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Home Front fires still burn brightly

The Second World War ended 60 years ago, but those days are not forgotten. Special anniversary exhibitions and projects give younger generations a chance to relate to that time, writes Deedee Cuddihy

On the Home Front Summerlee Heritage Park, Coatbridge, North Lanarkshire until June 26 tel 01236 431261 Their Past, Your Future Scotland Imperial War Museum touring to Gordon Barracks, Aberdeen June 11-July 10 East Kilbride Arts Centre July 16-August 12 The Drill Hall, Elgin August 23-September 18 The Victoria Hall, Campbeltown October 18-November 18 Smith Art Gallery and Museum, Stirling November 23-February 19

The life-size front end of a Sherman tank on display at Summerlee Heritage Park in Coatbridge looks so authentic it is bound to fool some visitors to the Second World War exhibition On the Home Front.

Never mind that it is made of fibreboard, plywood and polystyrene.

Complete with painted-on dirt and the slogan "Berlin or bust" scrawled across its front, the tank forms the centrepiece of an exhibition that is targeted at schools in the Monklands area and concentrates more on civilian life, how the war effort was being supported at home and what impact the war had on local communities.

Clare Weir, social history curator for North Lanarkshire museums, says: "We have a large collection of war memorabilia. These objects are very close to people's hearts, they're part of their family history, and people know we'll take care of them."

The artefacts cover themes such as clothing, the Home Guard and air raid precautions. There is an iconic tin of national dried milk from the Ministry of Food, a very sombre looking utility frock, one of the official badges worn by men who were exempt from military service because they were in a reserved occupation and a small pile of shrapnel from the Clydebank blitz.

A public information leaflet entitled Beating the Invader makes for chilling reading. The question: "What do I do if fighting breaks out in my neighbourhood?" receives the answer: "Keep indoors or in your shelter until the battle is over. If you see an enemy tank or a few enemy soldiers, do not assume the enemy is in control of your area."

One display case features an RAF jacket, the original contents of a battle kit bag (including a bayonet, gas mask and field dressings) and an autograph album that belonged to a Wren, Mabel Jones, in which officer Eric Wharton wrote in 1941: "Roses are red; Violets are blue; Sugar is sweet; And so are you (but I can't say the same for your tea!)" Six cases of artefacts are complemented by impressive pieces of fire-fighting equipment, huge black and white photographs showing civilians trying on gas masks and troops parachuting into Greece, and model aircraft hanging from the ceiling.

In addition, there is a bunker - designed with children in mind - that has been decorated with sandbags and camouflage netting borrowed from the local Territorial Army. Once visitors have crawled inside, they can watch, on a continuous loop, a very noisy but bloodless computer game version of the Normandy landings.

A big screen shows 10 minutes of war-time public information and propaganda, and visitors can hear recorded clips from the most famous radio announcements made at the end of the war.

Carol Ann Kerr is the community museums officer in charge of delivering On the Home Front workshops to schools. "The Second World War is a P6P7 topic, so the workshops are designed for them," she says. "After seeing the exhibition, they become secret agents for a day and have to crack a code so they can follow a trail of clues that lead to a suitcase filled with war-time objects.

"The workshops also include a visit to our 1940s miner's cottage where they can see, among other authentic features, a coal fire."

North Lanarkshire Council received support for On the Home Front and a companion exhibition at Motherwell Heritage Centre from the Big Lottery Fund, which set aside pound;10 million for this year's 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War for educational projects that would "ensure future generations do not forget the sacrifices of those who fought".

Many other local authorities are mounting their own Lottery-funded exhibitions to commemorate the anniversary. In addition, six areas in Scotland are hosting a touring exhibition from the Imperial War Museum. Their Past, Your Future Scotland has already been to Clydebank and will travel to Aberdeen, East Kilbride, Elgin, Campbeltown and Stirling in the coming months.

At the core of the exhibition are personal stories which look at how people kept their families safe, how wartime experiences changed people's lives and how people remember those they lost. These stories are set in a wider, national context with films, objects and images which explore how the war changed the people, social services and the landscape of the UK forever.

Seven local authorities - North and East Ayrshire, West Lothian, Inverclyde, Highland, Aberdeen and Fife - are also getting involved in War Detectives, an e-learning project allied to Their Past, Your Future Scotland. This gives children the opportunity to learn first-hand from older generations about their experiences of living and working during the Second World War.

"It encourages schools and community participants to create a legacy of online learning resources by helping primary pupils to become war detectives and tell the story of the war in their area," say the organisers.

For further information about Their Past, Your Future Scotland and War Detectives projects

(click on War Detectives) Hazel Lauder at the Scottish Library and Information Service, tel 01698 458888 email Heritage Centre, tel 01698 251000

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