Cumbernauld connection in Lanarkshire's War exhibition
The trenches, the battles and the massive loss of life '“ the theatre of war that was World War One is already very well documented.
What is perhaps less well known is how people at home coped as war was waged on distant shores.
But how life continued in Lanarkshire is precisely the subject of a fascinating new exhibition which has just opened its doors.
Lanarkshire’s War is the first joint collaboration by North and South Lanarkshire Councils during the World War One centenary commemorations.
It is the culmination of 18 months of work by South Lanarkshire Leisure and Culture (SLLC) museum service and Culture NL museums and heritage.
And this week, we were able to take a closer at the exhibition at Low Parks Museum in Hamilton.
Showing me around was Barrie Duncan, SLLC assistant museums officer and Michael Allan, Culture NL assistant curator.
Taking a seat in the exhibition’s very own cinema room, they explained the importance it played in the lives of locals.
Barrie said: “The reason we included the cinema was two-fold – people still went to the theatre and cinema and carried on their normal lives here, despite the war.
“But, more importantly perhaps, it was also a source of information about the war and its casualties for loved ones left behind here.
“Arguably, the most striking example of this is a documentary that was screened showing the Battle of the Somme.
“Within a couple of months of its release, 20 million people in the UK had been to see it – the population at that time was around 43 million so it was a huge draw.
“It was the first full length documentary of the war ever recorded which was shown to the public.
“Many millions of people went to see it, no doubt in the hopes of catching a glimpse of family members or friends.”
While the exhibition cinema is not screening the documentary, it does display interesting footage shot in Lanarkshire during the war.
One artefact which will no doubt attract huge local interest has survived in pristine condition since 1921.
It is a commemoration programme produced for the unveiling and dedication of Cumbernauld Parish Ward and Southern District war memorial – one of the earliest of the 77 war memorials built in Lanarkshire which survive to this day to commemorate the fallen.
The ceremony took place on Sunday, May 22, 1921 chaired by Captain Alan Burns and with the Rev John Ogilvie and Thomas Low presiding.
Michael said: “Hundreds of programmes would have been printed for the service.
“Chances are someone who was at the event kept their copy and it was later discovered, in a cupboard or attic, and donated to us.
“Most of the objects on display have been in families for generations before being donated to the museums service.
“Some of the items have never been on display before – indeed, we were amazed at just how much material we actually had.
“We couldn’t display it all, unfortunately, but we’ve chosen a selection of items which cover the length and breadth of Lanarkshire.”
Barrie and Michael are still putting finishing touches to the exhibition – they are keen to make it as interactive as possible.
So visitors can listen to voice actors on telephones, reading out letters sent home to loved ones from soldiers or commanding officers in the event of their death.
Another room has been staged to show what a typical home would have looked like in that era – it even features the family dog!
But it’s not quite finished yet. Barrie explained: “We want to have that set up so when someone walks in it triggers sound effects, helping to further transport visitors back to that time.”
A soundtrack is also being considered.
Michael explained: “We’d like to include a background track of music from that time so that the exhibition is even more atmospheric.
“It may drive the staff mad but we think it would be worth it!”
While still tinkering around the edges, there’s little doubt that the exhibition crafted by Barrie and Michael is in equal parts moving and fascinating.
Souvenirs of war, letters sent by commanding officers paying tribute to lost soldiers, death pennies, war medals and steel work memorials – it’s all waiting to be explored.
Lottery funded exhibition
Lanarkshire’s War opened at Low Parks Museum in Hamilton on April 3.
The Heritage Lottery and Museum Galleries Scotland funded project is part of a four-year UK programme, commemorating the centenary of World War One.
Using social, industrial, military and archive items from the collections of both North and South Lanarkshire Councils, it includes personal stories giving an insight into the impact of war on all aspects of Lanarkshire’s social and industrial life, as well as from those on the frontline.
Gerry Campbell, SLLC general manager, said: “Working with Culture NL on this project has been a tremendous example of sharing our heritage collections to best advantage in this national initiative.
“We are delighted to have worked in partnership with our colleagues in North Lanarkshire to bring to the people of our county such a thought-provoking social and historical exhibition.”
Jillian Ferrie, chief executive of CultureNL, agreed, saying: “We are delighted to be working in partnership with South Lanarkshire Leisure and Culture on this exhibition which aims to tell the story of the First World War from the perspective of the people who lived through it.
“We are sure the exhibition will be a success at Low Parks and we look forward to its appeal continuing when it comes to Summerlee.”
Lanarkshire’s War will be on display until the end of November at Low Parks Museum. Next year, it will take up residence at Summerlee Museum in Coatbridge from August to November.
Low Parks Museum in Hamilton’s Muir Street is open seven days a week and general admission and entry to the exhibition area is free.