Their Past Your Future museum and archive projects respond to Remembrance Sunday

By Richard Moss | 07 November 2009
a film still reel showing a girl in a red dress

(Above) A Their Past Your Future project exploring the Yorkshire Film Archive is just one of a series of projects taking an innovative approach to tackling the meaning of remembrance.

As we approach Remembrance Sunday and the 90th anniversary of remembering our war dead, the ways and reasons we commemorate are once again coming into sharp focus.

This year saw the death of the last surviving British veteran of the Great War, Harry Patch, whilst the death toll of serving soldiers in Afghanistan means the act of remembrance takes on new meanings and resonances.

So how, now that the First Word War has passed into history, do we approach themes raised by Remembrance Sunday and address the continuing need to remember the fallen?

A project tackling these questions is Their Past Your Future (TPYF), the lottery backed education scheme exploring 20th century conflict.

Amongst the many projects it has funded since its inception in 2004 are four museum, gallery and archive projects that use a range of innovative methods and materials to tackle the shifting meanings of commemoration whilst encouraging children to explore these themes for themselves.

“A programme of this nature enables young people and their communities to learn and engage through participation,” says Eve Pattinson, TPYF project officer at the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, which administers the scheme. “Many of the TPYF projects have developed some hugely interesting work on the contemporary nature of Remembrance and its continued significance.”

a photo of children around the tomb of the unknown warrior

Visiting the tomb of the Unknown Warrior at Westminster Abbey. Courtesy Bexley Local Studies Library

One such project, instigated by Westminster Archives and developed in partnership by Bexley Archives, has revisited one of the most potent symbols of commemoration, the tomb in Westminster Abbey of the Unknown Warrior.

Brought from France and buried at the West End of the Abbey Nave to lie “among the most illustrious of the land” the grave represents all those who have no other memorial. The project, called Not Forgotten: Raising Awareness of the Meaning of Remembrance Day, revisits this poignant act by getting schoolchildren to explore the lives of four soldiers from different backgrounds who died with no known grave during the First World War.

Westminster City Archives and Bexley Local Studies Library worked together with schoolchildren from Our Lady of the Rosary Primary School in Bexley and schools in Westminster to commemorate First World War soldiers who included Thomas Highgate, the first British soldier to be executed for desertion and Walter Tull, the first black British infantry officer.

Each class used archives to research the soldier’s army careers and visited the local war memorial to explore their stories, before finishing with a visit to Westminster Abbey to visit the tomb of the Unknown Warrior.

a photo of children in a classroom

Classroom work as well as site and archive visits were important to the Not Forgotten project in Bexley. Courtesy Bexley Local Studies Library

“I think they have all valued looking at a First World War soldier and being able to find out about it for themselves by looking at the names on the war memorial then investigating the stories in the archives and on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website,” says Simon McKeon Archivist & Records Manager at Bexley Local Studies & Archive Centre.

Resources from the project include cross-curricular resource booklets, activity packs and an animated film, all of which are available on the Bexley Local Studies website.

“We have been able to transfer all of that experience from the TPYF project and take it forward,” adds Simon. “We have three other schools signed up to do similar projects, so it’s become an embedded part of our education delivery.”

In Blackpool, the Council’s Cultural Services have taken a creative and very 21st century approach to commemoration with a project that works with primary schools to investigate how modern artistic interpretation influences ideas of past conflicts and remembrance.

Working with poets and artists, local youngsters have been exploring archives and collections whilst making visits to local sites with historical links to past wars to produce their own creative interpretations of the impact of conflict.

The sites ranged from the local zoo, which was once a factory producing World War Two Wellington Bombers, to a pill box and artwork in the local park and the local war memorial.

a graphic that says art of war

The Art of War - a book of poems and artwork by primary school pupils in Blackpool

As Lyn Pattinson of Blackpool Archives explains, the visits brought a sense of place to the project and allowed the children to contextualise archive material as well as their own thoughts on remembrance.

“I think going to the memorial and garden brought a reality to things,” she says, “a real sense of place for the children. They also looked at the archives that day, looked at World War Two footage, did their own research, made their own notes, and worked with a gallery education officer by looking at paintings in the art gallery.

“They had a full range of influences before they started thinking about writing or painting with their teachers.”

An exhibition of the pupils’ artwork and poems was held at Blackpool Library and now a book and teacher’s notes have been put together for use by schools across the area keen to use its methods as a means of exploring remembrance.

At the Yorkshire Film Archive a new project is also using an artist, Diane Howse, and the insights of schoolchildren, this time to explore a wartime collection of documentaries, home movies and newsreels.

A new film and exhibition called I can still see you (Image and Memory: Life at Home in WW2), is being produced that will be inaugurated at the contemporary art gallery, Project Space Leeds, in March 2010.

“It will offer a variety of points of view on everyday life and the home front during World War Two, with a particular focus on the lives of children,” says Anna Briggs, Education Officer at the Yorkshire Film Archive. “Children will be incorporated into the curatorial process and inform the intergenerational education work aligned to the exhibition.”

a photo of children and an adult next a bunker

(Above) A site visit with an artist to look at a public artwork and pillbox in Blackpool. Courtesy Balckpool Council

Alongside the images, a series of resources have been developed including a learning pack, workshops for young people, screenings and reminiscence sessions. Guided visits for audience groups and a resource room will allow visitors to spend some time seeing the exhibition, consulting books, watching DVDs, playing games and handling replicas of wartime objects.

Yorkshire is also home to an ongoing project that goes to the heart of the Remembrance experience. Two Minute Silence is a web based project from the University of Huddersfield Archives & Special Collections that has been tracing the evolution and continuing relevance of the Remembrance Day tradition.

At its core are the personal experience and testimony of pupils at two Huddersfield schools, their family elders, and a day care centre.

The result is a vibrant online exploration of the conflicts and the people, through memories and testimony of ordinary men, women and children at that time. The project also examines the generation-long effects of war on ex-servicemen and women, their families, from the trenches of the First World War to Iraq and Afghanistan today including people from other countries who have been, or whose relatives still are, involved in conflict situations.

www.two-minutesilence.co.uk features an archive of original and recorded material, a series of personally crafted two-minute reflections for the Oral History Unit website, the University Archives website, as well as an exhibition.

a website screenshot

University of Huddersfield Archives & Special Collections has been tracing the evolution and continuing relevance of a Remembrance Day tradition.

“Museums, libraries and archives are ideal partners for such work as they provide the opportunity to see, touch and discuss objects, gain knowledge about our past and discuss issues important to our future,” adds Eve Pattinson

“Each of these projects uses collections as a starting point for many of the debates related to how historically we have looked at remembrance in our society and how we are moving towards new meanings.”

Their Past Your Future was originally launched in 2004, and now in its second phase, is currently funded by the Big Lottery Fund and administered by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. It uses historical sources, sites, museums, veterans and eyewitnesses of war to increase young people's understanding of history, commemoration, national identity and civic participation today. Find out more at www.culture24.org.uk/tpyf.

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