Commemorating the First World War
Here, Vivian Vassos shares, in the first part of a four-part series, how England remembers the First World War.
Part I: Imperial War Museum, London
As you enter the museum’s atrium, there’s no doubt in the subject matter: a Harrier jet hangs overhead cheek by jowl with an RAF spitfire fighter and a V2 Rocket, among half a dozen other items. It’s an imposing start to an imposing history: War. In this case, The Great War is why we’re here.
“It is more more interesting and engaging to the 21st century audience,” says curator James Taylor, “to explain to new generations what the war was, why it started, home and fighting fronts, the near destruction of the British army and how its empire worked together,” – a world war fought from England, to Europe to Africa to Gallipoli to the sea. More than 1,300 hundred historical objects, art, film and photographs from the Museum’s collection will be deployed, and along with Britain, Canada, Australia, India and United States’ efforts are recognized.
But it’s not just this month that there is a remembrance of this tragic turning point in Western Civilization and its history. For the next four years, commemorations, anniversaries and other memorials will take place. But today, we are at the grand re-opening of the London outpost of the Imperial War Museum (two other locations are in Manchester (IWM North) and Cambridgeshire (IWM Duxford). Approximately 40 million pounds have been spent to refurbish the space, starting with the Atrium designed by Foster + Partners.
In the new First World War gallery, you are immediately immersed in the sights and sounds of life on the front and in the trenches. In fact, a replica of a Western Front battlefield trench is one of the must-sees, with lighting and a soundtrack that adds to eerie realism of what it was like to be there, knee-deep in mud, missing home, and looking to live another day. A Sopwith Camel “buzzes” overhead, while a Mark V Tank rolls to the edge of the trench. The galleries, designed by Casson Mann, are free to all ages. (www.iwm.org.uk)
Enduring War: Grief, Grit and Humour (until October 12, 2014)
If you’re heading to the British Library, take a few minutes to visit this limited time exhibit. Christmas cards, letters, cartoons, posters and the manuscripts of celebrated war poets are among the collection on display for the first time, exploring the many ways those both at home and on the front line tried to cope with the enormity of the First World War. The exhibition considers themes such as humour, faith, comradeship and family, and looks at the contribution so many made to the war effort.
Dr Matthew Shaw, co-curator of Enduring War and project coordinator for Europeana 1914-1918, says: “It has been a privilege to make this selection of First World War material from the Library’s great collections, which reveals something of the personal experience of that conflict, the echoes of which are still with us today. Perhaps even better, we have been able to make many of these available online for the first time through Europeana 1914-1918, as well as create this extraordinary audio-visual interpretation of the records left by those who served.”
Just a few of the historical artifacts that you’ll see:
– a handkerchief bearing lyrics for ‘It’s a Long, Long Way to Tipperary’
– schoolboy essays reacting to airship raids over London
– recruitment posters, humorous magazines and even a knitting pattern for balaclavas