Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Great War exhibition brings 'my men' back to life!

Parcels of comfort arrive at the Front
While researching my book Letters from the Trenches I got to know many of the soldiers whose correspondence I used very well, because it wasn't just their letters that were important but their stories too, as recalled by relatives. I got to know something of the men's personalities, a little about their families and, of course, what happened to them. It was therefore very moving to see these soldiers brought back to life in an exhibition called 'Parcels of Comfort' which is running at Bristol Cathedral.

The exhibition looks at the WW1 postal service and shows how important it was during the conflict: a lifeline between home and the Front which did much to raise the morale of troops. On display in scenes which recreate the era are beautifully-crafted parcels and letters, either neatly wrapped, addressed and ready to be sent to the Front, or having just arrived in the trenches.

What makes the exhibition particularly poignant is that all the items are addressed to real men who fought (and died) in the war. This was something the organisers were very keen to do, and I was very pleased when they asked if they could include the names of eleven of  'my' men from Letters from the Trenches, who are listed below. They fought in several different theatres of war: France, Gallipoli, Italy and the Middle East. Two were taken prisoner and spent the conflict in PoW camps. Eight returned home, three were killed.

An Edwardian hallway, one of the scenes
recreated in the exhibition
You'll be able to spot some of 'their' parcels in the photos on this page which show scenes from the exhibition. Their full stories are told in Letters from the Trenches.

Sgt GN Smith, London Scottish, BEF France
Cpl Saddr E Pollikett, 10th Royal Hussars, BEF France
Pte S Town, 9th West Yorks, 11th Div, MEF (Mediterranean Expeditionary Force)
Sgt F Woodhouse, 14 Royal Welsh Fusiliers, St John Ambulance Brigade Hospital, Etaples, BEF France
Cpl A Youell, 126 Siege Battery, RGA (Royal Garrison Artillery), BEF France
Pte EW Wood, 4th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment, BEF Italy
Pte FW Wood 1st Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry, BEF France
Pte NW Harris ,7th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment, Mesopotamian Ex-Force
Pte TW Fake, 2nd Battalion, Rifle Brigade, BEF France
Sgt AH Addison, ASC (MT), BEF France
Sgt Maj A Dowling, Royal Irish Rifles, Sennelager II Padeborn, Germany
Capt EWC Sandes, Royal Engineers, Afion-Kara-Hissar, Turkey

Packges for the Wood brothers,
signed, sealed and awaiting delivery
The exhibition also features hand-crafted replicas of food items (among them Kendal Mint Cake, Oxo, tea and tinned herrings)
that were popular among troops and often sent out in parcels, plus garments such as scarves and mittens - welcomed by soldiers especially during winter - which have been knitted from authentic 1914 patterns and are particularly evocative

'Parcels of Comfort' is on show until January and admission is free. If you live in or near Bristol, or you are planning to visit, I can recommend a trip to see it. You can find more details on the Cathedral website http://bristol-cathedral.co.uk/whats-on/parcels-of-comfort.