If you are interested in a particular topic covered in the letters, just let me know. These are the talks I have available, with audience feedback.

Grief like jagged glass: is commemoration for the living or the dead?

Slide from the talk "Grief like Jagged Glass"

Slide from the talk “Grief like Jagged Glass”

The bones of men killed at Waterloo were ground up and used as fertiliser, and the poppy symbolised forgetfulness before it became the symbol of commemoration.

How did these things change to the point where the dead of the Great War are buried in the vast war cemeteries of Northern France? Why do public figures publish newspaper articles every November about how best to respect the dead by wearing – or not wearing – a Poppy?

I look at the groups that have adopted the Poppy, the money they make, and the meaning they ascribe, and I explore what it says about us that the Poppy is more popular now than ever.

Time: 15 minutes (short version) or 45 minutes (full version).

HS – Your talk asked important questions in a measured way. V. enjoyable

CFH – I loved your talk as always

SM – Really got me thinking

@noodlemaz – I also saw @FamilyLetters and @gonz_blinko at Friday’s #skepticamp, who were both fab

Not just Tommies in France: the Indian Army in the First World War

Giving the talk "Not Just Tommies in France"

Giving the talk “Not Just Tommies in France”

One third of the men who fought for Britain weren’t British at all, they were from the Empire. One in six were from the countries that are now India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

This talk looks at these men’s contribution to the First World War, why young hill farmers signed up to fight for the British, how they were treated, and the history of their campaigns in France and Mesopotamia (the country that is now Iraq).

I also look at why their contribution is largely forgotten today, and what is being done to change that.

Time: 15 minutes (short version) or 45 minutes (full version).

MP – Brilliant talk. Very moving. Utterly captivated.

CFH – Your talk was lovely. Lots of friends back home at the dawn services this morning. Made me feel quite home sick. [I gave the talk on Anzac Day]

JS – Very interesting talk on the forgotten colonial soldiers (1 in 3) and battles of WWI

CC – Loved it!

@tweetyaca – Incredibly moving talk … on non UK born soldiers in WW1

The First World War by letter: a public and private history

Slide from the talk: WW1 in 650 Letters - Private and Public History

Slide from the talk

You don’t tell your mother everything in peaceful times, even less when you are at war, so in this talk I ask how good are letters as historical sources?

I compare what the brothers wrote home about the Christmas Truce, the battle of Jutland, the sinking of the merchant ship the SS Persia with what we know from other documents, to see what we gain and lose when we read their letters.

I compare my mother’s task when she published the letters in the 1980s with my task now, looking at the difference the Internet has made to discovering the research that other people are doing about the same people, and I show how one vital piece of information can unlock fascinating tales.

Time: 1 hour.

RDP – Really enjoyed it and even shared it on my Linkedin and Facebook military history groups…still reading the letters this morning and this afternoon…so much fascinating stuff!

EL – Really enjoyed the talk last night and it was good to see so many people there

M – Interesting Talk

JA – Really enjoyed the talk…

Myths and Truths of the Christmas Truce

This talk includes my grandfather’s first hand account of the Christmas Truce and covers the research done by Taff Gillingham about the locations of the only two identified football kick-abouts that took place during the Christmas Truce.

Time: 10 minutes

I don’t charge to speak, but I do need travel expenses (I am based in Scotland but can combine trips to reduce costs).

To discuss booking a talk, use the contact form.


4 responses to “Talks

  1. Alan Wren

    5 January, '16 at 07:11

    I am working with support and input from Mary Montagu-Scott of Beaulieu and Susan Tomkins the Archivist at the Bucklers Hard Maritime Museum to write the Persia Story as a book and want it to be true, thorough and illustrated with personal recollections. Would you consider granting permission for me to reproduce Ted’s letters (and perhaps photographs) to and from your family describing the Persia sinking as part of what I hope will be a definitive account? I think they would add great credibility to the book. Although I have been researching and drafting for some time, finding your website at 6.00 am today was one of those ‘Thunderbolt’ moments.

  2. Family Letters

    6 January, '16 at 13:02

    Hello Alan.
    Yes, of course. We would be delighted. One of the reasons I am publishing the letters online is to make primary sources more available and to give some immediacy to our understanding of the First World War.
    I’ll email you separately, if I may.

  3. Alan Wren

    6 January, '16 at 22:43

    I do not know if you know this snippet but it is a brief part of my text on the aftermath of the sinking –

    Agness (Lees) recognised one of the army officers, who had been aboard, Captain Berryman, now swimming towards them, pushing a young French woman, who she also recognised as Marie Deroge, helpless and cruciform on a collection of planks. He reached and caught hold of the boat and ordered those aboard to help her in. Mlle Deroge was on her way from Paris to Calcutta for her wedding. Only after she was safely in the lifeboat did Berryman save himself.

    I had already noted the Captain as someone a bit special. Happy to be in contact via email either at

  4. Family Letters

    7 January, '16 at 09:46

    Hello Alan

    Thank you so much for that snippet. It’s astonishing to read, and something I’d not seen before. I would like to put it out as one of the posts for the site if I may.

    Another Persia descendent contacted me last year, and I would like to put you in touch with each other.

    Things are a bit hectic this week, but I will email you at the weekend.

    Kind regards


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