A brush with death in WWI

My Grandfather passed away in the summer after a period of illness and a number of papers that had been gathered about our families history were passed my way. I burrowed through the boxes like a starving racoon through a dustbin and pulled out a number of gems including the piece that I am going to share with you now – there will be more coming soon!

This is the recollections of my Great Grandfather – William Potter on his experiences of being shot. Apparently according to family myth and legend Grandpa Potter would tell this story to his children and illustrate the story with the bullet kept on the mantlepiece. The bullet went missing one day and was never found (a secret, I privately believe, my Grandma took to the grave!) but the story can be shared to this very day.  The original was handwritten on a standard bit of A4 in the box, easy to miss this link to the past.

So It’s over to Grandpa Potter…

The closest shave with danger to my life was during the Great War, when being a signaller with the 1st Battery of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment in the 1st division of the BEF.

It was 11am on the 1st April 1917 when being on a signal station on the canal bank to the west of Ypres, where we had six observation balloons overlooking the Passchendaele Ridge and Ypres area, viewing the German positions, when a German plane came behind a low-lying cloud and fired at the balloons, bringing five out of the six down with explosive bullets. Every third bullet from the machine gun being explosive.

I was on a Heliograph signalling and the pilot of the plane saw the flashing and fired a burst. One explosive smashed a tree trunk I was leaning on, and an ordinary bullet going through my left arm and entered under shoulder-blade, and four hours later, at a field dressing station, under canvas, was operated and bullet extracted within half an inch of the heart. So two lucky escapes, if received explosive my left side would have been shattered and if the ordinary bullet had entered the heart it would have been fatal.

Now 82 years of age so was a lad of 20 at the time.

Grandpa Potter passed away in 1981 still suffering the effects of the gas attacks he faced on the battlefield but after a long and fulfilled life. He returned to the front after his injuries healed, survived the rest of the war and went on to build a successful business for his family.

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#Remixtheship

I was lucky enough to be on Mar’s team having a look around HMS Belfast a couple of weeks ago ahead of #remixtheship. Veteran of two museomixes, and an OCL kids remix project, I am, as always excited to see what the teams are going to come up with and slightly nervous about the sleep deprivation!

I won’t actually be remixing anything over the weekend, I’ll be busy spreading the good word, chatting to the teams and the coaches, recording what is going on, smiling at people and generally doing Mar’s bidding. This hasn’t stopped me thinking about what I might remix and having a peek into the history of the beautiful HMS Belfast. Here are a few ideas…

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I love that Belfast was also an aircraft carrier, with two Supermarine Walrus on board (single engine amphibious bi-plane – see that sounds cool right?) which was launched by a catapult, and the hauled back on deck by a crane. There has got to be a story to tell there right?

Perhaps it I might go more social history and look at life on board for the navy personnel that served on her over her thirty years of service. There are some fabulous mannequin tableaux around the vessel…

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She was involved in some major conflicts from Arctic Convoys to D’Day and then in her later years spent much of her time out in the Far East. Belfast was blown up by a mine early in WW2 and then later shelled during the Korean War but it wasn’t enough to stop her! Plenty of material there.

Belfast is part of the National Historic Ships and the first naval vessel to be saved for the nation since HMS Victory (apparently according to Wikipedia). Most of all it is a really cool space, which is nothing like we have remixed before, so come on join a team and sign up today!

Oh and if you want to know what being part of #remixtheship is going to be like? Well it’ll be like nothing else! You will forge friendships in moments, probably want to kill someone or throw a piece of kit or all your kit out of the window/porthole/off the deck, mainly live off sugar and caffeine, get up early, go to bed late and have one of the greatest experiences of your life (hopefully) It will be the most creative and frustrating couple of days and in this case you get to play on a big ship! So what are you waiting for?   

Sign up here http://opencommunitylab.co.uk/

Tattoo – British Tattoo Art Revealed review

I had a trip down to Cornwall for a couple of days last month. I had noticed a couple of write ups of the Tattoo – British Tattoo Art Revealed drop in to my media channels a couple of days before my arrival. In a post house move haze, I had assumed this was at the Maritime Museum in Greenwich and was delighted to discover it was just down the road from my holiday cottage in Falmouth.

I had seen a small exhibit about the history of Tattooing at the Museum of London last year, which I had found fascinating. The background to these historical and personal designs and the talented individuals who bring the ideas to life and breathe their own stylistic elements made for an interesting exhibit.

