New display at the Jewish Museum opens!

Just a small post this week to show you the completed display at the Jewish Museum which opened last week. My last blog described how things were coming together.

The new display case for the cape was assembled and a mirror placed at the back. Here it is looking absolutely beautiful in its new surroundings.

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To bring the stories of the badges on the cape to life, I chose three Jewish servicemen and women who served in regiments included on the cape. These are Stella Cutner, who served with the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC), Leslie Hardman, Chaplain with the 8th Corps, 2nd Army and Sergeant Leib Lerer who served with the 7th Armoured division (Desert Rats).

The captions seen on the case below, ask visitors to find the badges on the cape and give a brief description about Stella, Leslie and Leib.

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We also put together three wall-mounted cases about Service, Faith and Remembrance to represent the Jewish Military Museum story. And of course, at the far end of the gallery we have the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women (AJEX) Memorial window by graphic designer Abram Games.

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New display cases

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New panels

 

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The whole space looks vibrant, bright and colourful and shows off the fantastic collection we have here at the JMM. We hope this display will help to promote the partnership between the JMM and the Jewish Museum and to raise the profile of our important museum.

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Games and Doris are back!

There has been no rest for me, Roz and Ian since For King and Country? opened last week. We have been preparing the Living Community Gallery at the Jewish Museum for a small display of key Jewish Military Museum objects.. As you may remember I have written blogs about the AJEX Memorial window and Doris Benjamin’s cape. In my January blog they both went off to the conservators to be cleaned before their new redisplay at the Jewish Museum.

The Memorial window was taken to Plowden and Smith who gave it a thorough clean before experimenting with different ways to light the window in its new location. In February Ian and I visited the workshops to see how things were coming along. We met Emily the conservator who worked on the window’s surface and Roger who worked on the lighting.

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With the stainless steel frame removed we were able to see how the window was put together. It appears that black resin was applied to a sheet of Perspex, with the colour acrylic blocks set into this. The Perspex was then nailed to the wooden frame.

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Last week we visited the workshop again to see the finished window. Plowden and Smith have done a remarkable job. A sheet of perspex has been applied to the front of the window to protect it from damage and the colours of the bars look so bright.

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Although the memorial window will be installed in front of a naturally lit window, Roger has designed a new lighting system for when the window needs to be lit from behind. The strips of LEDs are in complete contrast to the clunky lighting system used before.

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Work began on the Living Community space, the interactive table was removed and a large hole made in the far wall…

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Ian and Ash needed to make a hole to reach the existing window behind. No one quite realised just how big a job it would be….

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The window being raised up into its new position. The colours of the medal bars are so much brighter with the natural light!

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Meanwhile Alice, Roz and I were mounting some smaller JMM objects…

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Lastly, the cape arrived to the store. It looks so beautiful. Janie Lightfoot and her team have done an amazing job. Ian and Chris have been putting together the new case for it which will have a mirror on the back wall so the cape can be seen from all angles.

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Watch this space for photos of the completed display!

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‘For King and Country?’ 2 days to go!

Over the last 2 weeks exciting things have been happening at the JMM and the Jewish Museum.

The build and installation for our First World War exhibition ‘For King and Country? The Jewish Experience of the First World War’ has been completed.

The first week saw The Whitewall Company build the exhibitions structure using our designer Arnaud’s plans.

The carpet was first laid for the floor.

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The Whitewall Company built most of the structures for the exhibition off site, including the walls.

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The cases and graphic frames begin to arrive…

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Each graphic frame and ledge was again framed with a fabric banner, designed to replicate the feeling of tent canvas.

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In the middle of the room will be a light box table with maps of the world, showing the changes in alliances throughout the war.

ImageHere is the replica shop window. The photograph shows a bakers shop window with a First World War recruitment poster. We are borrowing the original poster from the National Army Museum and, along with other framed posters, will be displayed directly onto the graphic.

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The graphics arrived, both the section introductions and the timelines.

