While it might lack the grandeur of the new galleries at the Imperial War Museum, the City of London’s Guildhall Library is putting on a interesting new exhibition about the First World War which brings the reality of the conflict to life, ‘From Beef Tea To Battleships’.
Occupying a few glass-topped cases in one corner of the library there are personal letters, diaries and objects that tell the stories of Londoners who were affected by the war, both at home and on the battlefields.
One case looks at the life of Wilfred Stanley Palmer, a volunteer with the London Rifle Brigade. Amongst the items are his three ‘wound stripes’ – an award given to soldiers injured during the war – so clearly Stan saw his fair share of bullets and shrapnel. There’s also a damaged torch, which saved his life. As he went over the top at the Battle of the Somme, a bullet aimed at Stan’s heart embedded itself in the torch instead. Amongst his possessions is also a poem, describing a church in France – nothing is known about the poet but one would assume that he was a fellow soldier who was close to Stan:
And now the sight of that village
In ruins, like others appals,
And nothing remains of the dear old church
But broken and tottering walls.
Another case recalls William Greenall Coe, known to friends and family as ‘Boy’. A submariner in the Royal Navy, Boy was a frequent letter writer, and there are several examples of the correspondence that he sent to his mother back in London. He mentions the poor quality of the beef tea served when he was convalescing in Great Yarmouth following a fever he contracted while serving aboard a D3 submarine, which he compared to ‘washing up water’. Sadly Boy was not to see the end of the war, dying in March 1917 from double pneumonia and consumption.
Alongside the displays is a new artwork by London artist Rebecca Louise Law, ‘Poppy’, which consists of two ‘curtains’ of Remembrance Day poppies sewn together that lead to a plaque containing John McCrae’s famous poem, ‘In Flanders Fields’.
Lots of events have been planned to coincide with ‘From Beef Tea To Battleships’ exhibition, which runs until 14 November 2014 – more details can be found here on the Guildhall Library website.