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The exhibition at Falmouth expanded this idea, as well as giving us a history of the tattooing on British shores. From the arrival of the art form on ‘live exhibits’, brought by sailors from far flung places, to these sailors getting their own tattoos, to it moving to the general population, provided a timeline start the exhibition. Then there was a large section on the tattoo artists themselves, examples of their work and discussions of how society has seen tattoos through the years.

The main crux of the exhibition was as the if Tattooing is a form of art? If it is, then how should we capture the art for future generations, or is it just to be lost when the artwork dies on the person it is inked on?

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The areas I found particularly interesting was the social history of tattooing, the idea of high society Victorian ladies having beautiful and intricate tattoos under all their layers of crinoline. That as Tattoos went in and out of fashion, the blue and white collar workers could hide their designs under shirt sleeves, but those in more manual labour had no choice but to show them off – so tattoos became a ‘class’ thing. When tattooing was out of fashion, groups of tattoo artists and tattooed individuals formed clubs to keep the scene alive until it came back into fashion. I also enjoyed the section on local people and the story/history behind their tattoos, from personal reflection, personal protection and desiring beautiful art on their bodies.

Don’t miss the extension of the exhibition up on the first floor near the cafe, where tattoo artists featured in the main exhibit had been commissioned to produce more traditional artworks to be displayed in the museum, it really showed just how talented these artists are as designers and artists in mediums other than human skin.

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If you would like to visit, the exhibition runs until January 2018 for more details visit their website https://nmmc.co.uk/

The Newport Literary Society – 30 Quay Street.

When I am not writing and researching these blogs I have a ‘day job’ working for a small charity on the Isle of Wight – Independent Arts. The office is at number 30 Quay Street Newport. I was delighted to discover the beautiful glass doors at the entrance, it was only a matter of time before I had to discover the historical significance of the grade two listed building. Luckily the minutes of meetings are kept the the Isle of Wight records office and after a few days of wading through the hand written notes I had got the measure of the place!

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The Newport Literary society was formed in 1876 to provide ‘recreation for the men of Newport’. Offering reading rooms and recreational space in band new premises at 30 Quay street from 1880. The road down to the Quay was being redeveloped during this time with the Warburton Hotel (now Calverts) on the corner, a couple of small shops, the Literary Institute, Police Station (at 31) and then the Methodist Church all being built within this this period. The original Minton tiles that were specially commissioned for the building still highlight the front of the building.

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The minute books are a treasure of information including meetings to discuss the cost of linoleum for the ground floor reading rooms, and the furnishing of the committee room. There was an ongoing debate for some three months in 1880 about the provision of a smoking room – some members of the committee felt that smoking was “ a departure from the purposes the society was designed to serve”. When all members were petitioned, the smokers won with a narrow margin of 6 votes in their favour. A chess club – with tuition was soon established and a junior debating society – it is noted in the minutes that this group should be conducted under ‘proper supervision’! There were essay writing competitions including one for the under 25’s with the title “ The History of England from the beginning of the reign of Henry VIII to the end of that of Elizabeth”.

In 1893 a lady’s name appears on the notice board to be considered as an ordinary member – I have been unable to find minutes to report whether she was admitted or not. However, as the building is described as “Young Men’s literary Institution and IOW Museum in the 1891 Kelly’s directory, I am assuming it was a negative response.

The society benefitted from newspaper subscriptions being offered, donations of books including the works of Tennyson by Mr W Waterworth. Mr A Waterman presented four engravings and plaster busts of Shakespeare and Milton, a very handsome clock, two large photographs and a further engraving. By 1895 the library at the Institute contains over 2000 volumes and by 1909 over 4000.

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By 1893 the Institute branched out, taking on a collection of fossils belonging the the late Dr Wilkins – purchased by donations of members of £35.40. The premises were expanded to contain the new collection and there were rooms opened for a museum. This was housed in the building next door which was rented from Miss Dyer for £10 per year, for up to the next seven years.

The 1900 Minerva IOW Pictorial guide described the site as “Newport Literary Society have a headquarters in Quay street. There is a good library, with a line of curiosities” The Isle of Wight County Press reports on January 30th 1909 “The Newport Literary Society recorded another prosperous year in its 33rd annual report. The society has 243 members, the library has over 4,000 books. The card room has been well used largely down to the success of the societies whist team, who won the Newport League”.

