, when young men across the country began to volunteer for military service, largely unaware of the horrors that awaited them.

William Beesley and Simeon Lopes Salzedo were among the many recruits from Manchester who served for Britain during WWI.

Royal Flying Corps

Beesley, of Salford (above), joined the Royal Flying Corps as a fitter, whilst Salzedo, of Cheetham (originally from the Netherlands), served with the 39th Judean Batallion of the Royal Fusiliers. Interesting to note that there was not just one but several separate Jewish regiments attached to the British Army during WWI. Known as the Jewish Legion, there were five battalions, consisting of volunteers from Britain, the US, Canada and a number of other countries (including captured Jewish prisoners, who were also permitted to enlist).

Lieutenant Salzedo

Above: Salzedo with his regiment in Egypt (source)

Both men spent time in Turkey as part of their military service, and returned bearing photographs of their travels; images of themselves, comrades, locals and places. Beesley’s included a photograph of himself with an Armenian girl, taken in Turkey, which his daughter later donated to the Documentary Photographic Archive at Manchester County Record Office.

Royal Flying Corps

Above: William Beesley with an Armenian girl (source)

There is no explanation as to why this image was taken – at first glance it is easy to dismiss it as just part of Beesley’s photo collection. However, the girl’s nationality is significant, as is her location. Armenia was then part of Turkey, and under Ottoman rule, Armenians living here were persecuted and later massacred – a genocide that occurred during WWI, when this photograph was taken.

It is distressing to realise the extent of brutality across the world at this time – having been taught about the British participation in WWI at school, I’d never come across the Armenian genocide until now. The aftermath of this terrible event, which historians estimate to have begun in 1915 (the actual persecution had begun centuries earlier, including mass killings in the late 1800s), was apparently witnessed by Lieutenant Salzedo of Manchester, who brought back some disturbing images from his service in Turkey.

The images he brought back include photographs of captured Turkish and German soldiers and distressing scenes of atrocities against Armenians, including men hanging from gallows and malnourished young Armenians carrying the body of a dead (or dying) child on a makeshift stretcher. Due to the graphic nature of these images (labelled simply as “Turkish atrocities on Armenians”) they have not been included on this blog, but they do illustrate the horrors endured by Armenians during WWI.

The death total has been estimated at between 1 million and 1.5 million Armenians. It is the second most studied case of genocide after the Holocaust, although the Turkish government refuses to acknowledge the events as genocide, even to this day.

Back in Manchester, the city’s Armenian community campaigned tirelessly to highlight the plight of their fellow countrymen. They lobbied politicians, raised money and set up charities.

GB124.DPA/1827/1

Above: Members of the Armenian community in Manchester

Unfortunately due to WWI, Britain was unable to intervene, and events in Turkey were overshadowed by trench warfare and atrocities in Europe.

To find out more about the links between Manchester and Armenia at this time, take a look at the Archives+ Blog, where I have been writing about the history of Manchester’s Armenian community, including the Armenian Genocide, life for Armenian Mancunians, and their connections with particular parts of the city.

4 thoughts on “WWI: An Armenian Story

  1. Pingback: A Mysterious Collection of Portraits | GM 1914

  2. Pingback: An Intriguing Armenian Photograph | Archives+

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