Intern Laura Farrell writes about her research


I have spent the last few weeks at MERL carrying out research for two unusual exhibitions which are to be mounted by MERL in collaboration with Reading Museum in the Spring/Summer of 2013. The exhibitions, which will involve elements of film and/or live performance, will be produced by Dr Teresa Murjas (Associate Professor in Theatre & Performance), James Rattee (PhD film-maker) and Sonya Chenery (PhD performance-maker) from the Department of Film Theatre & Television at the University of Reading. The research I am carrying out will form the basis for their two interactive, installation-based pieces.017

Postcard from child – D EVAC

My first area of research is the Evacuee Archive – MERL holds a very large collection of film, photographs, press reports, correspondence and documentation of all kinds relating to the evacuation of civilians during World War 2, as well as hundreds of interviews with evacuees (and, occasionally, with those who played host to them, taught them or otherwise played a part in the vast and complex operation of evacuating over three million people).

What has struck me most is the diversity of the evacuee experience. Like many people, I have long been familiar with the classic image of evacuation – large groups of small and bewildered children, probably from the East End of London, shepherded onto trains with gas masks in hands and labels tied to their coats to be billeted with strangers at an unknown destination. Delving into the MERL archive reveals the experience of less well-documented evacuee groups – the many who were “privately” evacuated to family and friends both in Britain and overseas, those sent overseas as part of the government’s CORB (Children’s Overseas Reception Board) scheme, the smaller children evacuated with their mothers, and the many who spent the war in temporary boarding-school -style “camp schools”. The evacuees’ stories range from the touching (happy days helping on the farm, lifelong friendships made with loving ‘second families’) to harrowing accounts of neglect and abuse, and everything in between.

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My second area of research is the archive of Reading’s famous Huntley and Palmers biscuit factory, with particular reference to their role as a major supplier of army biscuits to the forces during World War 1. Reading Museum has an intriguing collection of original army biscuits (some still in excellent condition after a hundred years, which gives some idea of their hardness) which were carved, decorated, painted, written on and sometimes sent home as mementos, love tokens and even picture frames by bored Tommies at the front. The Huntley and Palmers archive at MERL sheds light on the manufacturing processes involved in producing thousands of tons of the biscuits, with handwritten recipes, correspondence with the War Office, and a great deal of documentation showing how the company struggled to fulfill their orders as ingredients and even packaging became more and more scarce and a significant proportion of their workers left to join the forces.  I hope the exhibition will shed light on this period of Reading’s industrial history, as well as giving the public a chance to see some truly fascinating objects.

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Laura Farrell

Reading Connections Intern

Internship blog post – Evelyn Williams

I have been volunteering at Reading Museum since 2010 first as part of the Reminiscences Project, then Historypin and most recently Revealing Reading’s Hidden History. Through the internship, I have the opportunity to work full time for a period and see a lot more of how the Museum works. I hope to become more professional, efficient and effective in museum related activities and tasks. The role will also contribute to my own personal development. Working with colleagues from MERL adds a stimulating dimension to this project.

Research on the Reading Chronicle Collection continues and I am working with Project Officer Sophie to prepare information relating to the images that have been selected for an online catalogue.

My time is split between Reading Library where the microfilm copies of the Berkshire Chronicle are available to look at, and Reading Museum where I add to the data and information already held about the image.

Berkshire Chronicle has transported me back to the Reading of 1939 just before and just after the outbreak of the Second World War as it reports on how the outbreak of war affects life in the town. Some familiar local places, people and events crop up but I am learning all the time about Reading’s history.

Some stunning images have been selected to be showcased online covering the length and breadth of life in Reading. From these I have selected an image from June 1939 of the staff of the Berkshire Chronicle before they set off on their annual outing. The scene is in Valpy Street outside the Berkshire Offices and alongside Reading Museum, with Blagrave Street in the background, everyone is dressed up and ready to go.

 

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Evelyn Williams

Project Intern, Reading Museum

 

The Chronicle Collection

Sophie Fitzpatrick – Project Officer

One strand of the Reading Connections project is to create a web resource, in which material from the collections will be made viewable online. I am working largely on the Chronicle Collection belonging to Reading Museum; a photographic collection impressively boasting over 20,000 images taken between 1938 and 1962 for use in the Berkshire Chronicle Newspaper – now the Reading Chronicle.

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A large and interesting collection, the Chronicle’s content is diverse and covers a wide range of subjects such as war and peace, school, dance, theatre, religion, fetes, weddings, monuments and statues, sport, railways, trams and trolley buses, road accidents, floods, work outings, pubs, agricultural shows, Royal visits and famous visitors (including authors, politicians, theatre performers, film stars, sports men and women, musicians, artists, singers and variety show personalities), all centred in Reading and its surrounding geographical areas.

I have spent the last few months carefully selecting 2,000 images from the collection for the online resource which will essentially create a ‘shop window’ into the diversity and scope of the images the Chronicle Collection has to offer.

Whilst the photographs selected will reflect the varied nature of the collection, ‘war’ and ‘peace’ are particularly strong themes and link to the 2014 ‘Reading at War’ exhibition at Reading Museum. I have therefore selected a moving image from 1939 of a child being fitted for a gas mask to share with you.

Many of the images selected for the online resource are in the form of glass plate negatives which are currently in the process of being digitised using specialist scanning equipment. As this strand of the project evolves, I’ll be sure to keep you updated of my progress.

The Evacuee Archive

From the album of Rosemary Maud Goddin, a teacher evacuated with her school to Gamlingay, Cambs

From the album of Rosemary Maud Goddin, a teacher evacuated with her school to Gamlingay, Cambs

Zoe Watson, Archivist and Project Manager:

I’m working on cataloguing the Evacuee Archive as part of the Reading Connection project.

It is a collection of memoirs, interviews and material relating to former evacuees and war-children gathered by the Research Centre for Evacuee and War Child Studies at the University of Reading.  The collection mainly relates to evacuation schemes within Britain and the British children who were sent overseas to Canada, the USA, South Africa, and Australasia during the Second World War.

The British Government scheme to evacuate children from cities started in September 1939.  Children, usually without their parents, were sent to areas of Britain that were considered safer from bombing and the effects of war, these were often rural areas.  Smaller numbers of children were sent abroad.  They were housed with strangers, some of whom were reluctant to take them.  Some children did go in private arrangements to friends and relatives, and some went with a parent.  Children received varying levels of treatment from these ‘foster parents’ and some children were kept in groups in hostel-like conditions.  Stories in the archive range from the heart-warming where the kindness of the hosts meant that the children’s new lives in the countryside were as happy as they could be in the circumstances to heart-breaking cases of mistreatment and cruelty. The length of stays varied from weeks to years, and often evacuees had to move billets.

 It is an interesting and thought provoking collection.  I came across this interview with a former evacuee; he was interviewed in the late 1990s and shows the effect on him all those years later.  He was evacuated from West Ham, London to Hemel Hempstead:

‘I recently visited the Imperial War Museum, well one of the lectures was on the psychological aspects of evacuation.  I certainly do not have any bad memories of that time but it has left me with one curious feeling.  All the time I was evacuated I used to tell myself that one day the war would be over and I could go back home.

After the war we were living in another part of London and then I made my way to where I used to live.  The whole area had been completely obliterated in the first few days of the Blitz.  I was quite unable to find the spot where my house once stood.

This happened more than 50 years ago.  I have lived in many other places.  I now have a grown up family of my own, I am a grandfather.  I have a lovely house but somehow I am still waiting to go home.’

Please note the collection is currently closed for cataloguing.  Contact us if you would like more information.