This blog is part of a mini-series of updates about the Battle Bus Research Volunteer Project. To keep up-to-date with all the latest programme activities, please visit the ‘Battle Bus’ section in London Transport Museum blog.
Visit to the Imperial War Museum and the National Army Museum
This week the group visited the First World War galleries at Imperial War Museum and the Society and the War gallery at National Army Museum. Here, volunteer Eithne Cullen, talks about her experience of the day.
At the Imperial War Museum, the number of deaths and the awful conditions endured by the soldiers and civilians who lived through the First World War make visiting the exhibition an emotive and powerful experience. All the people in the group felt they had the chance to examine artefacts and get a sense of the sights and sounds of war, with sympathetic lighting and a variety of hands-on displays.
The opportunity to learn about individuals’ lives and see artefacts as varied as china and crockery, newspaper headlines of the day, propaganda posters, empty bullet shells, uniforms and a reconstructed trench – all made this come to life. Individual lives were opened up too, from Edith Cavell the heroic nurse, to Siegfreid Sassoon the officer-poet who spoke out about the conditions his men experienced. Other letters and diaries provide vivid records of individual service, like Gabrielle West whose diary tells of her role in a special police service set up to supervise women workers.
By way of contrast, the exhibition at the National Army Museum seems like an attractive cinema entrance, where there is generous use of colourful posters and bright display cases. We saw the cultural influence of the army on our lives in a display looking at everything from representations of the army in cinema to the way army language and slang has entered everyday speech. The use of a film about the conflict in Northern Ireland know as the Troubles made some of the group feel uncomfortable because it was unexpected and felt out of place in this gallery considering the other themes. The small exhibition about the symbol of the poppy was interesting and provoked some thought about how the poppy is used for Remembrance.
These two contrasting displays gave us lots to think about when considering how we react to the way information is presented to us and the way we respond to it.
I was very taken by the stories of the women who worked in the munitions factories, the munitionettes. I wrote this poem in response.
On Monday she’s a munitionette
packing shells and placing wicks
the powder makes her hair and skin yellow.
Canary girl in an opera of canaries.
On Monday she’s in drab brown clothes
mob cap on her head, trousers like a man
she’s not allowed a buckle or a badge
one spark and they’d be off, all blown away.
The men look at them, with contempt
they’ll cut our wages, take away our jobs
no place for a woman in our factory…
but the women fill the orders in this
hour of need send plenty to the front to
beat the Hun.
The men look down on their yellow faces
their tunics a mockery of battledress and frontline uniforms.
But on Sunday she puts on a dress
it’s white and it’s embroidered at the front
her sash of green and purple like her hat
and the metal brooch she wears a badge of honour
a medal for her service at the front and times in Holloway.
On Sunday in the park with crowds of women just like her
The explosives in this case are powerful words –
speeches and glorious cries of ‘Votes for Women!’
and the songs they sing block the awful factory sounds.
The men look at them, with contempt
they’ll cut our wages-take away our power
the ballot box is not the place