at War': the Beaney House of Art & Knowledge, October
was delighted to be asked to curate this exhibition, but did not
anticipate the difficulties of translating the students' written
research into a widely accessible form!
With the support of museum staff I 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...
Remembrance Wall was a popular addition to the exhibition, allowing
visitors to add their own special memories of relatives who had
served in WW1.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
counterbalance the Remembrance Wall, we questioned the value of
memorialisation by showing visitors that the Canterbury memorial,
like so many others, does not include 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
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.