The War Stories Memory Tree

Volunteer Inés Cañellas has been working on the War Stories: Voices from the First World War exhibition at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery. There are only a few days left to see this exhibition, due to finish on 1 March.

Card from War Stories memory tree. Reads: 'More emotional for me than I expected, to read the letters back home of a fallen loved one and the idea of the many represented by the Unknown Warrior. Why do people war?Through my placement in the Creative Programming Department at Brighton Museum I have been able to take part in amazing projects that have given me invaluable experience. The skills I’m gaining through my work are transferable and invaluable for my studies, so week after week, my placement never stops to reward me in different ways (what also makes me a happy volunteer is that work in the department is always so varied and hands-on, which to me, makes the perfect way to learn new stuff!)

Looking back at the time I have spent in the museum so far I can say, without any doubt, that nothing has been as touching and thought provoking as my current task, as part of the museum’s current exhibition ‘War Stories: Voices from the First World War’. I will try to explain my experience in the best way I can. Visitors are given a chance to express their thoughts about war by writing personal messages on memory cards. Most of these cards, inspired by the exhibition’s life stories, express messages of respect and gratitude towards soldiers, nurses and civilians whose lives have been affected by war. Homage is also paid to visitors’ lost family members and to the individuals that make the exhibition’s life stories. (I can tell you, the story of the Unknown Soldier has been the most talked about.) Other cards have shown people’s general thoughts and reflections about war, which have been also very interesting. With a piece of string attached to every card, visitors are invited to hang their cards and contribute towards making a Memory Tree. The audience response has been amazing; the tree keeps on growing, and cards have to get taken down regularly to make room for new ones.

Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, WW1 Exhibition,  War Stories,

I would never have imagined that going through the memory cards would take me on a fascinating (and sometimes heartbreaking) journey that after weeks of reading is still reshaping my own understandings of war. Looking for my own memories of war, I can remember my grandparents telling me stories about the Spanish Civil War (I’m from Spain, and before Franco’s dictatorship my country was at war for three years, from 1936 until 1939). I know my great grandparents were killed during the conflict, leaving my granddad an orphan… Something I shared with the exhibition visitors is that my grandparents don’t really like to talk about that time, so my perception of that war was had never been really clear in my head. This is one of the main reasons why exhibitions like this are so relevant to the public.

Another thing I have noticed is how each life story has helped people appreciate their own freedom and their own quality of life. It is interesting to see how a horrible, devastating event like a war can trigger such feelings of togetherness and gratitude towards different people. I found that extremely moving and made me treasure how I am permitted to live my life today.

Photo of card from War Stories memory tree. Reads: 'Thank you for this exibition. You made me cry. We should remember our history. In memory of everyone who died in 1st World War.'

Each comment and feeling has given me the opportunity to get an insight on people’s personal feelings and thoughts, and for that I feel grateful. I look forward to carrying on with my project and I encourage you to visit us during these last remaining days, and place any war stories you have in the memory tree.

Inés Cañellas, Volunteer

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