The building had a live in steward/caretaker, who had premises on the ground floor. In the minutes of a meeting in August 1882 it was resolved that a cupboard in the passage should be altered, at the expense of the society, for the storage of the caretakers bicycle! There was also a gardener employed in 1883 to cut the grass, prune the trees and shrubs, attend to the gravel. It was also minuted that he should paint the garden seats.

The First World War took it’s toll on the Institute – as with every family across the country. A war memorial is erected in the entrance to the building to the memory of those who were killed in the Great War. The memorial was unveiled by the Mayor of Newport Mr Edward Munden on the second of March 1921.

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Between the wars the building was used much more for recreation than for education and debate. The installation of more billiard tables and a provision for ping pong brought sport to the forefront of the buildings use. Both the Billiards team and the ping pong team performed well in the local leagues well into the 1940’s. This also resulted in a change of name to ‘The Newport Literary and Recreational Society’. By the 1950’s as the world moved on the society’s membership dropped and the mortgage on the building increased by £100.00 and the society was struggling to survive. The doors closed in 1955. The building was then converted to office use and has been used for this ever since.

Full steam ahead!

A couple of years ago I was back in Bolton visiting family and after consuming a rather large greasy fry up in Morrison’s I was crossing the car park and was approached by a man who asked “Can you tell me where the steam museum is please? I understand it’s near Morrison’s”. Well after a bit of head scratching and a few more questions, we worked out he should have been at the other Morrison’s store in Bolton. Being friendly northerners (by birth, though not by current residence) we said “Follow us” and took him to the door. “Can’t believe we’ve never visited” we said to each other…

Fast forward a few years and we were back in Bolton on the annual Christmas visitation pilgrimage, we had a few hours free and decided to go along to the Steam Museum. Checking their Facebook page we discovered that we were in luck and the Museum would be in full steam – hurrah, I do love a steam engine! We headed over to the Morrison’s Store (the one on Chorley Old Road, not the one in the Town Centre), found a spot in the car park and made our way inside. The engine shed is in part of the old Atlas Mill site, from a time when cotton was king and the good folk of Bolton earned their money in the mill trade, now it has been transformed into a Mecca of mill machinery.

The delightful tang of warm grease and oil hangs in the air as the steam vapour adds droplets of dampness. The noise of pistons rising and falling, cranks turning and blasts of escaping steam set the scene beautifully. We were greeted by a friendly volunteer in a smart maroon overall coat who handed us a map with information about all the engines. The building is well set out with an obvious visitor route around the various displays. Simple and interesting interpretation adds to the story. A nice combination of engineering information and history including the information about the mills, people who worked the machines and how the engines ended up on display.img_20161228_121753229We worked our way around the lower floor, which was very busy with visitors of all ages including a couple of children completely absorbed with the children’s trail! As a Bolton girl, I was particularly interested in the badges from mills and companies whose names I recognised. My partner – who is an engineer, was impressed with the scale of the engines and was astounded about how many of them were up and running on display.img_20161228_125147290We made our way up onto the balcony and grabbed a sit down at the tea kiosk for a few minutes, refuelling on a Tunnock’s caramel wafer (only 35p!). My overall impression of the museum was the way it was cared for. The building was spotlessly clean, from the toilets to the engines, not a speck of dust or dirt. The volunteers were obviously dedicated to the place, chatting enthusiastically to visitors and each other, it felt like a big happy family. I was also surprised that the site had no grant funding and was funded entirely by donations, legacies and some money from the initial Morrison’s supermarket deal.

If you get the chance to go along when the site is in steam, it is an amazing sight. However, the information alone tells an excellent story and I am sure you could easily while away an hour, even if the engines aren’t running. Details of the museum are here http://www.nmes.org/ or visit their Facebook page for details of events https://www.facebook.com/BoltonSteamMuseum Support a small museum, full of heart, a wealth of knowledge and a fascinating story about Bolton (and other cotton towns) past.

A review of Sick to Death – Chester

While away on holiday for the Christmas I had an invitation from a friend (Richard Euston – Project Manager at Big Heritage Chester) to see their exhibition on the City Walls in Chester. The Sick to Death exhibit has been in situ since the late summer and covers medicine through time in an interesting and engaging way.

Set in the Water Tower, off the Chester City walls (which would have sat much closer to the river at the time of construction than today) it provides a nice link from the narrative to the city. Plague pits were dug next to the walls and used for disposal of bodies right next to the Water Tower. On the day of the visit the rain was falling and you could almost transport yourself back to the wet miserable folk digging to dispose of their plaguey dead!

