Armistice: Legacy of the Great War in Norfolk : Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery, Norwich
20 October 2018 to 6 January 2019
Armistice; Legacy of the Great War in Norfolk, which opens to the public on Saturday 20 October, is a major centenary exhibition exploring the breadth and depth of the impact of the First World War on Norwich and Norfolk.
Made possible by money raised by National Lottery players, the exhibition will explore the physical impact on the county – coastal defences, changes in agriculture and industrial transformation – alongside the stories of communities and individuals whose lives were transformed by the War.
Generously supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), which also funded a previous centenary programme at Norwich Castle, Letters Home, the exhibition will provide a fitting finale to four years of commemorations. It is the culmination of a huge amount of research by individuals, local history societies and museums around the county, and will put the national story into local context providing an opportunity to discover the particular impact of the War on Norfolk in a varied and thought-provoking way.
Drawing on photographs, letters, posters, newspaper reports and evocative artefacts such as original uniforms and aircraft models, the exhibition will build up a vivid picture of how the war brought profound and long-lasting changes to the communities of Norfolk.
The First World War was unprecedented in its scale and impact, affecting every aspect of public and private life. By 1917 the primary YMCA centre in Norwich at St Andrews Hall which offered hospitality to servicemen was being used by 20,000 soldiers a week. There were over sixty auxiliary hospitals and forty airfields around the country. Norfolk suffered the first sea bombardment and the first fatal Zeppelin air raid of the War. The county’s women were called on to work in factories and on the land in great numbers, sparking a profound social change in attitudes around what constituted ‘a woman’s work’. The fishing industry was severely disrupted by U-boats and mines, and many trawlermen were part of the Naval Reserve. Over 14,000 men of the county did not return, and many more came back injured or forever changed by their experiences.
At the heart of the exhibition personal stories will bring home the profound impact of the war such as that of the Bailey family who lived in West Rudham. In July 2016 Ernest Bailey wrote to his parents William and Louisa at the start of the Somme, informing them of the death of his brother, George, and the wounding of his other brother, Robert. All three brothers were dead before the year was out.
Arranged in a series of themed sections, this exhibition – which has been produced in collaboration with the Norfolk Library & Information Service and Norfolk Record Office – will examine the many facets of the war’s legacy, including the world of work in Country and Agriculture and Town and Industry; the physical effects of bombing and the construction of defences and airfields in Air and Sea; the bereavements and struggles of home life in Children and Home; the mental and physical and economic challenges facing surviving soldiers in Returning Servicemen and Hospitals and how the county marked the cessation of hostilities in Peace and Commemoration.
Each section features fascinating archive material, much of which has never been on display before. Material has been gathered from museums and collections across the County, including other museums within Norfolk Museums Service as well as the Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum, RNLI Henry Blogg Museum, Gresham’s School, SSAFA (Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen & Families Association), Norwich Cathedral and Welborne Church. A wealth of material from Norfolk County Council’s Picture Norfolk archives and from private individuals provides a poignant and powerful record of local people’s war experiences. Loans from the Imperial War Museum include two fine oil paintings and beautifully-crafted scale models of a seaplane, submarine and airship.
Among the many intriguing and powerful objects on display is the Casualty Book, a record of the 15,000 men who sustained wounds and illnesses during the war from 5 of the 7 battalions of the Royal Norfolk Regiment – a document which is unique to the Norfolk Regiment. Also on display are return to work forms from Colman’s, one of the first employers who guaranteed returning soldiers their job back; examples of women’s clothing from before and after the war which help chart the huge shift in social attitudes towards the role of women; embroidery done by soldiers as part of their recuperation; army boots manufactured in Norwich and exported to Italy; wire netting which made the ‘wire road’ that enabled troops to walk through the Sinai desert; a brooch in the form of a swallow made from a fragment of a downed German zeppelin; an early walking aid from Hellesdon Hospital and, most poignantly, a grave marker brought home from France and erected in the graveyard at Wellborne Church. All of them help shed light on the personal experiences of ordinary Norfolk people at a time of huge upheaval.
Letters sent between soldiers at the front and their families waiting anxiously at home provide an intimate portrait of family life in wartime. Many of these letters make concrete the terrible loss suffered by families, including correspondence between Captain Hammond of the 7th Battalion, Norfolk Regiment, who wrote to the families of men who had died whilst serving under his command. On display will be some of the replies to these letters, many requesting details to bring some comfort.
Film and audio will provide extra context and atmosphere, while a book of memories about returning soldiers which came to light after a public appeal earlier this year and which will be added to during the exhibition’s run will also be on show. Additionally, an interactive map of the County showing the location of war hospitals, air fields, coastal defences and wrecks will allow visitors to discover more about how the war affected their own local communities.
