Going to the Bowes felt like putting on an old hat, I’ve visited several times as a child including a time where an actress in full costume pretended to be a ghost of a Victorian woman haunting the grounds. I remember she sung in French. It was the first piece of performance I really appreciated as a child and it did inspire me to pursue the performing arts as I am doing so right at this time.
Anyway, the main aim of yesterday was to soak up as much history as possible from WW1 using the resources from the Bowes Museum Library and archives. These sources varied in form, from letters, postcards and even a diary from a soldier who was on the front line. The first letter I read happened to be the original letter requesting that the Roll of Honour to be made in order to keep track of all serving in WW1 in the Teeside counties including Barnard Castle and Durham. Interestingly the names for all of the nurses on the front line were all requested- this was something I did not expect. I thought that the women of the war effort were mostly overlooked during WW1 but this was a pleasantly surprising revelation.
I went on to read a copy of a Roll of Honours that listed a civilian as well as the soldiers and staff on the western front. I was slightly confused at this but found it to be an astonishing find as the information documented about Mr Watkins in quite remarkable- he was the first Englishman under the age of 50 to escape from Germany or Austria since the outbreak of the war.
I then went on to read newspapers from 1916- quite charmingly filled with adverts for Beechams and Swamp Root as the cure for seemingly any ailment! However, two stories from this paper have stuck with me in the most emotionally charged way. The first was about a solider (whom had fought in wars previous to WW1) who hadn’t been called to fight in WW1 again and was in financial distress. As a consequence of this distress he shot himself on a train, leaving his wife a note telling her to keep his ring and she had been more than a wife to him as well and finishing saying “Auld Lang Syne. God Bless”. This was a seriously harrowing story because of the matter of fact writing style of the piece and the harrowing farewell note he left for his wife. It resonated with me deeply.
Moving onto the other story that really stuck with me it involved one major thing. Socks. It was a statement from a soldier from the front line asking the public to send them socks as they had plenty of mittens and mufflers but yearned for the feeling of dry socks. This was the most inconceivable thing to me because it was such a simple ask during a time of such sorrow- but untimely even more touching because it shows that soldiers were human beings the same as with such humble wants and asks but were willing to put some much on the line for their country.
Another thing that was so shocking to me was how music and song were so essential during WW1. The amount of little ditties and rhymes that were sung to express emotions and keep things upbeat during the war was amazingly inspiring to me as I never realised that people relied on music during the war to express their emotions so vividly (as shown in the photographs within this post). As I was feeling inspiring I wrote a small ditty myself that can be seen below from the perspective of a child saying goodbye as their father goes away to war (please click on image to enlarge my poem):
(Sorry for the depressing poetry but I felt very emotional at the time of this writing!)
Having walked around the grounds of Bowes itself (they are visually stunning) I feel that I would like to use them in some form within whatever I produce as part of this internship. I’m not sure how yet but I’m determined to do it! I’m not sure where my research will lead me as it is ongoing but I’m determined to make something great as a tribute and memorial to the many great men, women and animals who sacrificed their lives so that we could live.