UK Museums Remember The Fallen

By Richard Moss | 09 November 2005
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a photograph of a series of poppies arranged as a larger cross

© Jon Pratty/24 Hour Museum.

It was supposed to be the 'war to end all wars' and on 11.00am on November 11 1918, the guns finally fell silent on the First World War.

Each year since, at the same time on the same date, two minutes of silence have been observed to remember those from Britain and the Commonwealth who died; not only in the First and the Second World Wars, but in subsequent conflicts in Korea, the Falklands, Northern Ireland and, of course, Afghanistan and Iraq.

The process of remembrance has not only evolved to take in different conflicts and wars but also to acknowledge the role of different groups of people who were caught up in and contributed to the war effort.

Recent years have seen the Bevin Boys (conscripted miners during WWII) joining the national Remembrance Sunday parades in London, whilst an impressive new monument has been added, to those in Whitehall, acknowledging the sacrifice made by women in WWII.

shows a dark stone monument with various uniforms and headgear carved into the top of it. An inscription reads The Women Of World War Two.

The monument for the Women of World War Two was opened in Whitehall, near The Cenotaph, in 2005. © Richard Moss/24 Hour Museum.

As we approach the solemn ceremonies that take place across the UK to remember the fallen on Remembrance Sunday, November 13, museums across the country are also supporting the ‘remembrance weekend’ with a range of exhibitions, activities and ceremonies of their own.

2005 has been an important one for the veterans and their families who lived through the Second World War. The sixtieth anniversary of the end of that conflict has seen the Imperial War Museum/Big Lottery Fund initiative Their Past Your Future (part of the wider Veteran’s Reunited scheme) provide a travelling exhibition, veterans’ programmes and educational initiatives.

Some of these projects are ongoing and you can find out more information about them, together with 24HM World War Two news stories and features, in our World War Two commemorative section.

In the museum sector perhaps the natural place to begin a review of remembrance activity is at the Imperial War Museum (IWM). As is customary, the various outposts of the IWM will be marking the remembrance weekend with a range of activites.

Shows a photo of an eldery gentleman in a suit and tie with a display behind him with a photo of him as a young man in military uniform on it, and the name Roy Hill

Roy Hill, 82, was one of the local people featured in the Their Past Your Future Exhibition in Nottingham. He flew in Lancaster bombers - he and his crew were shot down and were captured. © Chris Breese/24 Hour Museum.

For the last 16 years the IWM in London has been closely involved with the UK National Inventory of War Memorials (UKNIWM) in an initiative to record all UK war memorials and the names recorded on them. A timely partnership with Channel 4 has seen this largely volunteer-led project recently transformed into a fully searchable online database.

The database, which has been launched in time for the 90th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, will ultimately sit on the UKNIWM’s site and allow people to put faces and personalities to the names carved in stone on UK monuments. It will also allow them to discover the 'where and when' of the names of family members.

At the museum itself, a two-minute silence will be held at 11am on Armistice Day Friday November 11, followed by a brief recital performed on a violin made from trees growing on the battlefields of France and Flanders. Max Arthur will also read from his new book The Last Post, which includes stories from the last 21 survivors of the First World War.

shows a cenotaph-shaped memorial made out of foliage

This 'floral' temporary cenotaph was erected in Bowling Park, Bradford shortly after the war. Just one of the images held by the UK Inventory of War Memorials. © UKNIWM.

In Manchester, Imperial War Museum North is inviting visitors to add their messages of remembrance to a Museum Memorial Poppy display in the Special Exhibitions Gallery. A two-minute silence will also be held on Friday November 11 and Sunday November 13 at 11am – followed on Sunday 13 by a performance by the Alteri Chamber Choir in the main exhibition hall at 12.00 and 2.00pm.

The impressive main exhibition space of the museum is also being turned over to evening performances during the remembrance weekend.

Stephen MacDonald's acclaimed dramatic representation, Not About Heroes, exploring the friendship between First World War poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, will be given added impact when it is performed against a backdrop of IWM films, photography and artefacts.

Performances take place on Friday, Saturday and Sunday between 7.30 – 9.45pm. Phone the Library Theatre Box Office on 0161 236 7110 for more details and tickets.

Shows a black and white photograph of a column of marching soldiers.

Men of the 10th Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment, returning from the trenches.

At IWM Duxford, the museum’s aviation complex in Cambridgeshire, admission will be free for everyone on Sunday November 13. There will be a two-minute silence at 11am and a service and wreath laying ceremony at 12.15pm around Hangar 4. There will also be a wreath laying at the Royal Anglian Regiment Museum in the Land Warfare Hall at 12.45pm.

