Patricia Wilson Smith

Canterbury at War (2014)

'Canterbury at War':
the Beaney House of Art & Knowledge, October 2014

World War One was the first war to have been fought on an industrial scale, involving around 65 million men in combat, and quickening the development of new forms of transport, communication and new weapons of mass destruction.

By the end of the war, 8.5million men had been killed and 21 million wounded:of those killed, 5 million were Allied soldiers. 31,000 men of East Kent’s own regiment, the Buffs, served during the Great War, and nearly 6000 gave their lives. Homes across the world were left fatherless, husband-less; some families lost all their sons, the middle and upper classes in Britain being hit no less badly than the working classes. And in the wake of war, and perhaps because of it, influenza swept through Europe killing 23 million people. Having survived the war, some Allied soldiers died from influenza and other illnesses while waiting in France to be de-mobilised.






6th form Students of the Simon Langton schools explored the archives at the Beaney, the Heritage Museum, and Canterbury Cathedral as part of the University of Kent’s ‘Gateways to the First World War’ *. Using documents and photographs donated by local families, they discovered a little of what life was like in Canterbury during the war years.
I worked with the students to bring a visual dimension to their research. I designed a map of Canterbury to plot the location of the families and wartime organizations that the students discovered in the archives, and a timeline to track events in Canterbury during the war against significant events on the battlefields.
I was keen to involve the students in the curating process and several responded with their own art work, including a soundtrack for the video images I had compiled.

With the support of museum staff we linked the exhibition to other activities in the museum:
poppies made and dedicated by visitors in another part of the museum were
brought to the gallery...

The Remembrance Wall was a popular addition to the exhibition, allowing visitors to add their own special memories of relatives who had served in WW1.

The timeline and map, plotting locations, events and
people against the bigger picture of the War
.The cabinet contained material relating to the family stories the students had discovered in the archives.


To counterbalance the Remembrance Wall, we questioned the value of memorialisation by showing visitors that the Canterbury memorial, like so many others, excludes those soldiers who were born in the district but signed up whist living elsewhere. Neither do memorials often contain the names of soldiers who were executed for desertion, or cowardice, and subsequently found to have been suffering from 'shell shock'.


We asked why there is still so much warfare today - 100 years after the 'War to end all Wars' and discovered our visitors asked themselves the same question.



My warmest thanks to Dr William Butler, Assistant Lecturer, School of History, University of Kent.