Image of IWM logo with photographic background IWM Research Blog

 

Image of a photograph of William Davey

William Davey in uniform while serving with the Dragoon Guards. (Papers of W Davey, Documents 62/179/1)

As part of a major project supported by the Wellcome Trust, I catalogued some of the IWM’s medical collections which had hitherto been largely unavailable to researchers.  A major dividend from making these newly catalogued collections more accessible is that some are now on display in the new exhibition at IWM North, Saving Lives: Frontline Medicine in a Century of Conflict (13 October 2012 to 1 September 2013). 

The papers of William Davey who served in the ranks with the Dragoon Guards and the Labour Corps on the Western Front, record the effects of his service on his health.  He was awarded a War Badge in December 1917, having received an honourable discharge due to ill health.  On display are his Discharge Certificate releasing him from the Army as ‘no longer physically fit’ in November 1917; a Ministry of Pensions Notification of Final Award dated 1930, providing a full ‘a pension for life’ and a Ministry of Pensions letter dated 17 March 1933 informing his widow after his death (from the effects of gas) that she would not be eligible for a widow’s pension (but could apply for one).

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Image of an engraving from the Sumatra railway memorial on Sumatra itself

A engraving from the Sumatra railway memorial. Amanda Farrell.

February this year saw the seventieth anniversary of the Fall of Singapore on 15th of that month 1942. Between June of that year and October 1943, over 60,000 Allied troops would be forced to labour as prisoners of war (POWs) on the Burma-Thailand railway.  It is not so popularly known, however, that after this a second ‘Death Railway’ project was overseen by many of the same Japanese engineers. This second railway was built on the island of Sumatra, and its construction involved nearly 5,000 Allied POWs.

As an island rich in coal and oil, Sumatra presented a vital energy resource for the Japanese. Their intention was that the new line starting at Pakanbaroe in the east of Sumatra would connect to an existing track at the town of Moeara, and continue to the western port of Padang. By joining the new track with the old, and constructing a tributary line to connect the railway to Sumatran coal mines, the Japanese planned to transport fuel and troops by rail for shipping from Padang to Singapore.

The track between Pakanbaroe and Moeara was approximately 140 miles long, with a total of 17 camps made and lived in by prisoners. Since there was no place to which men could escape, very few were fully enclosed by the bamboo fences or barbed wire associated with typical images of POW camps. The railway was built through mountain ranges and thick jungle, and across swamp and river.

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Image of a photograph and letter from Nursing Sister D M L Crewdson

A photograph of and letter from Nursing Sister D M L Crewdson (August 1918) about the award of her Military Medal. IWM DOCS 62/135/1

One of the most rewarding aspects of my work since I joined the Research Department has been cataloguing IWM’s medical collections.  This was part of a major project supported by the Wellcome Trust to expand our understanding and online coverage of the experiences and participation of medical personnel and their patients in various conflicts since 1900.  Working my way through boxes of diaries and letters, I wrote synopses for each of a large number of our collections which has now made it easier for researchers to locate material relevant to the history of medicine.

One of the joys of this research was discovering the personal experiences of medical staff who served during the two world wars.  One particularly moving collection contained the letters written home by Dorothea Crewdson, who as a nurse on the Western Front became one of the few women to be awarded the Military Medal for bravery.  After being wounded when her hospital at Etaples was bombed by the Germans in May 1918, Nursing Sister Crewdson refused treatment in order to continue to tend to her patients.  Tragically, she died from peritonitis just after the war had ended, on 12 March 1919 aged just 32, and is buried in Etaples Military Cemetery. 

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Image of a workshop at FIAF on the transition to digital technology, l-r Jon Wenstrom (Swedish Film Institute), David Walsh, Thomas Christensen (Danish Film Institute), Sungji Oh (Korean Film Archive)

A workshop at the FIAF congress on the transition to digital technology, l-r Jon Wenstrom (Swedish Film Institute), David Walsh, Thomas Christensen (Danish Film Institute), Sungji Oh (Korean Film Archive). Courtesy of the China Film Archive.

The collective noun for a gathering of film archivists? A vault? A screening? The more cynical might say a confusion. Certainly, at the annual congress of the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF) held in Beijing in May, in addition to a certain amount of confusion surrounding voting procedures (something of a tradition at FIAF congresses), archivists were understandably confused by the sheer scale and rapidity of the changes to their world brought about by digital technology. And so a good deal of the proceedings set about addressing some of these concerns, not least the workshop organised jointly by the Technical Commission (of which I am the head) and the Programming and Access Commission, where we looked at the digital world from different perspectives and tried to offer some guidance on acquisition, management, preservation and access. (Some of the guidance we offered is now available in a few handy documents on the FIAF website).

