One hundred years on from the armistice that ended it all, this week the museum proudly opened its new exhibition, ‘Erewash Remembers: 100 Years of Commemorating the First World War’. Curated by Kate Crossley-Halls, the exhibition turns not only to the conflict itself but also to its devastating aftermath and the cultures of remembrance that grew out of unthinkable international catastrophe.
Global war had very local ramifications, and in towns like Ilkeston huge labour shortages were caused when men went away to the Front, many of which were filled by women. Following the armistice of November 11th, 1918, the struggles were by no means over, and industrial regions like ours faced ongoing challenges. Despite the fact that the women who had taken over work in the factories were laid off in their droves, many returning soldiers still struggled to find jobs, so a scheme was launched locally to encourage employers to take on disabled soldiers. In Erewash, as elsewhere, new homes were promised that would be fit for returning heroes, but in reality many ex-servicemen struggled to find a suitable place to live.
The mechanisation of war, causing death and destruction on a previously unimaginable scale, also disrupted funerary customs and mortuary rites. Without a body to bury, families could not express their grief in the traditional way. Because of this, war memorials bearing the names of the dead became an important focal point for mourning. The most famous example is the London Cenotaph, but communities across Erewash erected their own monuments. Of course no public monument is ever entirely neutral – some names were left off the memorials, including those seen as ‘deserters’.
‘Erewash Remembers’ looks to some of the other traditions of remembrance that now seem so natural to us. Our annual two minutes silence on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month has long been a national institution, but when it was originally suggested on the first anniversary of armistice in 1919, some doubted it would work. The exhibition also considers the important role that the Royal British Legion played, and continues to play, in advocating for soldiers and their families. Their iconic Poppy Appeal serves as an annual reminder of all that was, and is, lost in times of conflict.
Exhibitions commemorating the First World War are themselves acts of public remembrance, inevitably shaped by a century of mourning and remembering and influenced by our shifting sensibilities as a nation. ‘Erewash Remembers’ gives us pause to remember. At the same time it challenges us to think again about how we remember.
You are warmly invited to remember with us at this free exhibition which runs until December 15th.