The exhibition also presents a remarkable contemporary reflection on the meaning and memory of the Great War in the form of acclaimed artist Paddy Hartley’s stunning art installation Papaver Rhoeas. Inspired by the poppy’s status as the symbol of the conflict’s commemoration, and indeed of subsequent conflicts involving the British Armed Forces, Papaver Rhoeas (the Latin name for the Common Poppy) is a series of intricately crafted and botanically accurate poppies created entirely from lambs’ heart tissue and horsehair, presented in custom made blown glass artillery shell casings. Intended equally as a memorial and a critique of aspects of Remembrance culture, the poppies are designed to decay, fragment and collapse throughout the course of the exhibit. Produced in collaboration with a team of scientists at King’s College London, the work addresses contemporary notions of remembrance and the cultural phenomena of memorialisation. While individual artworks have been exhibited in sites around central London, this is the first time that all 16 pieces will be shown together, and the first time the work has been presented in the East of England
A full programme of events, talks and workshops will run throughout the exhibition, including a special early opening of the museum on Remembrance Sunday with free admission for armed forces personnel and veterans. Life During the First World War on Saturday 24 November members of the Royal Norfolk Regiment Living History Group will give visitors a flavour of what life was like for the infantry soldier during the conflict, while the Castle’s Christmas Holiday activities will include a Peace Street Party 1918.
The exhibition represents a huge community effort, as Kate Thaxton, exhibition curator and Curator of the Royal Norfolk Regimental Collections, explains: “We are thrilled to be able to show the results of extensive research over the past five years into the Great War and Norfolk. We have a team of 24 volunteers who’ve worked tirelessly on a range of research activity including scanning, recording, cataloguing and writing up, discovering in the process a great deal of new material. They’ve worked on creating a database of hospitals, airfields and coastal defences from which we’ve been able to create an interactive map for the exhibition, transcription of the unique Casualty Book, and the sourcing of countless photographs, as well as providing expert advice on a range of subjects. Thanks to their efforts we now understand the Great War’s impact on Norfolk in greater depth than ever before. We are very grateful to them and look forward to sharing the fruits of their fascinating work with visitors.”
Cllr John Ward, Chairman of the Norfolk Joint Museums Committee, said: “This deeply moving exhibition provides a fitting end to this extraordinary four years of centenary commemoration. We are indebted to all the many funders, supporters and volunteers who have enabled the exhibition team at Norwich Castle to bring fully to light the experiences of ordinary men, women and children of Norfolk during and following this most terrible of conflicts.
“Alongside the suffering the exhibition also documents the extraordinary resilience of local communities and the vital role played by voluntary organisations and local employers in supporting those effected by the war. As a signatory to the Armed Forces Covenant Norfolk County Council is committed to ensuring today’s members of the armed forces and their families continue to receive the support they need and deserve. This exhibition is a timely reminder of the tradition of sacrifice and community which lives on in our county.”
Cllr. Alan Waters, Leader of Norwich City Council said: “The view from City Hall across Lutyens’ magnificent war memorial and the location of the Roll of Honour in the City Hall reception – listing the names of the 3,544 Norwich men who lost their lives in the Great War – are sobering daily reminders of the sacrifice made by so many citizens of this city. It’s vital that future generations understand the impact of the First World War – we are all, in a way, children of that conflict and this important exhibition will be a powerful means of helping younger generations understand how profoundly it affected their home city and county.”
Robyn Llewellyn, Head of HLF East of England, said: “The impact of the First World War was far reaching, touching and shaping every corner of the UK and beyond. Thanks to National Lottery players, the exhibition at Norwich Castle will explore the continuing legacy of this conflict and broaden our understanding of how it has shaped our modern world.”
The exhibition is supported by the Royal British Legion and SSAFA and has been funded through the Heritage Lottery Fund, Norwich Town Close Estates Charity, The Worshipful Company of Dyers and Norfolk Arts Service.
Early opening on Remembrance Sunday, 11th November:
Norwich Castle will open at 11.02am on Remembrance Sunday. Free admission for armed forces personnel and veterans.
1. About Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery
Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery is part of Norfolk Museums Service (NMS). The Service comprises museums, collections study centres and countywide services relating to archaeology and education. The Service remains a unique partnership between Norfolk County Council and Norfolk's district councils, funded through council tax, earned income and grants. NMS is now regarded as one of the leaders in the museum sector and in 2017 was successful in its bid for continuing major investment from Arts Council England. In April 2018 NMS became a National Portfolio Organisation for Arts Council England, one of only 45 out of 845 heritage and arts organisations in England to be awarded the highest level of support. www.museums.norfolk.gov.uk @NorfolkMuseums
2. About Paddy Hartley
Paddy Hartley is a London based artist and is Visiting Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Tissue Engineering & Biophotonics King's College London. He is currently Artist in Residence at the National Maritime Museum London and his work is internationally exhibited, collected and published. His artistic practice investigates themes including memorialisation and remembrance, the origins of WW1 facial reconstruction and those who underwent the surgery. His work has taken the form of biotissue manipulation and assembly, digital photography, digital embroidery, installation, ceramic, and garment assemblage. Much of Paddy’s work is created with the support of the Wellcome Trust. His work has been exhibited at venues throughout the UK, Europe, the USA and Australia and his is work has been acquired for the permanent collections of The Wellcome Collection London, Museum of Arts and Design New York, The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design Norway and the National Army Museum London. Paddy originates from Dewsbury, West Yorkshire and is a graduate of the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff with a Masters Degree in Sculpture and Ceramics. www.paddyhartley.com
3. About the Heritage Lottery Fund
Thanks to National Lottery players, we invest money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about - from the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife.www.hlf.org.uk. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and use #NationalLottery
Norfolk Museums Service
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