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Museum to mark WWI centenary

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editorial image

The lamps are going out all over 
Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our 
lifetime.

Those were the words 
attributed to Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey shortly before Britain declared war on Germany on August 4, 1914.

It was the war to end all wars, a war that many believed would be over by Christmas, a war that saw thousands of men enlisting to join up at the beginning as part of their patriotic duty to God, King and country.

But, certainly on the Western Front in Europe, it was to lead to years of stalemate and when the end came at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the casualties in Europe and other countries caught up in the conflict amounted to nearly 10 million people.

Now, as part of the commemorations to mark that fateful time in August 1914, Eden Camp Modern History Museum, in Old Malton, is holding a special Commemorative Day on Sunday August 3, in conjunction with Malton and Norton British Legion.

The commemorations will include music from The White Star Band, which has been practising tunes and songs from that era, and a WW1 history search competition for children.

David Hesketh, who rears shire horses at Burythorpe, will be bringing an original WW1 field ambulance and there will be a demonstration of the work of farriers and blacksmiths.

This living museum started on the site of a former World War Two prisoner-of-war-camp in 1987.

As the years evolved it mainly concentrated on the events surrounding World War Two but as more and more artefacts were donated to the museum it has branched out to connect with other conflicts involving those from Commonwealth countries.

Museum director Nick Hill said: “People were coming with boxes and bags of stuff. We never throw anything away or turn it down but it then got to the point we realised we had so much in our archives we ought to display them.”

In 2000 an empty hut, known as Hut 11, was refurbished to display events surrounding WW1 and now houses one of the most comprehensive permanent displays in the country relating to that era.

This year it has added an extra outdoor battlefield scene and some 20,000 poppy seeds have been sewn with interpretation panels explaining how the red poppy has come to symbolize what happened on the killing fields all that time ago.

One problem is they do not like to grow where other plants are growing and where there is a lot of water, but they are starting to come through.

Another board displays the famous poem “In Flanders Fields”.

Museum director Nick Hill explained that also on display will be some unique film footage relating to the Bombardment by the German Navy of Scarborough and Whitby – some of it not seen before.

“We worked alongside the Yorkshire Film Archive and it has been digitalised so that the public can now see it,” said Mr Hill.

The museum will also be allowing visitors access to a collection of unique stereoscope photos which give a 3D perspective of life in the trenches.

Mr Hill is proud of what he says is the most comprehensive display of 20th century military history anywhere in the world.

As you step into Hut 11 there are posters to explain how events led up to the war, followed by a scene depicting what it must have been like in a trench.

Cabinets display the weapons of the day and other artefacts and one wall features through posters the different war poets. Another relates the history and outcome of members of local families who went off to war.

The exhibition centres mainly on the European allies and materials donated to the museum but Mr Hill said they would be prepared to display those associated with the Germans, for example, – as happens with the WW2 displays – if they were able to lay their hands on such artefacts.

A key problem is that those associated with soldiers and others who fought in that war may not pass them on to Eden Camp.

In other cases artefacts are just thrown away – as happened, for example, with a roll of honour plaque that was rescued from a skip in Malton.

For years after WW2, for example, items associated with the war were not regarded as history in the same way that they are now so many may have been thrown away or lost.

The display also details how, because the British Navy dominated the seas and had what was seen as plenty of spare men, sailors were often sent to fight in the trenches.

An extensive medal room also details the fascinating lives of those who went to war in WW1. Among the displays of medals are the death plaques – plaques inscribed with the names of those killed and sent by the War Office to their loved ones and families.

For those who want to dig into their ancestors’ backgrounds and the way they lived the museum is a fascinating place.

 

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