The First World War in Biscuits, and advising the BBC

By Dr Teresa Murjas, Department of Film, Theatre and Television, University of Reading

Image from the Huntley and Palmer archive held at the Museum of English Rural Life

Over the last couple of months, I have been working with Reading Museum and The MERL to support and advise colleagues from The National Archives during the development of their Edible Archives theme. This is part of the national Explore your Archive campaign, which is aimed at raising awareness of, and increasing public engagement with, archives and collections. (see last month’s blog post)

This exciting collaboration arose from my ongoing creative work with the University of Reading’s Huntley & Palmers archive, which is entitled ‘The First World War in Biscuits’. A 100-year-old ration biscuit, put on display at Reading Museum as a result of the project, was modified by young Private George Mansfield during the war to hold his photograph.

In the centre of the biscuit, which is also surrounded by a wooden frame, resides a heart-shaped image of the young George in his uniform. George sent this unusual missive to his mother during the First World War in order to assure her of his wellbeing. The biscuit is part of a unique collection of First World War ration biscuits creatively adapted by soldiers, which is now on display in Reading Museum, in the Huntley & Palmers Gallery, and which has formed a focal point for ‘The First World War in Biscuits’.

The exhibition in The MERL on Huntley and Palmers and the First World War

In order to signal the launch of the national Explore your Archive campaign, which will take place tomorrow (Saturday 18 November), this morning BBC Breakfast aired an interview with Jeremy Collingwood, the grandson of George Mansfield, at Reading Museum.

He spoke about the significance of the modified biscuit and his grandfather’s story, and in which images of the collection of ration biscuits have been shown. His interview was featured alongside interviews with colleagues from The National Archives discussing archival materials held there, from around the First World War period, which also focus on food-based themes. These include records relating to the first suffragette to have been forcibly fed in prison, for example.

In another interesting initiative involving the university, former Bake Off finalist and campaign ambassador for Tuesday’s #ediblearchives theme Miranda Gore-Brown will also be adjusting an original Huntley & Palmers recipe for readers to try at home. This followed her visit to Reading with TNA colleagues earlier this year, which I also hosted.

In addition, Miranda has written a piece for Who Do You Think You Are? magazine’s online article series for the campaign, which focuses on the Tom Kitten tin held in the collection, to be published shortly.

My work with archive continues, and my next creative project, conducted with the AHRC funded First World War Engagement Centre, will be entitled A Tale of Two Biscuits. Watch this space!

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