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The next stage of the installation was the arrival of the conserved objects and loans. Firstly the uniform of Frank de Pass arrived from conservation. My January blog showed the uniform being picked up by Janie Lightfoot and here it is fully conserved and looking absolutely beautiful.

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Next was the most exciting of all our loans, the Victoria Cross of Frank de Pass. The National Army Museum has very generously lent the Victoria Cross to the exhibition. It is absolutely fantastic to have it. Below Roz works with Ed Purvis from the National Army Museum to complete a condition report for the VC

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Adam from Plowden and Smith made and installed a special mount for the VC and here it is displayed with de Pass’s other medals and his uniform.

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other loans to arrive were a Christmas Card designed by Isaac Rosenberg from the Imperial War Museum and an order of service on the Balfour Declaration from the British Library.

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After working a grueling 60 hours last week the exhibition team (Roz, Ian and I) were delighted to see it open today for a Friends Private View. Here are some shots from the day. I hope you will visit the exhibition, at the Jewish Museum, until 10th August 2014. It truly is a labour of love and we hope you enjoy it as much as we have curatingit.

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Bringing voices to life

As the opening of our First World War exhibition “For King and Country? The Jewish Experience of the First World War” draws nearer, our preparations have been gearing up and getting quite exciting.

Last week Roz and I spent two evenings at Limehouse Recording Studio with the fantastic Elbow Productions recording the audio for the exhibition.

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On day one the brilliant actress Kate Lock read out extracts of Florence Oppenheimer’s diary. It was so exciting to hear Florence’s words read aloud. Elbow Productions’ Creative Director Jan Lower helped direct and guide the voice artists to achieve the best possible recording.

Roz and I learnt a lot about how a slight change in tone or pace could create a completely different feeling to the diary extracts.

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Next up was the recording of ‘Onward! The Hymn of the Jewish Legion’ by Pinchos Jassinowsky. We found the sheet music of this hymn in the British Library  and after carrying out due diligence to find the copyright holder we were given permission to record it.

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I can read music and tried to work out the tune of the hymn but it wasn’t until we came to record that we found out what it truly sounded like!

We were absolutely thrilled when the London Jewish Male Choir (http://www.ljmc.org.uk/) agreed to perform and record the hymn for us.

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Accompanied by a pianist the choir performed and recorded the hymn in English, Yiddish and Hebrew. It sounded fantastic, a true martial, regimental song! The choir brought the hymn to life and I was still humming it when I went home that evening.

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We were also very privileged to have Robert Davis from the LJMC sing a prayer for us – The 1918 Memorial Prayer.  It was absolutely beautiful and really moving, Robert has a remarkable voice.

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On day two we recorded poems by Isaac Rosenberg and Siegfried Sassoon, read by Sean Tyrell and Robert Nairne. Jan Lower did a fantastic job to direct the interpretation of the poems, a difficult task.

Finally actor Tom Barratt read eight letters written by Marcus Segal. Unfortunately I was unable to stay for the recording but Roz told me how Tom captured Marcus’ spirit perfectly.

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All the audio we recorded will be played in our exhibition (opening on 19th March) and I am so excited to hear it all brought together.

I would like to thank all the voice artists, the LJMC, Jan and Sultana from Elbow Productions and the studio Engineers Joel and James for such an amazing experience.

PS this was Roz’s favourite part of the studio!

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Conservation in action!

As many people are aware, some of the museum’s objects will be moving over to the Jewish Museum by the end of March;  some for our First World War exhibition, “For King and Country? The Jewish Experience in the First World War” and two for an Arts Council England funded project.

Over the last few weeks three of our most treasured objects left the museum to be conserved, ready for re-display at the Jewish Museum; Doris Benjamin’s cape, the uniform of Frank de Pass and the AJEX Memorial Window by Abram Games.

On the 7th January Doris Benjamin’s nurses cape (see blog post from July 2013) and the dress uniform of Frank de Pass VC were packed with great care by Janie Lightfoot and Kate from Janie Lightfoot Textiles.

