One hundred years ago people and politicians around the globe were contemplating a new world order following more than four years of war. In Britain, January 1919 and the following months were marked by strikes, civil unrest and military mutinies. The flu pandemic continued its deathly march. The month also saw the beginning of the Paris Peace Conference which lasted into the summer concluding with five treaties formally ending the war – including the Versailles Treaty signed 28 June – and the formation of the League of Nations.
As a nation we have spent the last four years commemorating the centenary of the First World War (FWW). A hundred years on from this cataclysmic event and we are living with its legacy – with regional conflicts that have their origins in the war; with advances in medicine (reconstructive surgery, improved anaesthesia); with the music, art, literature and poetry produced during and after the war; with universal suffrage; and with a landscape shaped by war.
But what of the legacy of these commemorations? What will future generations find when they delve into early 21st century archives and history books, looking for evidence of how we remembered? Without doubt they will find an amazing amount of new, high quality research that has changed our understanding of the Great War. But have the commemorations reflected this changed narrative or have they reinforced the myths and iconography associated with First World War and which are embedded in our collective memory? Some historians are asking whether the last four years have been a lost opportunity.
From a personal point of view it feels as though much of the national commemoration did focus on traditional themes and symbols such as the mud and blood of the western front, the experience of the war poets, the silhouetted soldier. There have been some stunning artistic responses to the centenary, commissioned by 14-18 Now, including Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, Jeremy Deller’s We’re Here Because We’re Here, Danny Boyle’s Pages in the Sea and film-maker Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old.
But these have also drawn criticism. 14-18 Now estimates that 35 million people engaged with their commissioned events, but historians Professors Maggie Andrews, of the University of Worcester, and Sarah Lloyd, of the University of Hertfordshire, question whether people critically engaged or merely encountered them. Were these national events, exhibitions and installations sufficiently challenging of historical myths?
There has been much work on myth-busting over the past four years but it can be tough going up against advertising executives and picture editors who are not historians. An enduring myth, reinforced by TV adverts and wrongly credited photographs, is that the Christmas Truce of 1914 happened throughout the western front and that football matches were organised between German and British troops. Neither is an accurate picture of what happened. (Check out Dan Snow’s mythbusting articles for the BBC.)
At a regional and local level, however, I feel very positive about the projects and events that have taken place. Over the last four years much of my work as an education officer has focused on researching Wiltshire’s role in the First World War and passing on that learning to others, especially primary school teachers and pupils keen to make the most of the local history study that is part of their curriculum.
Another aspect of my work has been supporting other organisations in delivering the educational side of their FWW projects. My colleagues in archives and local studies have also been busy acquiring new collections and publications that support the study of the Great War.
The number and range of FWW projects in Wiltshire has been impressive and sadly I cannot list all of them, but a good place to start is the History Centre’s own Wiltshire at War – Community Stories project.
I have been asked to write a few words about the participation of Wiltshire Buildings Record in the ‘survival’ of a suburban library in Swindon. To partly fulfil the requirement in WBR’s constitution, that is, to provide information to those who have any interest in Wiltshire’s heritage building stock, an ‘outreach’ policy has been pursued for the past few years, when volunteers and opportunities have been available. With a fixed location like a local library it is a situation where the public comes to a WBR source for advice or research resources. So the base is an intermediate role between archive and buildings of the area.
Wiltshire being a geographically large county contains a diverse mix of vernacular building styles, so the libraries’ resources need only reflect its own close vernacular characteristics. Volunteer-run village museums could offer the same opportunities but do not have as many communal facilities. Aldbourne on the Marlborough Downs, provides a very well-run active Heritage Weekend in March from their own created museum including tours. There was a large scale village street map on which almost every building was dated, a very creditable achievement. Purton to the west of Swindon has long had a museum in the same Victorian building as their County Library. The WBR’s published book stock is on sale at Beechcroft Library providing some basis for research. There are four schools within a half a mile radius, but with restrictions of all sorts weighing down on the education system they rarely use the facilities. Display boards of the history of Stratton buildings are on show with the contents eventually going to the WBR archive.
Clive Carter, Wiltshire Buildings Record Volunteer
Have you ever thought about investigating the history of your community but aren’t sure where to start? Why not organise a Reunion! This is something I first started in Horningsham in 1995 and 23 years later we are still going strong! It first began in 1994 when I wanted to mark the 150th anniversary of the rebuilding of our church. We held a special service with refreshments afterwards and it was a great success. Someone then had the idea of tracing as many people as we could find who had been baptised in the church, to invite them to a Reunion. Everyone who came enjoyed it so much that they asked if we could do it again the following year, when we chose marriage as our theme………
There are some key factors that will guarantee success. Food and drink is always a good ice breaker, so try and offer some nice treats to your guests. If they are travelling a long way it is good to offer lunch if you can. My experience is that once people sit down with friends over lunch, they are very happy to just sit and chat.
