War and memory

WWI memorial clockHow should we remember the great conflicts that shaped the 20th century? We ask this question in a year which marks the centenary of the Battle of the Somme and the 75th anniversary of Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union.

This display looks at how the University of Reading has approached its memorials of conflict, and how we collect and preserve memories of wartime. It explores how we might respond to the objects and documents that survive.

The display will include a range of creative responses to this theme:

  • War Child: Meditating on an Archive. This website, created by Dr Teresa Murjas (Associate Professor in the Department of Film, Theatre and Television, University of Reading) and James Rattee, is a response to and exploration of the Evacuee Archive, which is held here. It may be accessed via a touchscreen as part of the exhibition.
  • Silhouette video interpretations, by Sonya Chenery, with Rob White and Catherine Chenery (2014) and Audio soundscape (2015) by Sonya Chenery, based on written accounts from the Evacuee Archive relating to the journeys taken by children evacuated during the Second World War.

The exhibition will be on display at the Special Collections Service from 22 September until 2 December 2016.

Exhibition captions

The commemoration of those connected with University College, Reading who died in the Great War reached its climax with the dedication of the Memorial Tower on 7 June 1924. However, before then there had been many other acts of commemoration, including the creation of memorials in St Patrick’s and Wantage Halls.

During the war, lists of those on military service and those who had died appeared in the College Review, student magazine Tamesis and the Old Students' News. In some cases those who had died were remembered in obituaries and, in one case at least, in a poem.

With the end of the war came the opportunity for a collective act of remembrance involving the wider college community and the relatives of those who had died. The service took place at St John's Church in Watlington Street, Reading on 14 May 1919. Together with an order of service there was a Roll of Honour, which included 129 names. The fog of war meant that this was not without errors: one of those listed did not die until 1942.

On 11 November 1919 staff and students of the College assembled in the College Hall to observe a two minutes silence. In his diary for 11 November 1921, the College Principal William Childs simply entered: “At 11 the Armistice Commemoration in our Hall”.

 

The suggestion that a lasting memorial to the College's Great War dead should take the form of a clock tower came from William Childs, the College's Principal.

Herbert Maryon, a member of staff in the Fine Arts department, prepared a design for a tower 120 feet tall. Requiring an estimated sum between £5,000 and £10,000, an appeal for funds was launched in 1919. Subsequently, it became clear that it would not be possible to raise the amount needed for so ambitious a project, and in 1923 Maryon produced a design for a more modest structure.

Building work commenced in November 1923, and was completed in time for the tower's dedication on 7 June 1924. The memorial tablet listed 144 names.

An essential element of the memorial was to be a bell, which Childs intended should be struck once for every name appearing on the memorial once a year. His inspiration for this idea came from the striking of Tom at Christ Church, Oxford – at that time, still the College’s parent body.

 

There seems to have been a continuing interest in those listed on the University’s war memorial. In 1932 there was an appeal in Tamesis for information about Florence Faithfull, the only woman named on it. The information provided by J W Dodgson and published in a subsequent issue was somewhat scant and inaccurate. Now, we know far more about Florence's background, war-time service and tragic death in what is now Iraq.

The digitisation of the memorial book photographs has produced more information and enquiries about some of the individuals concerned. Miss Lucy Stafford’s dance card, donated by her family, contains the name of Harold Chamen, who came to the College in 1913 and died in 1916. Miss Stafford – who was president of the women’s hall that occupied this building, later married fellow student Randolph Chell (“RAC” on the card). He survived the war, having been awarded the Military Cross and bar, and the Distinguished Service Order, and donated papers about his service to the College. However, we still know little about some, and nothing at all about H. Turner, other than his name.

The war memorial played a central role in the College’s commemoration of those who died, at least until the outbreak of the Second World War. Details exist of the arrangements for Armistice Day 1929-1938.

The Second World War also saw the loss of lives amongst the Reading University community. A panel listing the names of those who died, 73 in total, was added to the War Memorial Tower and dedicated on 23 May 1953.

 

In November 1915 Doris Nölting, a member of the Student Representative Council, proposed that “photographs of those members of the College fallen in the war be obtained and hung at some future date”. By late 1919 it was decided that the photographs received should be placed in an album, and that album be kept in the Union Common Room.

The work was completed by 28 June 1920, and appears to have been carried out by Clara Wilson, a former student and member of the Fine Arts department. The album contains photographs of 119 individuals and the names of 24 others. Two of these people, Wilfred Owen (the poet) and Francis Edgar Pearse, were not listed on the war memorial.

 

Audio soundscape (2015) by Sonya Chenery, based on written accounts from the Evacuee Archive relating to the journeys taken by children evacuated during the Second World War.

Sonya Chenery is part of the University of Reading’s Collections-Based Research Programme, and is undertaking a practice-as-research PhD on the Evacuee Archive with the Department of Film, Theatre and Television.

Sonya made this audio interpretation by using her own field recordings and some additional performed content. It is meant to evoke the disorientation experienced by the children, travelling all day to an unknown destination. The piano part refers to the following account by Terence Chedgey, who was evacuated to Oxfordshire from London. The train took so long to reach their destination that the children and their mothers (who accompanied children under the age of 5) had to sleep on the floor of a village hall. In the morning, Terence remembers hearing 'Land of Hope and Glory', and remarks that ‘someone must have played this to cheer us up!’ (D EVAC A/1/407)

Evacuee memories relating to the silhouette video interpretations, by Sonya Chenery, with Rob White and Catherine Chenery (2014):

Jean C. Noble, a former evacuee who stayed with relatives in Waylen Street, West Reading: “Uncle H. was a good gardener and turned much of the back garden over to salad in summer and vegetables in winter as the war progressed. We enjoyed fresh picked tomatoes, lettuce, radishes, spring onions, cucumber, peas and scarlet runner beans in summer and cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, marrows and cabbage in winter. Many of us who lived through those times know there is nothing quite like the taste of a garden fresh home grown vegetables and salad. In summer, it was a pleasant addition to the sweet ration to pick fresh young peas or runner beans and eat them raw. He also grew black and red currants and gooseberries (known to schoolchildren then as goosgogs) which we picked when no-one was looking.” D EVAC A/1/159

Tony Prior, who was evacuated to Wales: “Sometimes the Rev's mother would come down from Cwmbran and, particularly on a Sunday, would cook a scrumptious meal in a cauldron on the fire. She was a petite woman, with a ready smile and a hooked nose. All this, combined with her black clothing, her widow's weeds, gave her a witch-like quality.” D EVAC A/1/18

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