In Exeter an initiative launched by the Royal Albert Memorial Museum will see members of the British Legion sharing their wartime memories and talking about the reason for remembrance and commemoration.

The events take place at 10am and 4pm on Armistice Day, November 11 at the Guildhall Shopping Centre, which also houses the local Their Past Your Future travelling exhibition until November 12.

The exhibition explores how the war changed the people and the landscape of the UK forever. At the core of the exhibition are personal stories that look at how the people of the South West kept their families safe; how wartime experiences changed their lives and how people remember those they lost.

shows a photograph of a mass of poppies falling from a ceiling

The Loss Tower on display in The North At War special exhibition at IWM North. © Jan Chlebik

The Royal Armouries, Leeds is holding a month of remembrance activities and taking time to reflect on the ways in which people’s lives have been affected by war.

On Remembrance Sunday free talks by the Western Front Association will reveal how WWII affected a Leeds family and soldiers from the city, whilst a current exhibition looks at the immense bravery of soldiers in WWII.

Running until November 30, In Exceptional Circumstances places contemporary photographs of wartime heroes, taken by photographer David Corke, alongside moving accounts of their personal exceptional circumstances.

For more information about the full range of Remembrance activities at the Museum visit The Royal Armouries Remembrance website

Shows a photo of a museum exhibit of a World War One soldier in gas mask at a machine gun

The Royal Armouries in Leeds will be augmenting its existing displays with a range of activities and a special exhibtion during 'Remembrance month'.© Royal Armouries.

Reading Museum is also hosting a TPYF exhibition and a series of accompanying events and displays have been developed on a World War II theme. On Armistice Day November 11 two tea dances are being held at the Concert Hall to commemorate the 60th anniversaries of VE Day and VJ Day. For more details contact the museum.

Admission is free but by ticket only. For tickets please telephone Age Concern on 0118 959 4242 or the Royal British Legion on 0118 976 1551.

The National Army Museum, which has just held the second of its annual Great War Conferences, has what is perhaps one of the most intriguing exhibitions to explore the theme of remembrance.

Opening two days before Remembrance Sunday, ‘Finding the Fallen’ focuses on the excavation and identification of soldiers who fell in some of the bloodiest battles of the First World War.

shows a large archarchaeological excavation with various people involved in excavating and digging

The team from the National Army Museum dig in the preserved trench systems of the Newfoundland Memorial Park in the Somme region of France. The Newfoundland Caribou statue can be seen in the distance. © National Army Museum.

Led by the museum’s historian and archaeologist Andrew Robertshaw, a battlefield excavation team explored the former trench systems of the Somme with the objective of unearthing more information about the conditions of trench warfare. But their work soon became overshadowed by the discovery of numerous bodies and remains.

The subsequent quest by the team to match the personal objects they found in order to identify the men informs the exhibition. The results of this fascinating process and the poignant stories of the families of the men they identified can be explored at the museum from November 10.

Another take on the remembrance process is taken up by the National Maritime Museum on Remembrance Sunday. 'Message' will involve 20 veterans of World War II, the Gulf War, the Falklands and other conflicts who will signal a message by semaphore from the roof of the Royal Observatory, Greenwich to other veterans at the Cutty Sark.

From there the message will be signalled to various destinations along the Thames including HMS Belfast and HMS President, before reaching the roof of Admiralty Arch in Trafalgar Square, the Citadel and finally Horse Guard's Parade. Finally the message will be deciphered and laid on a wreath at the Cenotaph in Whitehall.

shows a man in waterproofs on the deck of a ship signalling with flags

A message signaller aboard HMS President. © National Maritime Museum.

An accompanying exhibition by the artist behind the programme, Beth Derbyshire, opens at the Museum from November 13 and explores military messages, remembrance and medal designs in large-scale paintings.

A map of the signalling locations and viewing stations, together with more information, is available at the National Maritime Museum Website

There are of course many exhibitions, both permanent and temporary, that remind us of the sacrifices made by all sectors of society in wartime. As we near the closing stages of the 60th anniversary events commemorating the end of the Second World War, a new anniversary approaches – the 90th year since the Battle of the Somme.

One of the biggest and bloodiest battles in British military history, it was the collective grief and shock at this experience that began to fuel the need for remembrance. The sheer scale of the continued slaughter throughout the First World War has meant that even 90 years later it remains firmly lodged in the consciousness of the British public.

shows a colour installation made of poppies which appear to be behind a panel with writing on it

The Loss Tower on display in The North At War special exhibition. © Jan Chlebik

It was supposed to be the ‘war to end all wars’ but the intervening years of conflict have meant that the process of remembrance will continue to be important, as more names have sadly joined the inconceivably long list of the fallen.

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