Our fellow commission, Cataloguing and Documentation, have also worked hard to push for worldwide implementation of an important new European standard for film metadata (EN 15907:2009), and are hoping that this will become an ISO standard shortly. To boost their case, they had the British Film Institute to present their successful adoption of CEN standards in their new Adlib database (the first organisation to do so). This commission is also working on a revised set of cataloguing rules which will be compliant with this standard.

FIAF retains a very strong interest in analogue film technology, and there are many who view the demise of this traditional technology not just as regrettable, but as something to be resisted at all costs. In this context, when the Technical Commission wondered in passing whether it should investigate the feasibility of film archives manufacturing their own film stock when all the big players (Kodak, Fuji) decide to drop it, the FIAF delegates were understandably excited. Establishing a cottage industry for film stock seems implausible to many, but I suspect that unless we can come up with definitive evidence to support this view, the idea will not rest.

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Image of a portrait of amateur film maker Rosie Newman using her Cine Kodak Model K 16mm film camera.

Amateur film maker Rosie Newman using her Cine Kodak Model K 16mm film camera. HU 65393

Winner – Focal International Awards, ‘Best Use of Footage in a Home Entertainment Release’, 2012

Britain at War, filmmaker Rosie Newman’s film of Britain during the Second World War, is one of the most important amateur films in our collection, notable for its content and the fact that it was shot, almost entirely, in colour. This film has interested and intrigued many researchers.  Who was Rosie Newman? How did she manage to film in places considered as ‘off-limits’ to amateur filmmakers? How and where did she show her films?  In order to answer such questions I did some research and discovered a most remarkable filmmaker.

Miss Rosie Newman bought her first 16mm camera in 1928, indulging in the latest amusing hobby of the time. Over the next decade, however, this hobby became a serious pursuit. She filmed all her foreign travels and, encouraged by friends, began showing these films publicly as entertainment and to raise funds for charity.  In recognition of her achievements, in particular for her films of India, she was elected fellow of the Royal Geographic Society.

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Image of Inscription on a cell wall in the former Gestapo headquarters at 145 Via Tasso, Rome. Today it is the site of a resistance museum, the Museo Storico della Liberazione. © Roderick Bailey

Inscription on a cell wall in the former Gestapo headquarters at 145 Via Tasso, Rome. Today it is the site of a resistance museum, the Museo Storico della Liberazione. © Roderick Bailey

The Special Operations Executive was a secret British organization set up in 1940 to encourage resistance and carry out sabotage in enemy-occupied territory. As the seventh of SOE’s official historians, I have the task of researching and writing the history of SOE’s cloak-and-dagger work against Fascist Italy between 1940, when Mussolini declared war on Britain and France, and 1943, when Italy reached an armistice with the Allies.

It is a unique piece of work that is a privilege to undertake. The public image of SOE remains dominated by the exploits of its agents in Nazi-occupied France, but its reach was global, and opportunities to shed light on SOE activities in countries other than France are important. In the case of Mussolini’s Italy, the risks run by SOE agents who were prepared to resist the Fascists were immense. Italy was an enemy country, not an enemy-occupied one, and anti-Fascist Italians who volunteered to return as secret agents faced a traitor’s fate if caught. The courage of those Italians who were prepared to face the firing squads deserves recognition, and stands as an effective counter to enduring images of Italy’s fighting abilities.

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Image of IWM ART 1255: Long Hope, 1917, Orkney.

Long Hope, 1917. Orkney, Sir John Lavery, IWM ART 1255

Our guest blogger, Angela Weight, was formerly Keeper of Art at Imperial War Museums from 1981 to 2005. Angela curated the exhibition War at Sea currently showing at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery until 31 October 2012. The exhibition consists of paintings by Sir John Lavery, an official war artist during the First World War, and all but one of the paintings are from the art collection of Imperial War Museums.

When I was asked to curate an exhibition of Sir John Lavery’s war pictures for the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, I knew at once that I would need to visit as many of the places where he had worked as possible.  The munitions factories in Glasgow, Newcastle and Edinburgh have long since vanished, but the naval ports in Scotland, the Orkney Islands and on the south coast of England are still there, if much changed.  Despite the passage of nearly one hundred years since Lavery was employed as an official war artist, I wanted tread in his footsteps and see what he had seen, in order to understand the man and his work.

