Local memories of the war years

25th May 2001 at 01:00
Blood, Sweat, Toil and Tears Callander House, Falkirk until September 30

As old age and death take their toll on the nation's collective memory, it becomes increasingly difficult to realise what life must have been like for people in Britain during the Second World War.

Now an exhibition has opened at Callander House in Falkirk which shows what being a civilian meant during the years between 1939 and 1945.

Blood, Sweat, Toil and Tears draws on the experiences of people living in the Falkirk area during the war, but because they were subject to the same strict regime that was in place throughout the UK, its appeal is by no means parochial.

The centre piece of the show is a local Anderson air-raid shelter which was resited after the war and used, until recently, as a garden shed. Shelters were supplied free to council house tenants and installed in a hole in the ground, then camouflaged with turf or often planted with flowers or vegetables. That is the look that has been aimed for at Callander House, using artificial materials, explains curator Geoff Bailey. Visitors can sit inside the shelter and listen to recordings of air-raid sirens and bombs exploding.

Although enemy planes dropped land mines on to Falkirk during the war, none of the green silk parachutes that carried them are on display. "None of them survived intact," explains Mr Bailey. "Two land mines were dropped on one occasion and although the police and the Home Guard were on the scene within minutes, the parachutes had disappeared by the time they arrived. Fabric, particularly silk, was very scarce during the war so the parachutes were very sought after."

The bulk of the written and photographic information about war-time Falkirk has been divide into 10 topics, including war products, air-raid precautions and the blackout, civil defence, prisoners of war and rationing. It is presented on a multi-panel unit which can be borrowed by schools or libraries when the exhibition ends.

Text and pictures are backed up by cases of carefully chosen artefacts, also themed. Gas masks for babies were like a suit with the mask built into the hood. Children loved the Mickey Mouse masks - it was an offence not to carry one - and cases for them became fashion accessories.

"Every object on display has a story," says the curator. The one behind an immaculate blue satin tea cosy is sad. It was one of many wedding presents given to a Falkirk couple when they married in 1940 but was never used. The husband, a member of the Royal Air Force, was killed three months after the wedding. His pregnant wife moved in with her two sisters and the presents were packed away. The sisters brought up the boy together and he recently gave Falkirk Museums the pick of those unused gifts.

Visitor activities at the exhibition include bomb disposal, identifying friend or foe aeroplanes, how to operate a fire watcher's stirrup pump and a quiz on what curious objects were used for in the war.

A tape of popular war-time music compiled especially for the show features the record made by musicians in the local German prisoner-of-war camp. Also on display are reproductions of some of the posters that appeared during the war, such as "Dr Carrot, The Children's Best Friend".

Deedee Cuddihy Callander House recently produced a series of Second World War education leaflets which were sent to local schools. Schools must book visits to avoid over-crowding. For further information, tel 01324 503770

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