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I did not take any photographs of the cape being packed but here is the bare mannequin on which it was mounted. The cape will be re-displayed at the Jewish Museum from the end of March 2014. We are really excited to see it cleaned and mounted on a specially made mannequin; it is going to look beautiful.

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The Frank de Pass dress uniform is a fabulous object which will take pride of place in our forthcoming First World War exhibition.  Frank de Pass was the first Jewish serviceman and the first Indian Army officer to receive the Victoria Cross. De Pass was in the 34th Prince Albert Victor’s Own Poona Horse regiment and so his uniform includes a rather beautiful silk turban.

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Janie carefully removed both the turban and the jacket from the case.

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The jacket had to be removed from the mannequin before packing.

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The jacket was then packed with acid-free tissue paper in conservation storage boxes.

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The turban was also packed into the box..

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The uniform consists of two sword belts and a pair of trousers; these were also packed for conservation.

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The mannequin and case after the uniform was removed. We are sad to see it go but can’t wait to see it on display after conservation in the exhibition.

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Janie has kindly invited us to see the cape being worked on in her studios so hopefully I can give you an update on how this is going soon.

On Friday the 10th January the AJEX Memorial Window, designed by Abram Games (see blog post from August 2013) was removed for conservation. The window will be cleaned, conserved and remounted to be installed at the Jewish Museum as a window in March 2014. Nicholas and Adam from Plowden and Smith had the job of solving how the window was put together and attached to the wall; here you can see them inspecting it.

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The window had to be unscrewed from the wall before being carefully taken down.

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Once the window was removed it allowed us to find out how the window was being lit from behind.

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A series of tube lights were lighting up the window.

A sheet of Perspex was attached to the back of the window for the light to shine through.

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The window was wrapped in a protective sheet and taken down to the van.

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Removing the window obviously left a big space in the museum so Ian Lillicrapp from the Jewish Museum brought us a fantastic replica and put it up in the museum so visitors can still see a version of it before it is unveiled at the Jewish Museum.

Watch this space for an update of how the conservation is going!

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The Diary of Florence Oppenheimer

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Happy New Year to everyone! Sorry it has been a while since I posted on here but now the festivities are over I’d like to tell you about a rather amazing diary in our collection and about its author, Sister Florence Oppenheimer.

The Diary of Florence Oppenheimer (later Florence Greenberg) is a rare object as not only did Florence keep notes on her work as a nurse on hospital ships during the First World War, it also contains many photographs from the time. Although these photographs are quite faded in places, they give us a rare glimpse of what it was like to be nurse and a patient on a hospital ship during the Great War.

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Born in 1883 Florence was the 4th of 8 children, her father was a meat importer, born in Holland and naturalised in 1892. Her family lived in a large basement house in Beresford Road, Cannonbury, North London.

Florence recalled; “We were a happy united family with a sweet gentle mother and rather strict father”.

Florence was educated at Lady Holles School and went to Bork on Rhine boarding school for a year. After school she stayed at home to help her mother with the cooking for the next 10 years. Florence had always wanted to train as a hospital nurse but her father was old fashioned and opposed to women nursing men. By the time she was 29 years old she knew if she didn’t start training then she would be too old. So, her brother discussed this with her father and he finally gave in. Florence started her nurse training at the Royal Sussex Hospital, Brighton, in 1911.

Florence embarked on 5 years of service on-board hospital ships during the First World War, sailing to Port Said, Alexandria and Cairo.  She kept her diary from 1915, originally writing each day but slowly becoming more infrequent. In 1918 and 1919 Florence added the rest of her story.

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Florence Oppenheimer left London on 19th July 1915 and travelled by train to Devonport, Plymouth.

“19th July 1915… Coming along through the peaceful country, it seemed impossible to realize that there really was this fiendish war going on but now it was bought home to us”.

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Once they arrived at the port she found quite a sight

“19th July 1915… There were lots of boats there. Transports, battleships in for repairs-oh such grim looking things… As we got off our train another transport was just leaving – crowded with troops and a good sprinkling of Sisters amongst them. Lots of Officers had arrived before us and we got such a cheer. Our luggage was all piled up on the platform and we waited patiently while 100 men (who had been detailed off for that purpose) carried it on board.” 

