The Ramparts Cemetary, Ypres Belgium. © Richard Moss / Culture24
Ninety years after the Armistice of 1918, the First World War is about to slip beyond the memory of living men, yet the public fascination with the so called War to end all Wars remains as strong as ever.
Only three frail old men who experienced the conflict on the Allied side remain, but as we approach Remembrance Sunday the plethora of exhibitions, events, books and TV programmes about the war testify to an interest that shows no sign of diminishing.
For many the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, or having living relatives who experienced the Second World War, brings the wider act of remembrance into focus, but this year the focus of many of the museum, gallery, library and archive responses to Remembrance Sunday is firmly on the Great War.
It was supposed to be the war to end all wars and it touched virtually every family in the UK and beyond. When the fighting had finished in November 1918, it had claimed the lives of 21 million people worldwide.
Oppy Wood, 1917. Evening, John Nash, 1918 IWM ART 2243. Part of In Memoriam at The Imperial War Museum. © IWM
A good starting point for anyone looking to understand the human stories behind the mind numbing statistics is the Imperial War Museum’s current exhibition commemorating 90 years since the Armistice.
In Memoriam: Remembering the Great War is a major exhibition looking at the personal stories of those who lived, fought and died during the First World War, both overseas and on the home front.
It features an array of personal effects and brilliantly fuses the IWM’s paper archives with its vast collections, which were established during the First World War
Supporting events at the IWM in London include a Remembrance Ceremony on Sunday November 9 at 11.00am with the last post and two-minute silence. It will be followed by a recital on the museum’s Western Front violin.
Throughout the day, visitors can upload personal First World War memorabilia and memories to the BBC online remembrance wall (www.bbc.co.uk/remembrance), make their own poppy of remembrance and experience what life was like during the war years by meeting characters from the past.
Further events happen on Remembrance Sunday and on Remembrance Day, November 11, including the museum’s traditional Peace Lecture, talks about First World War poetry, concerts and a rare public screening, with musical accompaniment, of the film The Battle of the Somme, shot on the battlefields during the offensive in 1916.
See the IWM website for more details.
Members of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAACs) tending the graves of British soldiers at Abbeville. © Imperial War Museum
At St Barbe Museum and Art Gallery in Hampshire they are building on the success of their 2006 exhibition Evelyn Dunbar: War & Country with a major new exhibition running until January 10 2009, which examines artists' portrayals of the vital work of the Women's Land Army during both world wars.
The Women’s Land Army – A Portrait, features paintings, posters, prints and drawings by artists including Laura Knight, James Bateman, Ethel Gabain and Evelyn Dunbar, whilst a series of interviews with Land Girls has allowed the museum to also address how the artists' views compared with the reality of life on the land.
Amidst the many events happening in archives and libraries two events in East Anglia illuminate a related theme during World War I – the provision of food. PhD student, Rachel Duffett, from the Department of History at the University of Essex will talk about her research on Food and the First World War during a talk at Chelmsford County Hall on November 11 after the 11am Remembrance ceremony, no tickets needed.
A further talk by Rachel takes place at Suffolk Record Office on Saturday November 15 as part of a series of archives-related events commemorating the 90th anniversary of the Armistice. See the Suffolk County Council website for more details.
Remembrance Poppies. Picture courtesy Firepower, Royal Artillery Museum
Several museums are hosting their own remembrance services and one of the most noteworthy is South-East London’s annual Community Multi Faith Act of Remembrance, which will be held at Firepower, the Royal Artillery Museum in the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich on Sunday November 9 at 3pm.
The ceremony, which is open to the public and free of charge, will remember the sacrifices made by all nations and faiths in times of war. Faiths represented from the South East London community will include Bahai, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Quaker and Sikh.
The status of ex-Colonial soldiers in the space of public remembrance is also being showcased at Coventry Cathedral on Saturday November 8 between 7pm and 9pm.
Noise of the Past is part of Coventry’s annual Peace Month and features a moving film by Kuldip Powar called Unravelling, about a Sikh World War Two veteran now living in Coventry. The film features an original score by Nitin Sawhney.
The evening will also see the performance of a new piece of music inspired by the film and composed and conducted by Francis Silkstone. Post Colonial War Requiem, takes its name from Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, which inaugurated the newly-built Cathedral in 1962.
Sorting of Mail by the Army Post Office - POST 56/6. © Royal Mail Group Ltd Courtesy BPMA 2008
Imperial War Museum Duxford will be holding a Day of Remembrance on Sunday November 9 in honour of those who gave their lives in two World Wars and subsequent conflicts.
The day's activities will begin with a two-minute silence at 11.00am followed at midday by a lone Second World War Spitfire displaying over the historic airfield, which was established as a Royal Flying Corps base in the First World War. A Service of Remembrance, the focus of the day, will begin at 12.30pm and will include a wreath-laying ceremony.
The BBC will also be at Duxford all day introducing a variety of events and activities designed to encourage discovery, sharing and remembrance for all and to invite people to use the museum’s computers to access the BBC’s online Wall of Remembrance.
