Research

Exhibition takes visitors on an emotional journey exploring the aftermath of the Great War

10 June 2019 @TeesUniNews

 

A unique project to uncover the region’s hidden stories from the end of the First World War has found the period to be even more turbulent and traumatic than ever imagined.

Dr Ben Roberts and Charlie Tait.
Dr Ben Roberts and Charlie Tait.

Researchers at Teesside University received funding to explore the untold memories and experiences as people in the area returned to civilian life following the horrors of the Great War.

Those memories and stories have now been captured in a unique touring exhibition which will be on display throughout a range of local museums in the coming months.

Rememorial WWI: Narratives of Peace in the Tees Valley is being led by Teesside University Historian and Part-Time Lecturer Dr Ben Roberts and Senior Design Lecturer Charlie Tait and is supported through a £9,500 grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Working with a team of interns, student researchers, historical researchers and photographers, the pair have been compiling an exhibition which focuses on five main themes; women & work, demobilisation & civilian life, the people’s peace, disability & trauma and grief & remembrance.

The overall aim was to capture how people felt following the end of the war and examine the various struggles and difficulties they faced.

Dr Roberts said: 'We have spoken to a lot of people and uncovered some remarkable and heart-breaking stories which are being publicly shared for the first time.

'The key theme is that life was not easy after the Armistice. We knew it was tough for people but our research has shown it to be far more turbulent than we ever imagined.'

Dr Roberts says there is a perception that when the war ended, life returned to normal, but, in fact, nothing was ever the same again.

He highlighted the plight of disabled and disfigured soldiers, returning to a society that was not compatible with disability, the struggles of women who were expected to stop working and readjust to home life, as well as the pressure on soldiers to find a job and cope with what they had experienced.

The Rememorial WWI exhibition features the personal stories and struggles of people in the local area including Ethel Gaunt, a Munitions Worker who played football for her ironworks team during the war and later went on to become Mayor of Middlesbrough. There is also fellow Munitions Worker Ethel Bannister who became one of the first female engineers.

We have spoken to a lot of people and uncovered some remarkable and heart-breaking stories which are being publicly shared for the first time.

Dr Ben Roberts

The story of Thomas Harrison, originally from Eaglescliffe, is also featured as it details how he lost his leg during the war and learnt to cope in the years that followed. In addition, the exhibition looks at Fred Docherty, a prisoner of war who was welcomed back to his home town of Darlington as a hero. This, says Dr Roberts, is in contrast to some prisoners of war who were unfairly labelled as ‘cowards’ by their commanding officers.

As well as the human stories from the end of the First World War, the exhibition also contains a number of items and artefacts from the time, including a prosthetic leg belonging to a former soldier. It also explores what the war means today and what the future of remembrance will be.

Charlie Tait said: 'The exhibition explores thought provoking debates and artefacts from the period, combining these with typographic interpretation, projection works and physical form.

'We hope visitors will react to the content, not only learning about the social history of the period but also by making their own interpretations. One thing that personally struck me is how much of what was being discussed 100 years ago is present in our current social and political debates.'

Rememorial WWI: Narratives of Peace in the Tees Valley is being launched at Middlesbrough’s Dorman Museum on 14 June and runs until the end of the month. It will then be at the following locations:

• Darlington Library – 2 July to 30 August • Hartlepool Art Gallery - 19 July to 17 August • Kirkleatham Museum – 30 August to 29 September • Preston Park Museum – 1 September to 29 September.


In the News

Exhibition takes visitors on an emotional journey exploring the aftermath of the Great War
North East Chamber of Commerce, online, 14/6/2019
A unique project to uncover the region’s hidden stories from the end of the First World War has found the period to be even more turbulent and traumatic than ever imagined.