November is a time of remembrance for many in the United Kingdom. The 11th day of November is the anniversary of Armistice Day, and has become a time to reflect upon both the past and present sacrifices being made by service personnel.

The North Herts museum service has an extensive collection of military objects, these include uniform, photographs and everyday items such as ration books. In order to commemorate the ending of the First World War we have selected photographs of a small number of items in storage to share with you here today.

Figure I is a photograph of Graham Sydney Gilbertson a second Lieutenant in the Bedfordshire Regiment, 4th Battalion and later the 7th Battalion. Unfortunately Mr Gilbertson died aged 19 on the 28th November 1917, he is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial .

Fig I Graham S Gilbertson

Fig I Graham S Gilbertson


Figure II shows the Death Plaque commemorating Graham S Gilbertson’s life and death. The plaques were presented to the families of all who died during the First World War.


Fig II Death Plaque

Fig II Death Plaque

Figure III is a ration book which is dated 6th July 1918 belonging to a local family of the name Waldock. Rationing was not introduced until February 1918 and was a response to an increase in German U-boat activity in the Atlantic. The Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) had been established in 1914 in order to ensure food shortages did not occur, in spite of initial panic buying in 1914 the population settled well into a routine until late in 1916. Britain relied upon food imports from Canada and America and until 1916 this was a relatively safe business, however in 1917 German U-boat activity increased and merchant ships were attacked. This resulted in DORA issuing a self-rationing policy which, unfortunately was not sufficiently effective and the continuing U-boat activity in the Atlantic meant that malnutrition was becoming a problem by 1918. In January 1918 sugar was rationed, and by the end of April butter, margarine, cheese and meat were added to the list. The decision to introduce rationing was shown to be the correct one as levels of malnutrition decreased.

Fig III National Ration Book

Fig III National Ration Book


We Will Remember Them




Whilst carrying out an audit of the social history store at Burymead in Hitchin we came across two interesting children’s books which we have decided to share with you. They are called Bubble Books and are titled ‘The Merry Midgets’ (1917) and ‘The Pie Party’ (1920). The following is a brief history of the company who published them.

The story of the Harper-Columbia Bubble Book series begins in 1917 in the USA when Ralph Mayhew, an employee of Harper came up with the idea of producing a series of books for children which included records which sang to the reader. Mayhew promoted them with the tagline ‘Harper Columbia Book that Sings’. The price of the books varied over time, on their first release they were retailed at $1.00 in 1917, which then increased to $1.50 in 1920, $1.25 in 1921 and then finally in 1922 returned to the original price of $1.00.


The success of the Bubble Book series resulted in Harper Columbia making a deal with British publishers Hodder and Stoughton Ltd in order to create a British edition of the books. On UK editions; as we have at Burymead the publisher is Hodder-Columbia, a reflection of the deal between the two companies. Sales of the series were good but began to tail off in the early to mid 1920s when the patent for the series was purchased by Victor Talking Machine Company in 1924.

On obtaining the patent Victor published a series of six Bubble Books; the new editions were larger and had double sided records which appealed to the public who embraced the new format; this was reflected in Victor’s decision to manufacture a phonograph decorated with images from the Bubble Book series, this was priced at $18.00.


By 1930 sales began to fall , perhaps as a result of the economic situation following the Wall Street crash of 1929. In 1930 Ralph Mayhew regained the copyright and Columbia began production of the Bubble Book once again in partnership with Dodd, Mead and Company. In the following two years production was wound down and ended with the release of records from Bubble Books 13-16 alongside the Clarion recording label.

The historical importance of the Bubble Book series is reflected in their inclusion in the Library of Congress (USA) as part of the National Recording Registry. In 2004 Bubble Book #1 was added to the registry because of its importance as the first children’s book and record series.