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Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

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Welcome to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library blog! As the special collections and archives library at the University of Kansas, Spencer is home to remarkable and diverse collections of rare and unique items. Explore the blog to learn about the work we do and the materials we collect.

From Spencer’s Irish Collections: Internment Camp Autograph Book

March 14th, 2013

St. Patrick’s Day is this Sunday, March 17, so we thought we would highlight a fascinating artifact from the Kenneth Spencer Research Library’s rich Irish holdings.

Image of cover of Ballykinlar Internment Camp Autograph Book

This autograph book, dating from 1921, contains entries by inmates at Ballykinlar Internment Camp.  Located in County Down in what is now Northern Ireland, Ballykinlar was a British-run camp that housed Irish prisoners during the Anglo-Irish War, also known as the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921).

Image of the Autograph Book open to an embellished credit ticket and an inscription bearing a patriotic sentiment.

Image of Opening featuring quotation from Pearse and an inscription in Irish.

Photograph of an opening featuring an inscription in shorthand and a sketch.

Top: opening featuring an embellished camp credit ticket (left); Middle: opening featuring an inscription in Irish (right); Bottom: opening featuring a sketch and an inscription in shorthand.  Autograph Book, Ballykinlar Internment Camp, 1921. Call Number: MS K19. Click images to enlarge.

The book’s pages are filled with the internees’ inscriptions, drawings, patriotic sentiments, quotations, and poems (composed in English, Gaelic, and even shorthand).  Prisoners were housed in huts, as depicted in the sketch below, and many, like the author of the poem on the facing page, included their hut numbers when they signed their names.

Page containing the poem "The Angelus Bell" Last stanza of the poem “The Angelus Bell”, written in the autograph book by a Ballykinlar internee:


Falls soft the light on the Altar white
When fragrant flowers and incense blend
And as the Aves raise in devout appraise
Men’s souls to Mary, the sinner’s friend.
But faint’s the knell of the Angelus bell,
So the prisoner turns in his barbed-wire pen
To wait the day whenev’r Risings may [?],
The sun of Freedom shall shine again.

Image of a page containing a sketch of the camp's huts.

Poem “The Angelus Bell”  inscribed by an internee and facing page sketch of the camp. Autograph Book, Ballykinlar Internment Camp, 1921. Call Number: MS K19. Click images to enlarge.

This manuscript volume came to the Spencer Library from Ireland as part of the 25,000 item collection of Irish nationalist, civil servant, and book collector, P. S. O’Hegarty (1879-1955).  The collection is particularly strong in publications and ephemera related to Irish politics as well as literature of the Irish Literary Renaissance.  O’Hegarty’s  library contains another internment camp autograph book from the early twentieth century.  This second book belonged to a man named Paul Cusack, who was first a prisoner at Frongoch Internment Camp in Wales in 1916 following the Easter Rising and then later at Mountjoy Prison in Dublin in 1921 (Call Number: MS K18).  The portion of Cusack’s autograph book that dates from 1916 includes an inscription that appears to be by fellow Frongoch inmate Terence MacSwiney.  MacSwiney later became Lord Mayor of Cork and died during a hunger strike while incarcerated in Brixton Prison in 1920.  Autograph books such as these offer insight into an important period in Irish history.

To learn more about the Kenneth Spencer Research Library’s Irish Collections, visit the overview of Spencer’s Irish holdings on our website or delve deeper with our Irish Collections Lib Guide (especially helpful for identifying our Irish manuscript holdings).

Looking for St. Patrick’s Day-themed activities in town?  Lawrence’s annual St. Patrick’s Day parade will take place on March 17, 2013 at 1:30pm. On March 23, the Irish Roots Cafe will host a musical event at the Grenada, which will include Sean Nós style song in the Irish language.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

World War I Pen Pals

November 9th, 2012

This Sunday, November 11, is Veterans Day, and in honor of this we thought we would highlight a recent acquisition:  a group of letters that record one soldier’s World War I experiences in Europe.  The letters were written during 1915-1919  by Hector C. Henderson, who served as a private (later promoted to corporal) in the 1st Wellington Company, New Zealand Expeditionary Force.  Henderson, who was then in his early 30s, was writing to an American pen pal, Mae Josephine Gillette (born in about 1890),  who lived in Winsted, Connecticut. Henderson, who may have come from Australia (in June 1889 The Traralgon Record, Victoria, mentions a Hector C. Henderson, jun.), had worked as a railroad telegraph operator and clerk in New Zealand before the war. Writing first from New Zealand and later from England, France and Germany, Henderson filled 41 letters (237 pages) and 2 postcards with his observations about the horrors of  World War I.

Photograph of Hector C. Henderson (right) and unidentified man.

Photograph of Mae Josephine Gillette of Winsted, CT

Pen pals during World War I:  (top) Hector C. Henderson of New Zealand (figure on right by “x”) and
(bottom) Mae Josephine Gillette of Winsted, CT.  Henderson-Gillette World War I Collection.
(Recent Acquisition–call number to be assigned). Click to enlarge.

The first letter, sent from New Zealand in 1915, is written in shorthand (Gregg method). Henderson and Gillette had probably become acquainted through the Gregg shorthand pen-pal club that Henderson had joined in 1913 (The Gregg Writer, vol. 15:1912-1913). A 1916 letter cautions that shorthand letters won’t pass military censorship. The rest of the correspondence, written in pen or pencil on a variety of papers, is in ordinary cursive script. By 1918 Henderson reported that he was sick of war: “Saw a couple of Hun planes brought down…One of them was in flames when falling…this continual bombardment gets on my nerves…I’m writing this in my dug out & shells are screeching overhead. God how I wish it were all over.” In November 1918, the month when the war ended, he mentions his engagement to an English girl, and the correspondence ends in 1919. Hector’s letters must have been kept by Mae. A group of family photographs show Mae as an infant (1891), girl (age 12), and young woman (once with her parents and once alone). She may later have married Benjamin J. Wood of Millinocket, Maine, whose photograph is in the collection, along with a photograph of 2-year-old Mae Gillette Wood (their daughter?) holding a teddy bear.

Image of the first page of a letter from Henderson to Gillette in shorthand   Image of first page of letter from Henderson to Gillette, May 16, 1915

Left:  The first letter in the collection, a letter from Hector Henderson to Mae Gillette in shorthand (Gregg Method).
Right: A letter from Henderson to Gillette explaining that he can no longer write in shorthand since it won’t pass the
military censor.  Henderson-Gillette World War I Collection.(Recent Acquisition–call number to be assigned).
Click images to enlarge to legible size.


Karen S. Cook
Special Collections Librarian