Heroes and humanity

31st July 1998 at 01:00
If the term "regimental museum" conjures up images of showcases filled with faded battle memorabilia, then Aberdeen's Gordon Highlanders Museum fits the stereotype in one way.

But don't think that this tribute to one of Britain's most celebrated regiments, described by Winston Churchill as "the finest in the world", is only for adults.

The #163;1.4 million museum has been designed with the young very much in mind.

The resource pack, compiled by education and museum professionals and sponsored by Shell UK, brings to life the colourful past of the renowned north-east regiment by linking the museum's main themes with curriculum topics, including personal and social education, environmental studies, religious and moral education, expressive arts, English language and maths.

It comprises background information, activity suggestions and primary source materials, and serves as an introduction to the internal workings of a regiment - a concept likely to be entirely new to many pupils and their teachers, according to museum curator Melanie Brooker.

"Our young visitors know all about sci-fi battles, but the significance of such things as the regimental colours and the military hierarchy is entirely alien to them," she says.

Due to the novelty of many of the museum's themes, teachers are advised to pave the way by doing a "reccie" and completing the class preparation activities suggested in the pack.

For youngsters, the museum memorabilia hold a great deal of mileage. Writing a message in only 25 words to a loved one serving abroad, drawing and colouring in a medal, guessing the purpose of items of uniform, are only some of the activities suggested by the resource pack. And this September, a new workshop on the Second World War for Primary 7 pupils is being introduced. Lasting for a day, the workshop will be held in conjunction with Aberdeen Urban Studies Centre and will focus on one soldier's personal experiences of war.

Another possible introduction could be the story of the museum itself. Originally a farmhouse, it was renovated in the 1870s by the artist Sir George Reid. The elegant whitewashed building, complete with enormous picture window and turret, became the regimental headquarters of the Gordon Highlanders in 1960.

Entering the museum in the leafy heart of Aberdeen's west end, visitors are directed to the auditorium where a short film relates its 200-year history up to amalgamation in 1994, when it became part of the Highlanders,Seaforth Gordons and Camerons.

Then, spurred on by the blare of bagpipes, it's a quick march across to the atmospherically-lit Grant Room, to marvel over a treasure-trove of tales, revealed by life-sized cameo scenes of battle bravery, and scale models depicting kilt-clad soldiers.

Also on show are reminders of personal sacrifice, such as the PoW "coolie slippers", worn by endless toil on the Burma railway, and the few poignant words of hope on a postcard from home.

Each item is explained by a story of its owner's personal experiences. By dwelling on the human element, rather than on strategies and statistics,Melanie Brooker and her colleagues have intended the exhibition to be accessible to all.

"Female visitors show just as much interest as males, " according to Ms Brooker. "It perhaps helps that the person who helped raise the regiment was a woman - Duchess Jean, wife of the Duke of Gordon - but I think that personalising the exhibition has been the key to opening it up to everyone."

On hand throughout the museum are volunteer guides - Gordons' veterans, who, with little prompting, are happy to entertain visitors with fascinating tales.

Like any military museum, the Gordon Highlanders' makes no apologies for its bloody past. Ms Brooker explains that the morality of war itself is not dealt with, but is suggested as a possible follow-up theme. "What we are concerned with is revealing what happened in the past and helping people - young people especially - to understand that the values of teamwork, endurance, loyalty and courage are just as relevant today as they were to those whose lives depended on them in battle."

The Gordon Highlanders Museum, St Lukes, Viewfield Road, Aberdeen.
Tel: 01224 311200.
School parties are asked to book. Entry is #163;1 per child, free to accompanying adults.

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