History Home front

18th March 2005 at 00:00
A touring exhibition about the Second World War looks at the lasting impact it had on people and places in the UK. Lynne Wallis reports

Their Past Your Future, a Pounds l0 million, year-long educational programme led by the Imperial War Museum about the Second World War, has launched a travelling exhibition to tour more than 70 towns and cities in the UK. An education website for online learning complements the roadshow and 30,000 digitised materials from the museum's archives are now available to view.

The exhibition, which runs until March next year, will encourage visitors of all ages to explore issues such as commemoration, citizenship, freedom, democracy and conflict. Dan Phillips, education project manager for the exhibition, says: "The point is to look at the impact of the Second World War, not just on people, but on places in the UK. It had an incredible and lasting effect on the geographic landscape, and 60 years on these effects are still being felt.

"The exhibitions will be partly localised so that visitors will be able to see how the war impacted on their area."

The exhibition, in various localised forms, will tour around nine main regions of England, while Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales will have one exhibition each. Exhibitions venues include shopping malls, museums and libraries, the Trades Union Congress conference, and the wartime code-breaking station, Bletchley Park.

Housed in a tent-like canvas structure, the exhibition's interior is accessed through giant curtains, where personal stories and documents from veterans are exhibited. Outside, the war is put into a national and global context, helped by a timeline running from l938 to l948.

A 30-minute film looks at VE Day, the lengthy demobbing process, and how families traced lost relatives. The enormous amount of reconstruction after the war is covered, as is the plight of foreign servicemen who found themselves at the end of the war in a country with fast-changing attitudes towards immigration. Each exhibition has a "Generic Book" illustrating the devastation felt by the impact of V1 and V2 bombing raids, portraying, in a scrapbook fashion, what it might have been like to have lived in Coventry during the war, to have come out of an air-raid shelter to a city unrecognisable through bomb damage.

Kenneth Muir, a young gunner who wrote to his mother in Aberdeen on March 20, l945, telling her he would write again soon, had survived the D-Day landings at Normandy, beach-head battles, and the assault and capture of Caen, France. On March 24, his regiment advanced into Germany and his vehicle was hit a mine.

His great grand daughter donated his letters, diaries and horse-hair blanket to the National War Museum of Scotland, and his story is the "personal" component of the exhibition Their Past Your Future Scotland.

In Wales, Jimmy Ritchie, originally from Merseyside, tells how being sent to Merionethshire at the age of nine - one of 200,000 English children evacuated to Wales during the war - changed the course of his life forever.

Other events to run under the "Veterans United" banner during the 60th commemorative year of the Second World War, are reunions of home-front veterans, such as fire-fighters, auxiliary services, dockers, seamen, nurses and code-breakers, for whom a series of parades and street parties are planned and, in a partnership scheme for veterans and schoolchildren, personal stories of wartime will be passed down orally to future generations.

Teaching resources, guidelines and case studies have been developed to help teachers plan inter-generational educational activities.

l For Their Past Your Future events, venues and dates Tel: 020 7820 6709 www.theirpast-yourfuture.org.uk

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