Friday, November 9, 2018

Armistice100 at Wakefield Museum

11th November 2018 marks a hundred years since the end of the First World War. A century ago in northern France, Private George Kellett wrote in his 1918 diary,

We heard that an Armistice had been signed but we keep hearing explosions and cannot tell     whether it is gunfire or not.

 
Lett’s No 26 diary 2018 belonging to Private George Kellett
George was a joiner from Agbrigg Road, Sandal serving with the Duke of Cornwall regiment. He had received the diary as a Christmas present along with a Christmas cake, parkin and apples. His matter of fact account of such a historic occasion is typical of his stoic, often mundane diary entries that document a year at war. George began 1918 recovering from injury before rejoining his regiment. He writes of daily activities such as inspections and parades, writing letters and receiving news from home. When he’s not busy with tasks such as digging communication trenches and laying cabling, he enjoys games of cards, draughts and billiards, and training with a tug of war team.
 
In and amongst the daily routine though, there are reminders of the reality of war.

4 September 1918: Went out burying the dead today. 

11 September 1918: Packed our kits and went up the line at 9am, two guides of the Stafford and Bucks met us and took us into the front line. G.West and three more fellows in our platoon got killed and four or five wounded going up. We went over the top at 6:30pm [?] Burton, Bill Revitt and three or four more were wounded and three more killed. We reached a trench just over the canal and had to stand to all night.

George’s diary is a fascinating insight into an ordinary soldier’s experience of the First World War. We were honoured when his family donated it to our collections and are very proud to put it on display at Wakefield Museum as part of our Armistice 100 commemorations. You can also follow George’s year at war on Twitter: @WW1_Diary.

 
George scribbled this note to his future wife, Emma, upon his demobilization.
 

Hand-tinted photograph of Sergeant Arthur Cox during the First World War
 
George survived the war and was demobilised in 1919. He came home to marry his sweetheart. Tragically, Arthur Cox of Thornes Lane didn’t return to his family in Wakefield. A Sergeant with the Royal Field Artillery, Arthur earned the Military Medal for bravery in the field but sadly died just a few weeks after the government announced his award in the London Gazette. Unlike George, Arthur was an experienced soldier, having previously risen to the rank of Corporal with a volunteer regiment, the Queen’s Own Yorkshire Dragoons. He had fought in South Africa during the Second Boer War and been honoured with the Freedom of Wakefield.

 
A photograph of Sergeant Cox’s grave sent to his widow
Arthur was killed in action on 29th July 1917 ahead of the 3rd Battle of Ypres, better known as Passchendaele. He is buried at the Godeswaersvelde British War Cemetery in France, near the Belgian border. After the Armistice, Arthur’s widow received a photograph of his grave, his posthumous service medals, and a memorial plaque. Sometimes called the ‘Widow’s Penny, these plaques were sent to the next of kin of all fallen soldiers. Arthur’s family proudly displayed the plaque surrounded by his medals from both wars. Today, we have their collection on display in our Wakefield Museum Welcome Space to commemorate the service given by him and so many other local men. Alongside the objects are several hand-made poppies. These were contributed by our Young Curators (aged 8-13), who have been learning about Arthur and George and wanted to help honour them.

Arthur’s Military Medal (top left), service medals and memorial plaque
The commemorations continue in Create café, where we are also remembering Nurse Marion Walker and her colleagues and patients at the White Rose Auxiliary Hospital, Heath Hall. Many soldiers spent time there recovering from their injuries and illness before returning to the front lines. Volunteers like Marion helped to care for them during their convalescence.

 
Staff and patients at the White Rose Hospital
 
As the Armistice was signed in France, Marion was collecting signatures of her own from the soldiers in her care. Carrying an autograph book was common practice for auxiliary nurses. Patients passed away their time and showed appreciation for the nurses by leaving their names, mottos and messages, and often doodles and cartoons on the pages.

 
Leatherette autograph book belonging to Nurse Marion Walker
 
Marion’s book, compiled between 1917 and 1919, gives a moving glimpse into wartime resilience. Despite the hardships the men had endured, their entries are full of friendship and love, humour and hope.
 
We have reproduced a selection of our favourite pages to display in Create. We hope visitors will enjoy this selection and take some time to remember the men who produced them as well as Marion, George and Arthur.


‘If writing in albums remembrance ensures/ With the greatest of pleasure, I’ll scribble in yours./ Some write for pleasure. Some write for fame./ But I simply write to sign my name.’