Hats off to whoever designed the exhibition in the space at the Water Tower – not an easy space to work in with circular rooms, narrow doors, flights of spiral staircases and a steep set of steps back to road level.

The design fits the rooms perfectly and mixes interpretation panels with simple interactives, including a poor chap, rather loose of bowels who greets you with straining discomfort as you enter the room! This is a real hit with kids (both big and little) and strangely helped focus you as you go from the outside world to the exhibition within.

The ground floor covered plague and typhoid along with a history of early medicine. You could look at the fleas that carried plague bacteria through a microscope while being quarantined in a little plague shed (I am sure it had a proper name!). One of my favourite activities was building a pomander to ward off the illnesses, combining dried herbs in a pretty bag that you could take away with you for a donation, a great touchy, smelly activity. I took one away that is currently keeping my underwear draw fresh!

Those who regularly read this blog will know I love an opportunity to get in a museum dressing up box and there was plenty of chances to dress up and take a selfie here, from the plague doctor, to a soldier’s helmet, to the Tudor doctor in his ruff.img_20161221_121943028

Heading up the spiral staircase to the upstairs room we moved on to leprosy – with a lovely looking leper to get your photograph taken next too! Some more medical history information and then a fascinating skeleton with a bit of information about osteoarchaeology. This triggered much discussion in our group about if you would mind being on display in your skeletal form? I decided I certainly wouldn’t – I’d look very thin!! It was a really interesting piece to have on show.

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I would heartily recommend a visit to Sick to Death, a great family day out and engaging for adults too. It provides a great balance between history and science and there are some brilliant items on loan from National collections that enhance the written content.

If you have the time we would also recommend a visit up to the camera obscura in the adjacent tower – despite being a rather dull and overcast day the view was brilliant.

The site is less than a 10 minute walk from the city centre for food and loos, and is close to the large car parks.  For more details of their opening time and information find more details here http://sicktodeath.org/

Oh And don’t forget to grab a selfie with the plague doctor!

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NB As previously mentioned there are a lot of steps so it may not be suitable for buggies/wheelchairs or those with dodgy knees!

Remembrance weekend in Berlin

I was lucky enough to get the chance to visit Berlin last weekend. It wasn’t until I climbed aboard the aircraft that I realised I would be in the city on Armistice Day. I was intrigued about how the whole ‘thing’ would go in Berlin. I did a quick google and it turns out that Germany has a national day of mourning for all those lost in conflict the following weekend. Considering that Germany is only 27 years old as a united country and Berlin is only just over 700 years old it is a city scarred by conflict and in a massive guilt trip over what has happened in it’s short life.

I have written before about my feelings about how there are heroes and victims in both sides of any conflict https://custardon.wordpress.com/2014/06/06/custard-on-d-day-70-years-on/ Which ever side won or lost there is always someone who doesn’t come home to their friends and family.

In Berlin there is no escape from it’s troubled past. The older stone buildings bear the pock marks of bullet holes and bombings. They are repaired but the scars still show. The old buildings are often facades with new buildings behind the old frontage. The Wall is never far behind the scenes with a watchtower here and a photo opportunity there. There are small brass plaques on the streets marking the homes of the Jewish families who were taken from their homes to a terrifying end.

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Battle scarred walls on Hamburger Strasse

I took a few moments to reflect on this as I walked around the Reichstag building on Sunday morning, my poppy still in place. I really just wanted to wrap my arms around the city and say, it’s okay. There are terrible things that happen during all conflicts. Human beings are pushed beyond the limits of normal. That might be sleeping in a trench, or living behind the iron curtain wishing for life with Pepsi cola. It might be choosing to kill to save your life or those of your friends, or surviving on little less than potatoes being bombed and blockaded. What struck me was seeing a building and a nation rise from the ashes, guilty of the sins of it’s fathers – who were cruel beasts. For my moment of remembrance I took a few minutes to think, as always of all those who never made it home but also for those caught up in a game they have no control of. Those trapped behind a wall erected overnight, those who lived through but were never quite the same because of their experiences. For everyone touched by war and still touched by war. The buildings of Berlin begin to grow and change. Repairs are finally completed and the new Capital City begins to stand on it’s new infant feet. What a price was paid for this by all sides – we will remember them.

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From the new to the old – the new face of Berlin