The second of five exhibitions in the Wiltshire at War: Community Stories project has opened. The exhibition, Wiltshire Does its Bit, was launched at Mere Museum on Friday September 24.
The exhibition was created with input not only from local museums and history groups, but also from the community itself. Involvement from the county’s older generation has been instrumental in capturing colourful stories, with those in day centres and at luncheon clubs contributing a rich patchwork of family and village memories, and also working with professional poet, Dawn Gorman, to write community poems based on images of local people during World War One.
Those attending the launch event on September 25th included members of the Wednesday Group from Steeple Langford. Many in their late 80s, they have clear memories of their parents’ involvement in the war. One member, Margaret Dimmer, who is 90 in October, brought to the launch event a brass WWI shell case, ornately decorated with flowers, which belonged to her father.
Speaking at the launch, Emma Golby-Kirk, project officer for Wiltshire at War: Community Stories, said: “It has been such a privilege to hear and record your stories and to include them in this exhibition. Since we visited the Wednesday Group earlier this year, one member has sadly passed away, and another is very poorly, and this emphasises how important it is for us to listen to these stories of real life during the First World War, and preserve them for generations to come.”
Stories included in the exhibition include how one family’s small, jam-making business in Easterton on Salisbury Plain expanded beyond all recognition when 30,000 Canadian troops descended on the village; how one Salisbury woman spearheaded the county’s vital use of women for farm work, and how one man and his sons in Purton changed the fate of ‘difficult’ horses destined for the Front.
Brett Norris, Chairman, Mere Town Council, spoke at the meeting on behalf of Wiltshire County Councillor George Jeans. He said: “I am delighted that Mere library/museum has been selected to host the exhibition until November. On behalf of the people of Mere I would like to thank the Wiltshire at War: Community Stories project for the exhibition. I would also like to thank the members of the Mere museum for the tireless work they do. Mere museum is a jewel in Mere’s crown and we are very proud of it.
“The battlefield history of the First World War and the suffering endured by so many is well known. The story of the efforts made at the home front and the suffering endured there is not so well known.”
Like many people at the launch, Mr Norris had a personal connection with the exhibition. He said: “On a personal note, there is a photograph of the workers from the Bourton Foundry in the exhibition. My grandmother, Gertrude Lily Markey, who was born in 1899, is one of the young girls in the photograph.”
Hindley & Sons foundry, Bourton, near Mere, made Mills bombs, the standard hand grenade used by the army from 1915. The women workers were known as the ‘Mills bomb girls’.
Peter Tyas, Manager Arts and Archives for Wiltshire Council, thanked the many people who had been involved in the creation of the exhibition, including an extensive volunteer team, the project steering team, and those who shared their stories. He said: “The tireless mining of the museum collections has given a fine contribution to this exhibition, and the filmed interviews and voice recordings of the people of Wiltshire means that the memories of the people behind the headlines are now held in perpetuity and will never be forgotten.”
The exhibition continues at Mere Museum until November 7th, after which it is available for hire, free of charge, to community groups in the county. Please call the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre for details on 01249 705500.