Discovering the Dude

Fans of the classic Coen Brothers film, The Big Lebowski, will remember Jeff Bridges’ brilliant performance as the Dude. However, let me introduce you to a much earlier – and very different! – Dude. Our Dude is called John (or Jack) Pulman and served in the British Navy during the First World War.

Photograph of Jack Pulman, 1917

Jack Pulman, 1917

Thanks to funding from the Heritage Lottery, we are currently undertaking a project, called Diary of a Dude, revolving around Jack’s incredible First World War diary and the many photographs he took during the War. Having been a merchant seaman, Liverpool-born Jack signed up for the Navy in October 1914 whilst working in the Hong Kong area, which is when his journal entries begin. His first two entries read:

“October 30th,1914. Hong Kong. Volunteers wanted for Royal Navy to complete various ships company. Enquired terms of service and finding them satisfactory, volunteered. October  31st, accepted and signed on for the period of the war.”

All very interesting, you may be thinking, but why the ‘Diary of a Dude’ title? As we first looked through the diary, we were delighted to find that – as well as a seriously talented photographer – Jack was a musician and he formed a band with a few fellow sailors, calling themselves the Deolali Dudes and performing at various entertainment concerts the men would put on for each other. The Deolali part of their name comes from one of the army camps that Jack and some his fellow sailors went to for rest and recuperation. The Deolali transit camp was in the Nashik district of Maharashtra, India and had been a British camp since 1849. It continued to be used by the British during the First and Second World Wars and became a camp notorious for both being unpleasant and for the psychological problems of the many service personnel that passed through it. This latter part of its reputation gave birth to the phrase ‘gone doolally’ (a derivation of Deolali). Whatever Jack made of the camp, he and his friends performed under the band name at various social events there and elsewhere. Included in the diary are copies of hand-drawn (possibly by Jack) programmes for concerts, where we can find out exactly what tunes the Dudes played and what other entertainment the evening offered.

Photograph of Jack Pulman and the rest of the Deolali Dudes, circa 1916

The Deolali Dudes, c. 1916, with Jack back row, far right

As you can imagine, whenever we have something like Jack’s diary donated to the archive, we’re desperate to look inside and find out more about the people associated with the document. However, the first priority has to be making sure we can preserve the document as well as possible and make it available to the public for research and study. In the case of Jack’s diary, it was clear that a lot of work was needed before making it available for research.

An example of a badly damaged photograph from the diary with parts of the image ripped away

An example of a badly damaged photograph from the diary

The journal was in a poor state, with extensive water damage (appropriately for a naval diary!) and the spine of the volume was very weak, meaning that the diary could not be opened fully without causing further damage. Included with the diary are almost 150 photographs and images. The majority of these have been glued directly onto pages of the diary and many of these were also in poor condition. Over time, most adhesives cause damage to paper and, combined with water damage, this had added to the condition problems we now faced. Where photographs had been glued to opposite pages, many of them had stuck to each other and then someone had tried to prise them apart, leaving images with portions missing or torn.

We knew that we needed to bring in a professional conservator to make sure that the diary and its remarkable contents could be repaired as best as possible. Thanks to the Heritage Lottery funding we were able to do this and it was a joy to have the diary return looking fantastic and to be able to open it (thanks to a new spine!) and discover more about Jack and his experiences during the War.

Jack also seems to have played a role in inventing a new sport to keep people entertained during shore leave: donkey football! The diary comes with a set of rules for the sport that include: “donkeys must not charge the goalkeeper” and “should one donkey mount another, a foul is given against the mounting donkey”! Who knows what the donkeys made of this, although the rules do state that “no sticks [are] to be used against donkeys, or cruelty of any kind.”

Photograph of a game of donkey football, circa 1917

A game of donkey football underway! c. 1917

As we’re into the Christmas season, it’s worth highlighting Christmas 1915 on board Jack’s ship, as what Jack calls a “catastrophe” had happened: they’d run out of spuds. “Pity our Christmas dinner,” Jack writes. The dinner ended up being:

“a proper scrape up…a little bit of tough mutton and a few half cooked marrowfat peas…while the sweets consisted of a bit of workhouse duff that we had managed to knock up. The wines (don’t skit): one whole bottle of bulldog beer per man.” 

Of course, the majority of the diary is concerned with Jack’s time on board ship and is filled with descriptions of skirmishes and battles, as well as their daily routine of stopping and searching local shipping traffic in the Red Sea and off the east coast of Africa. His photographs include images of enemy ships, prisoners and local boats being searched, as well as weaponry and serious-looking officers. Jack also demonstrates that his artistic skills extended to watercolours and he includes a couple of paintings in the diary. One of these is a map showing the North Africa and the Suez Canal area, with ports Jack visited, and another shows how a skirmish with enemy forces played out, with the positions of the combatants marked on a painting of the coastline.

A watercolour map of the North African coast and Suez Canal, painted by Jack Pulman, circa 1915

A watercolour map of the North African coast and the Suez Canal, painted by Jack Pulman, c. 1915

As the diary continues through the War, Jack’s descriptions of daily activity become more and more brief, perhaps reflecting how normal and mundane these extraordinary circumstances were becoming to him. The emphasis in his entries shifts from describing naval activity to taking more pleasure in describing places they pass through or the free time that he and his colleagues clearly relished. His photographs also begin to reflect this, with some beautiful landscape and architecture photography, images of local people he encounters on his travels, and an increasing number of images showing colleagues relaxing and enjoying themselves. Jack even shares his camera with colleagues, resulting in his friend Kerrison providing an early example of the selfie: photographing himself looking in a mirror!

