The British Library's contribution to the Centenary of the First World War explores the personal experience of the conflict
Mining their extensive collection of First World War material, Enduring War: Grief, Grit and Humour explores personal experiences and the many ways those both at home and on the front line tried to cope with the enormity of the conflict.
Recruitment posters, humorous magazines and even a knitting pattern for balaclavas help tell stories of humour, faith and comradeship and explore the ideas of kinship and family that were at the heart of the everyday experience of First World War.
More famous items in the exhibition include a letter from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to his mother describing his worries about his son serving at the front. A letter from Isaac Rosenberg and the manuscripts of well-known war poets, such as Rupert Brooke, are also included.
The emphasis is on the extraordinarily ordinary and the juxtaposition of the famous with the everyday.
The soldier’s last letter home is displayed alongside manuscripts of Wilfred Owen’s Anthem for Doomed Youth, Vaughan Williams’ A Pastoral Symphony and Laurence Binyon’s For the Fallen.
Co-curator Alison Bailey described how the British Library aimed to bring together material with "national significance” alongside less familiar items such as Christmas cards and concert programmes.
“We have both a manuscript of Rupert Brooke’s poem ‘The Soldier’ and a card sent to him about socks," she added, observing some of the more unexpected exhibits.
"Personal and poignant stories sit alongside public statements and literary manuscripts, giving an enduring voice to some of the men, women and children who lived through the war.”
An atmospheric video and soundscape called Writing Home has also been commissioned for the show, using messages from personal postcards written to and from the front contributed by the public.
Many of the items on display can be explored on Europeana1914-1918.eu, the pan-European collection of First World War source material, and a brand new British Library First World War website which features more than 500 items from across Europe, together with articles by leading experts and teachers’ notes.
- Enduring War: Grief, Grit and Humour runs until October 12 2014 in the Folio Society Gallery
Click on the picture to launch the gallery
a propaganda poster with two children sat next to a father who looks into the distance from his armchair
a propaganda poster with an illustration of a soldier blowing a bugle
a propaganda poster showing a number of civilian hats with a military hat in the centre
a photograph of Indian soldiers seated with rifles at the ready in a trench
a studio photograph of a dog with a Union Jack
a poster with an illustration of a munitions worker
a photo of a handkerchief with words and music, flags and an illustration of marching soldiers
a photo of a handwritten poem on paper
a poster showing a woman looking out of a window stoically with her children as a group of soldiers march into the distance
For more on First World War Centenary visit 1914.org.
Explore the Europeana First World War website at europeana1914-1918.eu.
Visit the British Library’s First World War website at bl.uk/world-war-one.
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