Beth Burr, Programming Assistant, takes us on a journey through the reflections, remembrances and heartfelt feelings of visitors to Brighton Museum’s 2014 War Stories: Voices from the First World War exhibition and considers their relevance today.
In 2014 visitors to Brighton Museum were thinking about war. In commemoration of World War I the museum held an exhibition War Stories which explored the impact of war through the personal experiences of individuals from Sussex, Belgium, Germany, and India. Their memories, letters, diaries and personal objects gave glimpse into lives lived in the uncertain time of war.
During the Covid19 lockdown, I have been revisiting the feedback from visitors to the exhibition. People were invited to take a tag and write their own thoughts about the impact of war, and also to remember their own loved ones.
It became obvious that certain themes began to emerge once I delved in. Some of them really resonate with today & the strange times we are currently going through.
Sacrifice and Bravery
A couple of the big ones I found were the sacrifice and bravery of the soldiers, which is no doubt how we all see the NHS / health workers coping with impossible conditions; with both just seeing it as them doing their jobs.
Many of the tags are from an adult’s point of view, but I liked the clarity and brutal honesty of war from a child’s perspective:
This was an area I also saw parallels with the way that we talk about Covid19 today. Some in uniform, but also more ordinary heroes who keep things going in tricky times. I especially found it touching that so many visitors had left personal messages to their grandparents & parents with the tags acting as an intergenerational transmitting tool. Some had never met each other, but wish they had.
I am drawn to comparisons on how many different nations fought with the UK in the war, including the many Indian soldiers, some of whom were hospitalised in the Royal Pavilion. During Covid19 we have all been struck by the number of NHS staff from around the world all working together towards the same cause.
Darker aspects appeared amongst the tags such as sadness, appalling conditions, trauma as a result of experiences and the hardships faced by those who were on the front line. Families were torn apart and often never recovered:
Today we try to imagine and visualize what it must have been like to fight, or live through those times. Many families carry their stories and histories. Many soldiers were too traumatised to share their experiences.
There were lots of messages to all the nurses in WW1, thanking them for their service. I was heartened to see that visitors were remembering the women who engaged on the war efforts, and the vital part they played. Today, during the Covid19 lockdown we show our gratitude by applauding NHS and key workers every Thursday at 8pm.
Conflict happening in today’s world and thoughts for loved ones came up in the tags quite a few times. Conflicts around the world still create trauma and separate families.
Many of the tags thanked those who fell for their contribution to the ‘relative’ peace of today. There were also messages of hope for peace in wars still taking place around the world, and poignant thoughts on why we have not learnt our lessons from the past.
Themes of communities coming together are also seen in the tags. Today this is no different with help and kindness being offered to others as communities come together. An uplifting tag which I felt was a positive conclusion to thoughts about friendship beyond conflict is this final tag left by a couple visiting the museum.