By Judith Philips
It seems rather strange to me that mementos of the First World War were produced commercially, bought, sold and often kept for decades. In many ways you’d think people would want to forget the war and its horrors. But clearly having a souvenir meant a lot to families during the war and in the aftermath. And I can still remember, as a child, visiting an elderly relative and being given a large book about the war to look at while the adults talked.
As part of the “To Serve King and Country” project, members of the public have loaned various objects connected to the war and Teesdale for us to photograph. I’ve previously mentioned the embroidered postcards that were so popular on the Western Front as souvenirs. And I’d recommend coming to Andrew Marriott’s talk on North East Trench Art (15th October at 2.30 in the Museum, £3.00 or free with admission or for Friends) for a fascinating insight into a different kind of souvenir.
Humour and satire played a large part in trench life – you might have seen some of the beautifully-drawn cartoons and caricatures that Les Davison, friend of George Croft, had drawn. And humour was even available commercially. Recently someone brought in a china bowl that had sat in a relative’s house for decades. It has a cartoon printed inside – might have been quite a shock to find that when you picked up the last apple from the bowl! The caption reads: ‘What time do they feed the sea lions, Alf?’
Another souvenir that has been loaned to the project is a tea plate, decorated with the flags of Great Britain, France, Italy, Japan and Belgium, with ‘ENTENTE 1914 THE DAY IS OURS!’ And just recently someone brought in a mug marked ‘A SOUVENIR OF THE GREAT WAR A PRESENT FROM GRAINS-O-BECK’. The mug includes the dates war started, the armistice was declared and peace was signed. It was clearly meant to commemorate the Treaty of Versailles that officially ended the war in 1919. There are portraits of Admiral Beatty and General Haig with Britannia on a throne.
If you have any artefacts or stories about Teesdale people or places during the First World War, we’d love to hear from you. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us through the project’s website www.thebowesmuseumww1.org.uk.