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Conditions on the ships

Florence describes how cramped the ships cabins were, having to share with 3 other nurses.

“19th  July 1915… The cabins are very small, there is just room for our holdalls underneath the berths, our cushions, bags and clothes have to live on the end of our berths when we are asleep and we can only dress two at a time.”

The conditions on board the ships were very hot and uncomfortable especially when the ships reached warmer climates such as Malta and Egypt.

“24thJuly 1915… It is intensely hot today the officers are wearing their sun helmets and we are sweltering in our thin cotton frocks. The officers even take off their coats and roll up their shirt sleeves at dinner – OK for a cool evening dress.”

The heat made the already cramp and humid cabins even more unbearable to sleep in and when the conditions became too much to bear the soldiers and nurses on board would take their mattresses onto the deck and sleep in the open air which Florence seemed to enjoy;

“Another glorious night on deck. I feel I don’t ever want to sleep with a roof over my head again.”

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The food on board the ships does not seem to have been bad at all, Florence often wrote about drinking champagne and eating ‘Hors d’oeuvres , 2 soups, fish and at least 6 various entrees and plates to choose from, sweets, ices, desserts and coffee’ , which seems strange as this was a ship sailing into war.

Whilst travelling to reach the Eastern Front Florence describes how both the nurses and officers had to book chairs for the journey.

20th July 1915… After breakfast we found the deck steward and booked chairs for the journey. They are delightfully comfy, and you can lounge at full length if you want to, and we only have to pay 3\. for them. One side of the deck is reserved for our chairs and one side for the Officers, but of course we all trot round to each other.”

On deck

Florence writes about the long journeys to reach Port Said, Alexandria and Cairo and how she was often bored and wishing to do anything to occupy herself.

“23rd July 1915…I am beginning to find the enforced idleness irksome, One can take absolutely no exercise. There are such a lot of us, so little room on deck one cannot even get a decent trot around.”

To pass the time Florence and the other nurses did ‘some odds and ends of needlework for some of the boys’, sewing badges, mending seams and making covers for the soldier’s rifles.

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Florence describes particular occasions where the soldiers and nurses tried to forget about what they were sailing into, or back from, and arranged a ‘sports day’

“Return journey to Alexandria Sept. 13th - 25thWe had sports on deck one day about a week after we sailed and good fun they were too… Just the usual sports but everyone entered into them with a will and they were quite a success in consequence. Washing the men’s faces was one of the funniest. The poor things had their faces greased and well covered with soot and in 10 seconds we had to see how clean we could get them. There was no time to think about soap going in the eyes or water tumbling down their backs, and the poor things who won their heats and semi-finals had the extreme pleasure of being washed three times.”

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The men even dressed up in fancy dress on this particular afternoon, as “Charlies Aunt” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charley’s_Aunt) and “Babes In the Wood”.

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However the boredom did seem to affect Florence as she writes ; “August 4th 1915…Where are they going to take us? Do they think we all want a holiday at the Governments expense. We are all thoroughly sick of it all.”

On another occasion Florence even blames the boredom of the ship for a proposal she received!

“26th July 1915…The very atmosphere makes people very sentimental. What with moonlight nights and nothing to occupy one, even staid and steady men seem to go a little bit mad. After chatting for a couple of days to an apparently quite serious Doctor he was foolish enough to propose to me this afternoon. I wanted to laugh at him, however he really seemed in earnest, so I thought the best way out of the difficulty was to tell him my religion, in any case that hurt his feelings the least. I cannot think what made him do it, I certainly had not encouraged him at all. He is a Roman Catholic, his name is Brenner and he comes from Newcastle, Oh me: it is a funny world.”

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The journey on the ships must have been such an adventure for the nurses on board who had probably never been away from England before.

