Armed Forces Week at the National Memorial Arboretum

On Wednesday 25th June I travelled up to Staffordshire to attend the AJEX Ceremony and Parade in honour of Armed Forces Day at The National Memorial Arboretum http://www.thenma.org.uk/ .

The National Memorial Arboretum is the UK’s year-round Centre for Remembrance.  It is a beautiful place honouring those who have served, and continue to serve, Britain in many different ways. There are over 50,000 trees planted at the site which covers 150 acres. The trees and over 200 dedicated memorials at the site make the Arboretum “a living tribute that will forever acknowledge the personal sacrifices made by the Armed Forces and civil services of this country.”

The National Memorial Arboretum

The National Memorial Arboretum

The focus of the NMA is not only on military remembrance. There are large areas devoted to the Police, Fire and Rescue and Ambulance services. National charities representing those who have died in particular circumstances, including children, are also to be found in the Arboretum grounds.

The day before Niki and I travelled up to Cannock and stayed at the picturesque Ramada Hotel…

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Room with a view…

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The Stumble Inn…

 In the morning, in partnership with the Holocaust Education Trust, we visited Great Wyrley School. Niki and Ron Shelley (our Museum Chairman) spoke to a school group about Armed Forces Week, the British Jewish contribution to the Armed Forces and what was planned for the day ahead. 

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Niki talking to pupils at Great Wyrley School

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Ron talking to pupils at Great Wyrley School

Arriving at The National Memorial Arboretum, I was amazed by the beauty and tranquillity of the site. Ron Shelley first led the school group to the Shot at Dawn Memorial and The Armed Forces memorial.

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Inside the NMA – The Armed Forces Memorial

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Parachute Regiment Memorial

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49th (West Riding) Division Memorial

The Shot at Dawn Memorial

This memorial commemorates the 306 British and Commonwealth soldiers who were shot for desertion or cowardice during World War I. Most were sentenced after a short trial at which no real opportunity for defence was allowed. Today it is recognised that many of these men were suffering from shell-shock. 

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Shot At Dawn memorial

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Shot At Dawn Memorial

 

 

 

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Ron talking to pupils at the Shot At Dawn memorial

The Armed Forces Memorial 

This commemorates the men and women of British Armed and Merchant Services who have lost their lives in conflict, as a result of terrorist action or on training exercises since the end of WWII.

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One of the sculptures on the Armed Forces Memorial

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At the Armed Forces Memorial

The AJEX Ceremony and Services

We then made our way to the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women (AJEX) Memorial where AJEX held a parade and service in memory of those who have fallen.

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The AJEX Memorial

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Standard bearers march to the AJEX memorial

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Memorial service

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Memorial service

After the service at the AJEX Memorial the parade moved on to the Normandy Memorial, in recognition of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

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The D-Day Memorial

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Rabbi Reuben Livingstone the current Jewish Chaplain to the British Armed Forces.

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D-Day Veterans Mervyn Kersh and Leslie Sutton salute during the National Anthem.

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Marcus and Florence go online!

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I’m excited to announce that the Marcus and Florence interactive from our ‘For King and Country?’ exhibition is now online!

Here you can read all of Marcus Segal’s letters and Florence Oppenheimer’s diary with a video and the audio we recorded with Tom Barratt and Kate Lock back in February.

Click here to go to the website.  Enjoy!

http://www.letters.thejmm.org.uk.gridhosted.co.uk/

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A Collections Review and a WW2 discovery

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Last week Frances Halahan from Halahan Associates visited the museum to review our entire collection.  This is needed to help us plan for the future storage and to ensure that our fantastic collection can be preserved for future generations. It is also an important step in planning of our proposed move to the Jewish Museum.

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Frances spoke to us about the conditions of our collection and answered questions about best storage practice and how to treat specific objects and material.

Frances measured both of our object stores and reviewed the boxes, uniforms and display areas to calculate how much space our collection needs to be stored correctly, allowing for room to grow.

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Whilst looking at the display cases Frances and Roz removed an object that had been intriguing us for a while.  Labelled in the display as water purification tablets, we were concerned by its condition and wanted Frances’ advice.

However, on closer inspection we discovered that this object was not simply water purification tablets, it was some sort of World War II 24 hour ration pack.

On one side it it appears to be a wallet with a tiny compass attached.

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On the reverse we discovered a bar of chocolate, a box of matches and a tube of what we think was condensed milk but has corroded significantly.

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There are lots of cubes of Horlicks tablets  and even some chewing gum pellets on the top right!

