Our WWI exhibition is fast approaching

By Judith Phillips

“To Serve King and Country” – Exploring the role of Teesdale in WWI opens to the public at 1.00 on Saturday 20th October and runs until Sunday 3rd March 2019.  As you can imagine, the week before the exhibition opens is very busy but it’s been a great privilege to be so closely involved in all aspects of the planning and preparation.

Putting on an exhibition based on the project has always been part of the project.  It’s an opportunity to highlight the results of research over more than four years by volunteers.  More than 150 people have contributed information, stories, memorabilia, time and research skills to the project – more than 3000 hours so far (and we’re not finished yet!).

Over the years more than 2000 names have been added to the initial Roll of Honour and, in many cases, we’ve been able to contribute an immense amount of additional information about men and women from Teesdale who served during the war or were otherwise involved in war work.  In the exhibition we’ve only been able to highlight a few stories but all the names on the Roll of Honour will be on display and visitors will be able to access the full digital version on iPads in the exhibition space.  Selecting people for the exhibition has been a very hard task – there are so many fascinating stories relating to people with a connection to Teesdale.

One of the surprising outcomes of the research has been the realisation that Teesdale people were really involved in or connected to places worldwide.  We talk about ‘World War 1’ but for most people the images we have in our minds belong to the muddy trenches of Flanders on the Western Front.  But we have found Teesdale men and women in Russia, the Middle East, Africa and roaming the seas in the Royal Navy; we have found Teesdale men who emigrated to Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States who fought in the war.

And it’s not just the men and women on the front line who were involved the war.  Every casualty meant sadness for a family.  Government campaigns and local initiatives raised funds, entertained convalescents, controlled foodstuffs and provided ‘comforts’ for the troops.  Even children’s toys reflected the war.  Different methods of remembrance and post-war difficulties remind us of the longer-term effects of the war.  Throughout the project local communities have been involved, and modern responses from school and university students and young men in HMYOI (Deerbolt) will be on display alongside a community artwork which will be populated with poppies, marguerites and cornflowers during the exhibition run.

We don’t generally think of embroidery as having any connection to the war but it was often used as a therapeutic exercise for men recovering from wounds or illness and local sales of work, as fund-raising events, included embroidered items.  Men in France frequently sent home beautifully embroidered postcards and these provided employment and income for women in France.  We are very pleased to be able to include material from the Embroiderers’ Guild exhibition Calm during the Storm in our exhibition.  We are very grateful, too, for the loan of DLI material and local memorabilia. 

A programme of events and activities in conjunction with the exhibition is being prepared (details on the website).  Please come and join us for knitting, gallery talks, book group and drop-in handling sessions from the DLI.