Florence describes their arrival in Malta on 27thJuly 1915

“A long stretch of hilly coast line with a sun glaring at 7.30A.M. like I have never experienced before, 130° then, I wonder what it is like in the hottest part of the day and the hottest time of the year. Not a tree, not a petal of green, a certain number of houses built right down by the sea, square with flat roofs. The hills covered in dust and a few dome shaped buildings in the distant background. Interesting to look at yes- it was a real Easter picture

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Florence and the nurses were often given shore leave when the ships were docked at ports in Alexandria and Cairo.

 “31st July 1915…We took a fly from the harbour and started exploring. Alexandria is a dirty smelly city with small narrow streets and the black people are disgustingly dirty. Some of the boys and men are very good looking. There is a square of modern shops in the centre of the town.”

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When in Cairo Florence writes that “one day I thought I would like to go to Synagogue, so wrote to Norman Bentwich who I knew was living here for address and times of services”. This is almost the only reference to her Jewish faith.

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There was no getting away from the reality that they were heading to war. When the ship left Devonport a torpedo Destroyer accompanied them. Without warning the soldiers would practice shooting their rifles and there were frequent lifeboat drills. Whilst passing particularly dangerous areas such as the Straits of Gibraltar there could be no lights on deck at night and all portholes had to be covered, as well as no noise of any description.

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“23rd July 1915… Being a troop ship we will have no warning but will be simply torpedoed or shelled. I wonder if we are going to be safely landed. Well we are in God’s hand and what will be will be.”

Nursing

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On 8th August 1918 Florence was transferred to the hospital ship The Alounia near the Island of Imbros (a Turkish island in the Aegean Sea which commanded the entrance to the Dardanelles) “within hearing of our guns and in sight of the smoke”, and they started to take on casualties.

The conditions for nursing were cramped and difficult and Florence “got landed right in the very depths of the boat, a dreadful hole with not really hardly any air (Sic)”. By the end of the day the boat had 1980 patients on board, with only 10 medical staff, “stretcher cases were simply pouring in…Half our Sisters went off onto another ship during the morning leaving us with our own proper number – 12 – Two of these were ill so we had 10 to look after nearly 2,000 patients.”

Taking on wounded

Florence writes that it was agony to get the men into the bunks. There were six in a row and two rows deep. “If I wanted to do anything for the man in the top row in No. 2 bed I had to balance myself on the lower bunks and reach over the man in the top one.

I returned to my little hell once more and made the Doctors go on with dressings and I went round to try to make them a bit comfortable. Almost an impossible task, no clean shirts, no bed coverings, there was only a very limited supply of sheets and these had to be used for the very serious cases. No towels, no soap or flannels. I got a piece of my own carbolic soap an old flannel and with these, a pail of water and a couple of towels I went from bed to bed and gave them something of a wash.’

On other occasions Florence worked on the Upper Deck in the fresh air. There were 120 beds on both sides of the deck and were raised only 4 inches from the ground.

A deck

“At last I realised what war really meant. All these cases straight from the battlefield and other ships all round us also taking the poor fellows on as fast as ever they could. All the decks, every hole and corner of the place was utilised. “

an operating theatre

Florence also spent time working at a hospital in Port Said and at a Military hospital at The Citadel in Cairo from October 1915 until April 1916.

 “The hospital was built for a palace about 100 years ago and has been used as Military hospital for 25 years, but in peace time there are 200 beds but now there are 1000. The Citadel is an ancient fortress built by Saladin in the 12th Century and the palace is built right up at the top.”

surgical ward, citade military hospital cairo

In 1918 Florence took a short holiday and was then posted to a London hospital, in charge of an officer’s ward. However she got restless and wanted to see active service again so she was transferred to Cairo. Whilst in Egypt there were riots and here she tells a very interesting story.

Our boys were out on duty and one day one of them was brought into my ward with a very nasty wound over his heart, shot by one of the natives. Fortunately he had his bible in his breast pocket, had this not been the case, the bullet would have gone deeper and his chance of survival would have been practically nil.”