Stevenage Museum is holding a range of events on Saturday November 8 centring on the trench life of a First World War soldier including an actor in role between 12pm and 4pm, tours of the museum’s related collection and craft activities for children.
Included are items owned by General Earl Haig who started the Poppy Appeal, together with photographs, helmets, uniforms, medals, identity discs and copies of WWI postcards.
Wreaths left at one of the Ramparts entrances to the Menin Gate. © Richard Moss / Culture 24
One of the most iconic images of the First World War features another famous General, Lord Kitchener, whose commanding likeness was used for the patriotic recruitment poster ‘Your Country Needs You’.
At North Somerset Museum in Weston they will be showing a small display of the work of the man who created this famous image; war illustrator Albert Leete. Visitors will discover an artist of surprising compassion through his drawings of soldiers in the trenches, prisoners of war and refugees.
Hertford Museum’s exhibition running until December 24 2008 examines the Hertfordshire Regiment and the part they played in the First World War. It features the stories of local people together with displays about Zeppelin airship attacks on Hertford, life in the trenches and the local war memorial.
At Christchurch’s Red House Museum they are similarly playing host to an exhibition about the experiences of local men, women and children during the war.
A range of stories are told through personal objects that range from letters home, diaries written at the front and newspaper reports to photographs and memorabilia – all of which reveals how the war changed and effected everyone’s life.
Two officers of the Irish Guards read armistice news to their men, 12 Nov, 1918. © Imperial War Museum
A similar approach is to be found at The Duke of Wellington’s Regimental Museum, now based at Bankfield Museum, near Halifax.
Two exhibitions, Through Soldiers' Eyes and Forgotten Voices will feature recordings of Dukes soldiers recalling their experiences. Visitors will hear the voices of the soldiers themselves and those of actors reading from letters and diaries.
The official opening of the exhibition, on November 11, will be accompanied by a reading of First World War poetry and a rendition of the last post.
At the The IWM’s Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms, beneath London’s Whitehall, a new exhibition looks at the role of the Post Office during the First World War.
The Post Office played a vital role delivering letters to and from the front line trenches and the exhibition, which runs until February 28 2008, features artefacts, posters and images from both the Imperial War Museum’s and the British Postal Museum Archive’s collections.
Imperial War Museum North is mounting a series of free events and activities for all ages.
Staff will be leading Remembrance-themed tours on Saturday November 8 and Sunday November 9, and there will also be handling sessions and tips on how to trace ancestors using the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.
A traditional Piper’s lament will also take place after a two-minute’s silence at 11am on Remembrance Sunday and at 3pm there will be a programme of classical music for Remembrance from The Alteri Chamber choir in the main exhibition hall.
For full details of IWM North’s extensive Remembrance programme, which also features talks and theatrical performances, see the IWM North Website.
Courtesy Red House Museum
(Above) The original Whizz Bangs Costume Concert Party from Barton Convalescent Camp, 1916. The Whizz Bangs regularly performed throughout the area, raising funds for the charities in the area. In their first year alone, the Troupe gave over 70 performances (usually to full houses) and raised over £400.
Later in the month at the National Gallery there will be a similar musical flavour on November 25 for Dame Myra Hess Day. The special day of events honours the great pianist who initiated, directed and performed in a series of legendary concerts at the National Gallery during the Second World War.
The concerts provided a cultural oasis for thousands of Londoners when the gallery’s paintings were whisked away to the safety of the Welsh Valleys.
The lunchtime and evening concerts will take place in the Barry Rooms (Room 36), the location where the original wartime concerts were held. There will also be a free afternoon talk. See the National Gallery website for more details.
Focussing also on the Second World War, the D-Day Museum in Southsea, Portsmouth will be opening its doors for free on Remembrance Sunday to encourage as many people as possible to visit and remember those who died World War Two.
The Allies landed 156,000 troops in Normandy on D-Day, of which around 83,115 were British or Canadian and about 73,000 were American.
Over 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed, wounded or went missing during the Battle of Normandy which lasted from D-Day to the end of August 1944, just under three months. Roughly 200,000 German troops were killed or wounded and between 15,000 and 20,000 French civilians were killed, mainly as a result of Allied bombing.
Go further… some web resources
Names of the dead and missing from the Ypres sector 1914 - 1918 on the Menin Gate memorial. © Richard Moss / Culture 24
The National Archives’ Pathways section has an interesting section on the First World War www.nationalarchives.gov.uk. The Military History pages are also a mine of useful information; containing useful tips about service records and tracing your military ancestors.
The Debt of Honour Register is the Commonwealth War Graves Commission's database listing the 1.7 million men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died during the two world wars. For more information visit their website at www.cwgc.org.uk.
The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is remembering the lives of men and women who shaped the First World War and its aftermath as the 90th anniversary of Armistice approaches at www.oxforddnb.com/public/armistice/
The Imperial War Museum website to accompany its In Memoriam exhibition is packed full of resources and information, visit it at www.iwm.org.uk
The BBC contribution to the 90th Anniversary of the Armistice can be found at www.bbc.co.uk/remembrance.