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Of course, as much as we find Jack’s descriptions of the War fascinating, he will have spent much of his time wanting to get home to his wife and young child. This sense of frustration is made plain by an entry that reflects on the three years he has been with the Navy:

“October 31st 1914 to November 14th 1917: 3 years of wasted time.”

If you would like to read more extracts from the Diary and follow Jack’s journeys, we have a dedicated Twitter page where we are posting extracts and images on a regular basis: Diary of the Dude

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Roll Out The Barrell: Discovering the Huyton Cricket Club

Anyone who has been following our Twitter (@knowsleyarchive) posts over the past few months may have been bowled over by a sudden surge of cricket related tweets and images popping up on our timeline. As you may have spotted, the reason for them is because, thanks to our Heritage Lottery funding, I have been cataloguing and digitising the wonderful records of the Huyton Cricket and Bowling Club. Despite having always been stumped by cricket and my Dad failing to hand over his love of the game to me, this is a collection that’s really hit me for six (okay, okay, I promise that will be the last cricket pun).

HCC-1-4-7 team photo

Huyton Cricket Club First XI, c. 1886

Huyton Cricket and Bowling Club was formed at a meeting on 7 May 1860, with their first match taking place just a few weeks later against Bootle Cricket Club and they would go on to become a successful club in the Liverpool and District Cricket Competition (as it would become known). Nicknamed ‘the Villagers’, they were moderately successful at different points in their history, with the early 1920s an especially triumphant period. The club was established as a ‘gentlemen’s’ club and during the majority of its history the membership would have been regarded as of a higher social status than some of the other Huyton cricket clubs, such as the Huyton and Roby Working Men’s Cricket and Bowling Club or Huyton Recs.

The records in the collection include committee minutes, some very colourfully decorated scrapbooks (see slideshow below), photographs from across the history of the club, fixture books, and correspondence. The minutes, particularly from the first eighty or so years of the club, are filled with tantalising glimpses of some of the intriguing characters involved in the club, on and off the field. They also offer fascinating insights into how the club reacted to major events, both close to and far away from Huyton, including the First and Second World Wars. It is during the First World War that we have the first mention of a man who would become a central part of the cricket club’s most successful playing period and remain with the club, in various roles, until his retirement: Ben Barrell.

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Barrell was signed up as a cricket professional at some point close to the outbreak of the First World War and he is referenced in the committee minutes of June 10th, 1915:

“the secretary mentioned that he had received complaints about the club employing two men of military age. The recruiting sergeant had visited the two men in question and urged them to join. It was decided that Mr. H. Eccles [the Chair] should quietly tell the men it was their duty to join, but that no pressure would be put upon them.”

Barrell was one of those two men and he did indeed soon leave to fight in the war. Both men survived the war and Barrell would return to Huyton Cricket Club. It is easy to see from the club’s committee minutes and crammed scrapbooks of newspaper cuttings that Barrell was a very talented player and an essential part of the club’s greatest successes. He was often the only professional player at the club and was an asset they were proud of. It is rare to find a page in the scrapbooks of the 1920s and 1930s that doesn’t feature a headline or article proclaiming this all-rounder’s name, typically in the matter-of-fact and understated tones of sports journalism in this period: “Barrell Bowls and Bats Well” or “Barrell in Bright Batting Display.”

In photographs, Barrell has remarkable, intense eyes that could suggest he was an intimidating opponent and teammate, but the picture of him created by the records in our collection instead show him to be a popular and well-liked presence both on and off the pitch. According to P.N. Walker’s book The Liverpool Competition, Barrell was made “a life member of the Club, became 1st XI umpire and played bowls there until his death at the age of 80” and was also groundsman and a coach. Alongside these duties and being the club’s professional (and best?) player, Barrell’s other responsibilities included preparing and cleaning the team’s kits and packing their bags before matches.1

HCC-1-4-9 p115 a Barrell crop

Ben Barrell, 1926

Ben Barrell, and other professionals who were signed up by Huyton, may have had relatively humble beginnings, but most of the amateurs who played for the team (at least during its first 100 years or so) were solidly middle or upper-middle class. In many of the photographs we have from the club’s early days and most successful periods, players appear relaxed and confident, with an air of leisurely comfort; a cigarette may be hanging casually between the fingers of one or two, or they lounge at the side of a road on the way to a match, a beautiful motor car in the background. A selection of these photographs are in the slideshow below.

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When trying to get an idea of Huyton Cricket and Bowling Club at different points in its history, the many scrapbooks in this collection are excellent resources. Alongside the match reports, articles, fixture books, and photographs, there are a number of delightful newspaper caricatures of Huyton’s cricket players: a frequent feature of sports columns in local papers at the time. As well as being amusing to look at, they also offer an insight into which of the players were catching the eyes of the local sports reporters and, presumably, the spectators. Some of the cartoons make use of curious illustrations that may be references that would have made more sense to the readers of that period, or could be references to cricketing terminology that goes over my head! The donkey and teddy bear in the Bootle v Huyton cartoon in the slideshow below, for example, could be references to the players’ performances or something else entirely! And what of the white mice in the Wallasey v Huyton cartoon?

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The Huyton Cricket and Bowling Club collection is a wonderful and evocative set of documents. At some point during the next year or so, one of our Heritage Lottery funded community projects will be focused on Knowsley’s sporting heritage, so I am sure we will be making use of the collection and hopefully giving people the chance to see more of the treasures within it. To not make use of it when such an opportunity presents itself would be…well, it just wouldn’t be cricket, would it?

1Walker, P.N. 1988. The Liverpool Competition: A Study of the Development of Cricket on Merseyside. Birkenhead: Countyvise Limited, p. 77