'Canterbury at War': the
Beaney House of Art & Knowledge, October 2014
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
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...
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.
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
or cowardice, and subsequently found to have
been suffering from 'shell shock'.
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.
warmest thanks to Dr William Butler, Assistant Lecturer, School
of History, University of Kent.