By Judith Phillips
Our First World War exhibition is now up and running at the museum until 3rd March 2019. We had the official opening on Saturday 20th October when about eighty people attended the morning event. It was rather an emotional time as the exhibition represented the culmination of many hours of work, not just in the exhibition preparation but during the project itself.
Sir Mark Wrightson, Chair of the Museum Trustees, opened the event by brandishing a 1918 trench periscope that belonged in his family – a rather classier example than the one currently on display but both very effective and necessary in trench warfare. Jane Whittaker, Head of Collections at the museum, gave a brief overview of the project and thanked the various institutions, charities and other groups who have supported the project and the exhibition. She then introduced the Lord Lieutenant of County Durham who formally opened the event after a brief speech.
I was very pleased to have an opportunity to thank my colleagues in the Exhibition, Conservation and Education teams and Rupert Philbrick who worked as Community Co-ordinator for the first half of the project. But mainly I wanted to thank people from the community who have so generously shared their stories and allowed us to borrow material for the exhibition, as well as the project volunteers who so far have put in more than 3000 hours in research and inputting.
It was great to see so many volunteers and supporters of the project at the exhibition opening. I am sorry I wasn’t able to speak to everyone but be assured that you were very much appreciated.
I had the privilege of taking Barnard Castle Mayor, Sandra Moorhouse, around the exhibition. Sandra has been a great supporter of the project since its beginning. She was accompanied by her grandson who had just flown in from Abu Dhabi but he wanted to see the exhibition as he is studying the First World War at school.
It was so moving when we went through to the exhibition. Some people saw their fathers’ photographs and medals, others saw souvenirs from fathers and grandfathers; another was delighted to see a diary kept by a family member; others saw socks and caps they had knitted to WWI patterns.
The rolling Roll of Honour lists all the names on the database and will be added to, in due course. Over 2500 names take about 50 minutes to scroll past. A world map from 1914 has been used to show how men and women with Teesdale connections were involved in fighting and nursing hundreds and thousands of miles from home.
It has always been important that modern generations have an opportunity to reflect on the war. So knitted and crocheted poppies, marguerites and cornflowers are being stuck onto a large canvas painting of a field in Flanders or France, a selection of poems and prose by primary school pupils, secondary school and university students and young men in HMYOI (Deerbolt) can be seen, and visitors are encouraged to leave a note of their thoughts.
A programme of events around the exhibition is being arranged and details are on the museum website.
I do hope you will have an opportunity to visit the exhibition and I look forward to your comments (we’ve already had a couple of good suggestions).