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Image from the history of IWM: the galleries at Crystal Palace, 1920-24.

The History of IWM: the galleries at Crystal Palace, 1920-24.

Steeped as they are in stories of the past, it is not often that museums get to step back and take a look at their own history. The History of IWM Workshop, held at IWM London on 2 May 2012, brought together IWM staff, external researchers and several of IWM’s AHRC-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award (CDA) students to review the current state of research into IWM and discuss avenues for further investigation.

Roger Smither, Research Associate, began with a look at the pioneering work of IWM’s Film Archive. Thanks to forward-thinking individuals such as Edward Foxen Cooper and IWM’s first Curator, Charles ffoulkes, the museum had been a leader in the field of film collecting. Next came Dr Toby Haggith who looked at memory within the museum – arguing that IWM has always been, through its collections and its displays, and the thousands of interactions between staff and the public, a site of both personal and collective remembering. Dr Catherine Moriarty of the University of Brighton, ended the first panel by describing IWM’s programme of art commissions between 1981 and 2007. Her conversations with former IWM Keeper of the Department of Art, Angela Weight, revealed how this creative programme allowed artists to draw inspiration from IWM’s unparalleled collections and added an extra dimension to the museum’s displays. Dr. Moriarty ended by urging future researchers to explore the lesser known stories within IWM’s history.

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Image of a still from Ori Gersht's film Evaders.
Ori Gersht, Still from Evaders, HD Film, Dual Channel Projection, 2009 © Ori Gersht, courtesy of Mummery + Schnelle

For a large part of the last year I worked on the exhibition Ori Gersht: This Storm is What We Call Progress  which has now been on display at IWM London for three months. One of the most interesting things about the process of putting the exhibition together was how my own understanding of the work developed throughout our logistical, and significantly less poetic, planning discussions. Before working on this show I knew many of Ori’s works well: the cityscapes from Sarajevo which are part of IWM’s collections; his intriguing 2005 film, The Forest, where trees fall without explanation in a Ukrainian forest, and his best-known work, Big Bang, in which a Dutch still life shatters in spectacular slow-motion across the screen. I had also seen some of his Evaders photographs at his gallery show in 2009. This is the work that explores the fated flight of writer and philosopher Walter Benjamin from Vichy France, following a path through the Pyrenees. I hadn’t seen the film of the same name until a much later studio visit, but this was one of the works that became part of the show.

Ori works in a curious way, often employing both film and photographs to explore an idea, a subject or place. The two elements complement each other, but are not to be considered part of the same work. Most importantly, the photographs are very specifically not film stills. They are images produced and crafted in their own right. The Evaders photographs are very empty; the beautiful but harsh landscape of the Pyrenees becomes a dominant protagonist in the images. Intriguingly many of these places don’t actually exist, but are composite images of several sites. The landscape here becomes a construct, an artificial memory. Benjamin’s physical presence is barely registered. It is only through his abandoned suitcase, shown left amongst some jagged rocks, which indicates his absence.  In reality, Benjamin’s suitcase was noted as being found at the scene of his suicide, but later mysteriously disappeared. It was said to contain his final piece of writing and has since become a potent symbol of loss and the mythology surrounding his death.

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Image of the BBC monitoring reports in store

The BBC monitoring reports in store.

My PhD involves researching into how the Soviet Union portrayed the 1980 Moscow Olympic boycott to the world, via the medium of shortwave radio. In doing this I spend a lot of time examining Radio Moscow broadcasts recorded and transcribed by the BBC Monitoring Service, an archive in iWM Collections, which is stored in the old NAFFI building at Duxford airfield. The archive provides a fascinating insight into the world of 1980, the politics of the cold war, and the uses of media outlets for pushing propaganda lines to different groups of people.

Reading the words  of broadcasts that went directly into the ears of listeners all around the world, the Radio Moscow material shows how the boycott campaign evolved from just weeks after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979 all the way through to the end of the Olympic Games themselves. As you might expect with the Olympics, there are many similarities between the promotion of the Games in 1980 and those about to happen, in little under 100 days’ time.  The transcriptions provide an insight into Olympic quizzes, interviews with Olympians, the route the Olympic torch was due to take, and much more. As with the Games and Britain in 2012, in 1980 there was also a lot about how the Olympics can promote the Soviet Union to the world.

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