When I got the email saying I could apply for an internship with Bowes Museum, it brought back a memory of when I was very young, when my parents took me for a visit. I remembered a very grand building, and the mechanical swan. My parents bought me a keyring: a replica of the fish the swan ‘eats’. I probably still have it, in a drawer somewhere. Suffice to say I was pretty happy when I got a place on the internship.
During my interview, I was introduced to the concept of living memory: something I’d never thought about before. How does society collectively remember something, when there is no one living left to ask? With memory being something I frequently return to in my own writing, the question fascinated me. I can tell you what happened today pretty clearly. Yesterday, too, is fairly easy to recall. Further back will require some thought and mental mapping on my part, and the waters will only get muddier the further back I go. Certain things stand out vividly, certainly. I can tell you about how nervous I was on my first day of uni (and about how oblivious I was to everyone else feeling exactly the same). I can tell you what it was like to kiss the last girl I was involved with (fantastic, breathless, dizzy). I can even tell you about the first time I tried lobster (Halloween, a hotel in Glasgow). And I can speculate on why those three examples came to me just now (a recent similar feeling; desiderium; hunger, in that order). But what can I tell you about the First World War? Well, after the first day of my internship, and some time looking through the museum’s archives. I can tell you a few things. They’re all about horses.
War horses were separated into three categories: light horses to pull carts; medium horses for cavalry; heavy horses for pulling artillery. It was noted that the army didn’t favour the heavy horses, because they were less able to survive the rigours of war. Because my parents used to keep horses, the horse stuff interested me. I began to scan for more. There was a short article which detailed horse ‘education’ by the army, which was apparently more humane than breaking them in. They had to be trained to charge dummies, because a horse will not naturally charge at a person. Once they knew not to fear the dummies, they were taught to kick them. To prepare the horses for gunfire, fireworks were set off near them. In another article, the RSPCA were collecting for aid for the wounded horses, and there was a collection at Bowes. In another article, I read about a horse standing in the middle of the firing lines during a battle. When some of the Coldstream Guards crawled out to investigate, they found the horse was unharmed, though standing over the body of its dead rider. They had to blindfold it to lead it away; it wouldn’t leave otherwise. It made me think about Warhorse, which potentially opened up another line of inquiry for me to pursue.
So, those are a few things I learned today. We only scratched the surface, from what I gather, and I’m eager to find out more, and to come up with some way to re-remember all of this. And it doesn’t have to all be about horses.