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An inch of the cover of the bible was shot away and a certain number of pages, and the top of the first page exposed reads “and the Lord hath delivered us from the hands of the Egyptians” (Book of Exodus).

Florence was in Egypt at the time of the Armistice. She signed on for another 6 months and transferred to Palestine.

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In Dec 1919 Florence decided she wanted to go home, “After 5 years of really hard work I was very tired and thought I would be wise to return home.”

Florence married Leopold Greenberg, editor of the Jewish Chronicle in 1920. Returning to her love of cooking, in 1934 she compiled the Jewish Chronicle Cookery Book which was a staple in almost every Jewish home, and for which she is most famous for today.

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Florence also broadcast recipes during WWII on the BBC’s morning program The Kitchen Front.

Florence reflected;

I don’t think there are many people who have been privileged to have had two interesting and rewarding careers – one in nursing and the other cookery.”

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Children of the Great War

On Wednesday 20th November we took part in an exciting event ‘Children of the Great War’. It was in partnership with Age Exchange, a reminiscence organisation located in Blackheath, Europeana and Oxford University. The RAF Museum London in Colindale kindly let us use their magnificent Grahame-White building and First World War aircraft hangar. The project let us bring together members of the Jewish community to share family stories of the First World War that have been passed down through the years.

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It was a cold and wet day but all staff and volunteers arrived at the RAF Museum in high spirits.

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Visitors arrived at the Welcome desk before filling in the consent forms with a cup of tea and a biscuit. They then went to the interview space where staff from Age Exchange and some our wonderful volunteers recorded their stories.

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Most visitors brought objects, photographs and other documents to accompany their story. These were brought through the hangar to the ‘Digitising In’ desk where I recorded all the items to be photographed/scanned before taking them to the digitisation room. I was sat in the freezing hangar all day, but meeting the visitors and hearing their stories made it worth braving the cold for.

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Next it was my job to take the objects up to the digitising room where a team of staff and volunteers photographed and scanned the items.

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The visitors I spoke to were proud of their family stories and believed in the great importance and need to record these stories for the future.

Niki Goorney, the museum’s Learning Officer, who organised this great event writes:

“We were really pleased with how the day went, especially as this is the first event that Age Exchange have facilitated. Some of the stories that have come out have been truly fascinating and inspirational”

All of the stories and objects from the event will be entered into the Europeana 1914-1918 international online archive. We will use them to support the creation of our First World War exhibitions,and Age Exchange hopes to use them to create a new play to premiere in London in August 1914.

One  story we will be including in our forthcoming First World War exhibition is that of Julius Weinberg. His son Kurt Weinberg,a child of the Kindertransport, told us the story of his father. Julius was born in Werther North-West Germany and worked at a cigar manufacturer. He volunteered for the German Army from 1908 and during the First World War served as a Sergeant in the Supply Corps. Kurt told the interviewers that German Jews were enthusiastic to fight for the Kaiser and their country.

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Kurt showed me photographs of his father in uniform along with his Soldbuch, (service record). Julius Weinberg was awarded the Iron Cross 1914-1918 and the Iron Cross (Rhine) medals in the First World War of which he was immensely proud. When the Nazis rose to power Kurt explained that his father believed these medals and the fact he was part of the organisation of German Jewish soldiers would keep him safe. Kurt showed me his father’s Bescheinigung document which was produced to prove that he had fought in the army. However, even with this document and presenting his Iron Crosses at a Police station Julius could not escape persecution. Julius survived the Buchenwald concentration camp but Kurt felt that he was a changed man.

Kurt recently donated his father’s Pickelhaube (German Helmet) to the museum which will be displayed in the exhibition. It is such a fantastic object!

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Our curator Roz reflected on the day;

“During our Children of the Great War Open Day we have uncovered some amazing stories from the Jewish community. It was a wonderful day of discovery adding to our understanding of the Jewish Experience of the First World War which we will be exploring in our exhibition at the Jewish Museum next year. Thanks to all our partners for making the day so special.”

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