This article has been written by Ruth Butler, Heritage Education Officer at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, and the mastermind behind the ‘A Child’s War’ Exhibition.
Dancing Back to 1914 & A Child’s War
This month we celebrated the end of a wonderful project that involved young people from across the county combining heritage and dance to learn about and commemorate the First World War.
The History Centre was proud to have been part of the Dancing Back to 1914 project which was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). The project saw youngsters from Tidworth, Salisbury and Bradford on Avon learn about the 1914-18 war through dance and engage with their local heritage. The groups visited the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre and also made trips to local museums and to London to see the play Warhorse.
Another group of youngsters from Malmesbury School also took part in the project by visiting the History Centre where they looked at archive material showing what life was like for those who lived through the war, including children. The students also gained an insight into the work of the History Centre with a behind-the-scenes tour. You can read about their visit here: www.gazetteandherald.co.uk/news/13882591.Pupils_dance_back_in_time_to_WW1
Each visit to the History Centre was tailored to the groups’ needs so they saw archives that were relevant to their geographical area. The Tidworth group were fascinated by the maps which showed how quickly the military town had grown in the run up to 1914 and during the war.
All the students really engaged with the letters, sketch books and diaries that we were able to produce as these were very personal and recognisable – although youngsters today text and email they appreciated reading the letters and diaries that soldiers and nurses had written. Also popular were the photograph albums and sketch books.
Having learnt about the history of the First World War, including the types of dance and fashions of the day, each group created their own response to what they had discovered. The Salisbury group – which included students from St Joseph’s, St Edmund’s and South Wilts Grammar schools – performed at the city’s Christmas Market in Guildhall Square with a dance that was based on the letters they had read at the History Centre.
All those who took part came together for a grand finale at County Hall, Trowbridge on 3rd March. The event, formally opened by council leader Jane Scott, included tea and cake, with the audience mingling with the dancers.
The evening also marked the official launch of A Child’s War, the third exhibition of the Wiltshire at War project. This community history project, also funded by HLF, uses stories gathered from across Wiltshire to create a series of exhibitions.
There will be five in total and two have been touring the county for more than a year now – A Call To Arms and Wiltshire Does Its Bit. They are now joined by A Child’s War. The final two exhibitions will be researched and written in the coming year – Keep The Home Fires Burning and Peace and Aftermath.
A Child’s War focuses on the experiences of young people from across Wiltshire as they found their lives changed forever by the impact of war. As well as the dramatic – such as the school boy who enlisted and made it to the Western Front despite being only 15 – there are the everyday stories of children raising money, sewing, knitting and generally doing their bit for the war effort.
The exhibition also reveals why conkers and acorns were collected by the hundred-weight and the half-day holidays given to school children for blackberry picking.
You can find out more about Wiltshire’s war experiences by visiting the website www.wiltshireatwar.org.uk If you have a story you would like to share please do get in touch via email firstname.lastname@example.org or you can upload stories and photographs onto the website.
If your community group, village hall, history society or school would like to host any of the exhibitions please call the History Centre on 01249 705500. The exhibitions are free to hire and easy to install. There is also a schools’ exhibition which covers all the themes of the Wiltshire at War project and supporting online resources on the website.
You can also find this piece on the WSHC blog here: www.wshc.eu/blog/item/dancing-back-to-1914.html