Army women explore ‘herstory’

The Green Howards Museum is holding a series of workshops with women in Catterick Garrison to explore the experiences of army wives over the past 150 years.

The exciting project is being held in partnership with the Birth and Beyond Community Supporters project, which is run by the NCT (formerly known as the National Childbirth Trust), as part of the Redeveloping the Green Howards Museum project, supported by a £974,000 Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant.

The women who take part in the sessions in May, will use original objects from the museum’s collection, as well as archive letters, photographs and diaries before sharing their own stories and taking part in a range of interactive activities.

Community Liaison Officer, Virginia Arrowsmith, will encourage the women to investigate the similarities and differences in the lives of women separated by generations, but linked by the profession of their husband or partner.

The project will explore the experiences of army wives during three conflicts over the last 150 years: the Crimean War in the 1850s, the First World War 1914-18 and the Second World War 1939-45.

Virginia says: “What I find so moving is that while some aspects of women’s experiences of military life have changed dramatically over this period, other aspects of their lives as the wives and partners of soldiers have barely altered in 150 years or more. For example, while technology makes communication between service families much easier nowadays, the challenges of long periods of separation and bringing up the family alone, remain.”

She continues: “I’m really excited about the project because it’s a unique opportunity for us all to explore female perspectives on conflict and army life today, and better understand these experiences in their historical context. Many of these stories will never have been heard before. It’s also a great opportunity to for participants to respond personally to the historical material in a creative way.”

During the first of the three sessions the group will explore objects, archive material and photographs from the Green Howards Museum collection.

These will include, early photographs from the Crimea; the diary of Margaret Kerwin, the wife of a Green Howard soldier; Accounts from Florence Nightingale in her work at Scutari; Princess Mary’s gift tin 1914; knitted comforts for troops; silk postcards sent back from soldiers at the Front; newspaper accounts of WW1 Home Front in North Yorkshire; ration books and cookery books, as well as material from the Women’s Land Army.

Professional singer, Jessa Marshall, will perform songs from each of the focus periods, and share the stories behind them. A series of activities including embroidering silk postcards, making chocolate ‘comforts’ for troops, and war-ration cookery will enable participants to get a feel for what army wives in earlier times might have experienced.

In the second session, participants will have further opportunities to explore the different groups of historic material for creative inspiration, and think about their personal responses to the themes and issues raised. This might be a photograph or photo diary, piece of art or sculpture, a poem or story or a dramatic scene to be performed.

Finally, a film will be created, with recordings of the group’s creative output being made to form a permanent record of the project and archive for the future, women’s experiences of army life in the 21st century.

Viv Schwartzberg, Local Project Manager for the Birth and Beyond Community Supporters project says: “The Herstory workshops will give the women who take part a chance not only to express what they feel about their own experiences in creative ways, but to have them valued as part of living history. It will be exciting to for them to know that items they create will be added to the exhibits seen by visitors to the Green Howards museum.”

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