The final weeks of the project

I hope some of you were able to join us during the last weeks of the project as there were several very exciting events. As it was half-term holiday weeks in Durham and North Yorkshire in late February, there were events to interest the whole family.  Staff and volunteers from the DLI Resource Centre brought along a range of objects for visitors to handle – it’s not every day you get the chance to pick up a piece of shrapnel, handle an officer’s pistol, feel the weight of ammunition and marvel at the care that went into creating keepsakes for families back home.  Life in the trenches and at home was brought to life when visitors had an opportunity to find out about food during the war, including eating biscuits made to WWI recipes (and I can vouch for them being very good!).

As part of the exhibition “For King and Country”, we were delighted to display items from the Embroiderers’ Guild.  However, we weren’t able to display all the items that had WWI connections.  So I was very pleased when the Guild agreed we could display these extra items for a few hours on Friday 1st March. Nearly thirty people came to look at the embroideries, including one visitor who had come up from South Yorkshire especially to see them and was then bowled over by the museum collections and is coming back for a more leisurely visit!

We made that Friday a WWI Embroidery Day with pat Aston-Smith, a member of the Embroiderers’ Guild running a workshop in the morning and giving a talk in the afternoon.  In the workshop seven people (including me – a very amateur embroiderer!) worked on creating poppy brooches using material, wire and a variety of stitches.  Pat also demonstrated other ways to create depth and texture with embroidery stitches to enhance the poppy brooches.  Pat’s talk – Love Letters from the Front – was beautifully illustrated by her won collection of WWI embroidered postcards (she had generously allowed us to use some in our exhibition) – the postcards provided employment for women as well as giving soldiers a lovely souvenir to send to loved ones at home.

To complete the public events for the project we held an open meeting on the morning of Saturday 2nd March and a series of short talks in the afternoon.  What a range of topics we covered in the morning!  Volunteers talked about the ‘flu epidemic, the joys (and difficulties) of doing research, a Teesdale conscientious objector and the son of an attendant at the museum who went on to make a career in the Indian Army.  The writers of the playlets created and performed as part of Barnard Castle town Council’s contribution to the national ‘The Battle’s over’ commemoration in November 2018 talked about how they had used the project and their own research, and we were very lucky to have one of the playlets performed for us – it was very moving.  Looking to the future, we had a demonstration of a new platform to support a digital version of the exhibition as well as stories and the Roll of Honour.

In the afternoon we had three short illustrated talks about some of what happened when the fighting ended.  Professor Charlotte Robson (Northumbria University) covered some of the difficulties involved in negotiating the Treaty of Versailles which was signed in July 1919; Dr Daniel Laqua (Northumbria University) outlined international efforts to work better together to prevent further war; and Dr André Kiel (John Moores University, Liverpool) spoke about the troubles surrounding the birth of the German Republic in the aftermath of the Kaiser’s abdication and the end of the war.  all the talks raised interesting questions and encouraged the audience to reflect on the war and its aftermath.

The exhibition ended on Sunday 3rd March and it has clearly been well-received.  So it was a busy but very thought-provoking, stimulating and enjoyable week or so that saw the official end of the project but clearly there’s till scope for more work.  If you’re interested in doing research or data-inputting as we continue populating the Roll of Honour (which we hope will form part of the museum’s future commemorations on Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday), please get in touch with me: judith.phillips@thebowesmuseum.org.uk.