Old photographs are always popular and are a good way of stimulating conversation and memories. This will also encourage people to search through their own collections and find you something for next year. My best find was the year that I was given a photograph of the Royal School at Bath, who were evacuated to Longleat House during WWII. I couldn’t believe my luck and knew immediately that I had my theme for the next year (2008). Many villagers were on the picture as staff who helped look after the girls and I was put in touch with some former pupils who were still living locally and who offered to share their memories with me. This proved to be one of our most successful events.
You will be surprised by how quickly your invitation list grows. Many times I was asked ‘have you contacted my cousin/auntie/school friend….’ and for many years the number of people attending was over 60. Every year I think of a theme and put up a display of photographs in the church, for people to look at before the service. If you tell people what the theme will be in their invitation, someone is sure to offer you some photographs. Photos with people or houses are the most popular; everyone likes to see a wedding photo or the house they grew up in. The friends who come to the Horningsham reunion have been so generous over the years that in 2000 I had enough material to publish a book for the millennium.
For the past year I have been based at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre for my National Archives 'Transforming Archives' traineeship where I have been developing a community archive for the village of Lacock. It has been a fantastic opportunity to gain new skills and develop existing ones. These have included using Joomla (website software), training and managing volunteers, arranging events, advertising, interviewing residents, project management skills, amid many others. For me, the most exciting part of my traineeship was meeting the local residents of Lacock and others in the surrounding areas. The enthusiasm they held for their village, history and community was startling and was something that I have never experienced in the places that I have lived. The friendliness and willingness to welcome myself and my volunteers into their homes to share their memories, stories and photographs of Lacock was wonderful. It has been a privilege to be able to learn more about this small and close community, over the last year, which is sadly under threat from the continuing rise of tourism and the demands that this entails.
The Lacock Community Archive has collected fifty-two oral history interviews from those within Lacock and the surrounding areas concerning evacuees, American soldiers, Lacock School, fetes and fairs or Manor Farm (located in the village) which no longer exists. Memories have ranged from dressing up as a swine herdsman son at the Lacock Pageant of 1932 to delivering papers to the Abbey. The interviewees have ranged from teenagers in the village to those who have lived there for their entire lives and whose family goes back generations within the village. In addition to this, over five hundred copies of various photographs and documents have been collected from the community and uploaded to the Lacock website for everybody to view. These include photographs of sport teams, weddings, the old Working Men's Club and events such as the millennium procession. Hopefully, both the oral history interviews and collection of photographs will prove to be a useful historical resource and will continue being a means to share information about the village.
on Wednesday, 02 September 2015.
Posted in Archives
The five year Creative Wiltshire & Swindon Heritage Lottery Funded project has now been running for just over 6 months, and we’ve been thoroughly enjoying researching (with the help of volunteers) creative people who have been, and who still are, working in and being inspired by the county of Wiltshire.
We have now identified over 400 individuals, many of whom can be included in the project, and are busy actively acquiring items on behalf of the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, Swindon Museum & Art Gallery, and some of Wiltshire’s museums (a full list can be found under About on our Creative Wiltshire site).
Some highlights so far have been…
A set of 1930s ceramics by Katharine Pleydell-Bouverie. Katharine, of Coleshill House near Swindon and Kilmington, Warminster, was one of the founder members of the Craftsman Potters Association. She was also instrumental in setting up the Crafts Study Centre at Holbourne Museum, Bath. Her glazes are very well documented and have been a source of inspiration and study for many potters ever since.
An etching by Robin Tanner of Kington Langley, 1930. Robin was not only a unique etcher; he was also influential in bringing art and creativity to the school curriculum and environment with his pioneering work at Ivy Lane School, Chippenham, in the 1930s and later as HM Inspector of schools.
Our Heritage Lottery Funded project to uncover and share stories of the First World War Home Front in Wiltshire is approaching two exciting milestones early in 2015.
At the end of January our website will be going live. This will be a home for all the stories that have been gathered so far – in sounds, words and pictures. If your family or community have your own stories that you would like to include you will be able to do this straight through the website. Over time we hope this will become a significant record of the impact of the war across the county.
At the end of February the first exhibition based on the stories will be on display at the Springfield Community Campus in Corsham. This exhibition will focus on the role Wiltshire played in providing a home and training ground for the military and how this affected the lives of ordinary people. Look out for full details of the exhibition over the next few weeks. After Corsham the exhibition will be setting off on a tour of community venues whilst we start work on preparing further displays looking at different ways the First World War affected Wiltshire.