News Feature: All quiet on Western Front...then shellfire

Curator Stephen Barker

Curator Stephen Barker

First published in News

ALFRED Franklin, the son of a Kidlington baker, wrote in his diary on May 2, 1915: “Fairly quiet throughout day until five o’clock when a very heavy shell fire opened on us, and soon we could see the yellowy gas fumes rising over by the front line.”

Sent to the Western Front, the lay preacher was confronted by the horrors of mustard gas, yet still had the courage to record his experiences so we might never forget.

His is one of the stories told in a new exhibition, which opens tomorrow at the Soldiers of Oxfordshire (SOFO) Museum.

Oxfordshire Remembers is the product of months of work by dozens of volun-teers trawling through thousands of artefacts in the SOFO collection.

Their challenge was to make the First World War relevant to modern visitors.

Century-old sepia-tinted images of men in uniform marching off to war with rifle in hand can seem a world away from life now.

Giving them a contempor-ary feel was central to cura-tor Stephen Barker’s vision. The exhibition tells personal stories, regimental histories and the war’s impact on Oxfordshire in a way which is relevant to today’s generation.

The freelance military historian said: “Who were these men who went to fight and joined up from Kidlington, Banbury, Wantage? They could have been me, and I have tried to fit their personal stories in with what people already know about the war – tanks, gas, the Somme, Ypres.

“I want people to come in here and find out more.

“They will see what regiments these men were in and their part in the war as a whole.”

Oxford Mail:

Private Alfred Franklin

Funded by an £80,000 Heritage Lottery Fund grant, Oxfordshire Remembers 1914-18 (Part One) tells Oxfordshire’s story of the Great War on 12 display boards exploring different units, men and themes.

These include the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, which lost 5,875 soldiers during the conflict.

Another board tells the story of the Oxfordshire Yeomanry, also known as the Queen’s Own Oxford-shire Hussars, a Territorial Army cavalry regiment which lost 125 soldiers between 1914 and 1918.

For six months, Mr Barker trawled SOFO’s collection, selecting artefacts, research-ing stories and “moving hell and high water” to bring dated black and white photo-graphs to the quality needed for use on the boards.

He said: “It has dominated a lot of my thinking. I have been interested in the First World War since the 1970s so there is a responsibility to get these stories right.”

The exhibition will continue until August 31, 2015. Its second part is scheduled to open in 2017.

The £3.5m SOFO museum, which opened in Woodstock in April, began life in the late 1990s as a small display of uniforms and artefacts linked to the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry at the now-closed Slade Park barracks in Oxford.

The Soldiers of Oxfordshire Trust was founded in 2000 to create a permanent home for the collection.

Building work for its dedic-ated home began in August 2013 and hundreds of volun-teers have helped to collect aretefacts and family stories to produce the exhibitions.

For more information, visit sofo.org.uk or call 01993 810210.

‘We got a dose of yellowy gas fumes’

THE first use of gas on the Western Front by Germany at Ypres, during the spring of 1915, is a story well told.
But it has never been told through the diary of Alfred Franklin – the eldest son of a Kidlington baker – which is on display at Oxfordshire Remembers.
Entries the Oxfordshire Yeomanry private made in the diary throughout the war give daily insights into life in the trenches.

Oxford Mail:

Oxford Mail:

 

Oxford Mail:

Private Alfred Franklin's diary, money wallet, and pipe, above

He was shipped out to France in November 1914.
On May 2, 1915, he noted: “Fairly quiet throughout day until five o’clock when a very heavy shell fire opened on us, and soon we could see the yellowy gas fumes rising over by the front line. The wind bought it back and gave us a fair dose.
“The chaplain came along about seven and talked and had prayers with us.
“Bert Cooper and I were sent down about nine to help load wounded. Left trenches about midnight.”
Historian Stephen Barker used Pte Franklin’s extract to link Oxfordshire to a part of the war they might already know about.
He said: “I have tried to link all the stories with the main story of the war.
“People know about gas so people will know where this story fits into the war.”
Pte Franklin was also a Congregational lay preacher and he used his faith to give comfort to his comrades.

EDUCATION

HALF of the £80,000 Heritage Lottery Fund grant the museum received for the exhibition will go towards an education and outreach programme.
Children from county secondary schools will be invited to join centenary workshops at the museum, and volunteers will go out to schools.
The SOFO education team will deliver the project for Key Stages 1, 2 and 3 though it is possible for it to be adapted for Key Stage 4 and post-16.

Oxford Mail:
The museum’s education and outreach officer, Vicki Wood, above, said the project would teach the younger generations about the war.
She said: “My job is to make the First World War accessible to all people of all backgrounds and a big part of that is schools.
“A lot of them are very interested in finding out about the First World War and how it impacted the area.”
The project will involve youngsters handling soldiers’ helmets, uniforms, gas masks, water bottles and grenades.
Ms Wood added: “These items give them clues about the war, that it was a total war which affected everyone.
“It will help them engage with the past and realise the impact of the war.”

Exhibition photographs linking past to present

HANGING above two display boards is a modern photograph of museum volunteer Michele Baston holding a framed wartime picture of her great-grandfather.

Oxford Mail:
Sergeant George Bowerman, above, of the 5th Battalion of the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, died of wounds he received fighting at Delville Wood during the Battle of the Somme.

Oxford Mail:
The photograph of Miss Baston, above, and her ancestor is one of several similar images hanging in the exhibition.
The 50-year-old volunteer SOFO researcher said they gave the exhibition a contemporary edge.
She said: “It’s a brilliant idea because you can actually see the resemblance between us.
“My gran did not remember her dad so it’s a way of linking the past to the present and helps put a face to the name.”
Sgt Bowerman, from Kidlington, was wounded at Delville Wood.
He died from his wounds on September 15, 1916, the same day that tanks were used for the first time, attacking German positions at Flers.
He is now remembered among the 72,195 missing British and South African men on the Thiepval war memorial, on the Somme, and Kidlington war memorial.

FIGHTING TALK

IF you’re wearing a wristwatch, feeling “fed-up” or talking about good, old “Blighty”, you are feeling the impact of the First World War.
On each of the 12 display boards at the SOFO Great War exhibition are examples of legacies from the conflict.
Phrases coined in the conflict include “bloke”, “chatting”, meaning to kill lice, and even “fed up”, meaning miserable.
One of the most famous, “Blighty”, meant England, or home.
The war’s legacies also include British Summer Time, which began on May 21, 1916, after the Summer Time Act 1916 was passed.
The panels explore the national and international heritage from the Great War. Before 1914, for example, wristwatches had been the preserve of rich aristocratic women.
Stephen Barker said: “No bloke would have been seen dead wearing a wristwatch before the war.”

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