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The ration pack contains the water purification tablets as we suspected. There are also some tablets to ‘relieve fatigue’ which may have been Benzedrine or another amphetemine that were issued to soldiers during the Second World War.

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As you can see the collection is in very poor condition, with plastic from the wallet decomposing almost completely. Frances advised us to take it off display and helped us to repack it safely.

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Frances is now writing a report on her findings on our collection and has kindly offered to advise us with the marking and repacking of our collection. We look forward to seeing how we can improve our storage and the condition of our collection, and ensure it is preserved for the future.

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Men in the Shadow? The German POW camp

This week as I was sorting through some of our collections I came across a really intriguing object.

Entitled ‘Men in the shadow? No – Men in the sun!’ at first glance the document looks almost like a holiday brochure. Photographs of men playing football, a group of actors putting on a play, enjoying a drink and partaking in a very English game of cricket add to the holiday camp feel.

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In fact, this ‘brochure’ is promoting German Prisoner of War (POW) camps during WW2.  In order to disprove claims that English POWs were being poorly treated like ‘Men in the shadow’ , the Nazis produced documents like this to prove that POWs were in fact ‘well-fed, sturdy figures’ with ‘smiling faces’.

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“They have overcome the terrors of war. Their eyes reflect a feeling of happiness and confidence in the future. After the war they will go home.”

The author claims that the British soldiers did not have the choice between freedom and imprisonment when they went to war. The men who ‘surrendered’ to the Nazis chose life and the certitude of returning home safe instead of death.

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“The men in these pictures have found many good friends among Germans.  They would laugh at anybody who would call them “men in the shadow” because they have just managed to escape from the shadows of death on the battlefield….Their sun of life has risen again, and they are certain to return home safely after the war.”

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The ‘brochure’ is written like an advertisement for the POW camps. It reads as if it is speaking directly to prospective POWs, almost as if they would choose to surrender to join the “clean, spacious, up-to-date” camps.  It describes the ‘’ample” and “high quality” food, the athletics fields, football grounds and swimming pools.

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“For your entertainment there are motion pictures, theatrical and musical shows and every facility is made to enable prisoners of the various nationalities to celebrate their festivals in their own way. You will be given an opportunity of learning a trade or of improving yourself in your profession.”

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“The camp library is open. A great variety of books ranging from detective stories to scientific treatises are kept at the disposal of the P.O.W. In the foreground the American camp doctor is seen making his choice”

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“Those desirous of carrying on with their studies have the possibility of attending schools, special courses and even university courses”.

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This photograph shows a football match claiming to be London vs Manchester game. According to the author, Manchester won 5: 3.

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The document states that mail is sent via the International Red Cross and every prisoner receives one parcel a week containing cigarettes, chocolate, coffee and biscuits. POWS were allowed to receive any amount of mail and permitted to write 4 postcards and 3 letters a month.

The ‘brochure’ also contains ‘quotes’ from POWs, such as Lt. H.A. Ransom writing to his wife in Middlesex:

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And Sgt Jesse Bradburn writing to his Mother  Mrs Al. Bradburn

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It’s unclear whether these quotes were real or fabricated.

Within the same box I found a letter, written from ‘Somewhere in Italy’ on February 19th 1944, from Jess. I originally thought the letter was real but on closer inspection it appears to have been printed.  It is stamped in red over all 4 pages, ‘Truth about treatment of P.O.W’s in Regular German camps or hospitals’.

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The letter contains exactly the same  quote from Jesse in the POW camp brochure,  along with various other positive comments such as “If the treatment goes on as it has been, being a prisoner will be a snap.”  Is this the same ‘Jess’ or ‘Jesse’ as included in the brochure? This letter represents more Nazi propaganda, produced to convince the English that their POWs were treated fairly and respectfully.POW Camp009

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It is known that Germany and Italy generally treated prisoners from France, the US and the British Commonwealth in accordance with the Geneva Convention. The Germans were also obliged to apply this treatment to Jewish prisoners of war who wore the British Army’s uniform, therefore sparing them from the horrific fate of other Jews around the world.  Although Allied prisoners of war complained of a scarcity of food within German POW camps, they were treated comparatively well. For example, ordinary soldiers who were made to work were compensated, and officers were exempt from work requirements. As the ‘brochure’ states, the International Red Cross did ease conditions by distributing food packages and providing medical assistance.

Although it is doubtful that the POW camps were as happy and entertaining as this brochure suggests it is nonetheless a really fascinating object.

 

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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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