Civilians Caught Up in War

The four case studies presented in this theme illustrate the very real dangers to civilians posed by twentieth century warfare. They span regions and time periods, from Europe during World War I to Iraq in the 1970s. The earliest case studies concern the First World War: Jane Abbott was an American visitor who found herself in Vienna when the shot was fired which initiated one of the most destructive wars in human history. William Molony, a British teenager, was in Germany when war was declared and found himself not only unable to return home but subsequently imprisoned for two years. "Life or Death of the World" tells of Constance Malleson's life and adventures in England, Finland and Sweden during the Second World War. Despite some hardship, these three civilians all survived the wars which swept them up; Alex Aronson was not so fortunate. A lifelong humanitarian, he was arrested by Sadam Hussein's troops during a volunteer mission to Kurdistan in 1975 and was executed shortly afterwards.

Case Study: An American in Vienna on the Outbreak of the First World War: Jane Abbott’s Diary

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    Leaflet, 1914
While her physician husband studied, Jane Abbott spent much of the summer of 1914 absorbing the art and culture of Vienna. Typical Americans abroad, they were eager to absorb all that Europe had to offer. However, their stay was to be cut short by an event which, when its repercussions finally ended, was to cost almost 20 million lives.

Case Study: Alex Aronson, Volunteer Medical Worker and Humanitarian

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    Mulder, Robert and Lejo Siepe, Paperback cover, 1993
Child survivor of the Holocaust, Alex Aronson dedicated his life to bringing aid to those caught up in war, especially children. McMaster’s Alex Aronson collection provides insights into a remarkable man through letters written from October 1962 until his untimely death at the hands of Saddam Hussein in December 1975.

Case Study: A British Teenager Caught Up in the First World War: William O’Sullivan Molony

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    Molony, William O'Sullivan, Photograph, 14 May 1915
From a family New Year’s party in a peaceful English seaside town to a German prison camp, 1914 was to prove a fateful year for a seventeen year old British teenager.

Case Study: “Life or Death of the World”: Letters from England and Scandinavia, 1939-1945

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    Malleson, Constance [aka O'Niel, Colette], Photograph, 1938
Constance Malleson, in a series of letters to her former lover and lifelong friend Bertrand Russell, provides a vivid account of life during World War II. She writes first from her home in the English countryside, later from Finland, and then, following her escape from attack by the Soviet Union, from Sweden. Her letters provide valuable insights into the hardships of war, as seen from the civilian perspective.

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