The First World War Galleries – the book!

My work with the team creating the new First World War Galleries gained an unexpected additional component when I was asked to write the book of the exhibition.

I say ‘unexpected’ because it is unusual for IWM to take on such a large publishing project in house. Just as the galleries aim to break new ground in displaying the First World War, so the museum chose to embark upon publishing a book on a far bigger scale than usual.

The book is not a catalogue, nor is it a behind-the-scenes look at the process of creating the gallery (not that the latter wouldn’t be a best seller despite the necessary ‘contains adult language’ warning). No, The First World War Galleries is a book which follows and amplifies the story of the war, as told in the galleries. It is illustrated with much of the material exhibited in them. The book aims to serve both as an enhancement to a visit to the galleries, or as a history of the war illustrated with our objects for those unable to make such a visit.

So I found myself feeling like something like a screenwriter who is called upon to ‘novelise’ his script. It was a situation which certainly had its challenges – especially because the book had to be written while the gallery was still in development. Of course this could only be achieved at all because the research that my colleagues and I had already carried out for the gallery gave me the raw material with which to write the book.

I was eager, whatever the difficulty, to seize what was a fantastic opportunity to expand upon the narrative which we had developed, and to use even more of the contemporary ‘voices’ of participants in the war, which are so important in the galleries. So readers of the book can look forward to hearing more from people like opinionated Kent woman Ethel Bilbrough – enraged by censorship of private correspondence or by ‘shirkers’ who refused to enlist; Indian cavalryman Shah Mirzah – who took part in a cavalry charge on the Somme; or Australian corporal Oswald Blows – who saw hard fighting on the Western Front before triumphantly setting foot in the newly captured ‘Hindenburg Line’ in 1918.

You can order The First World War Galleries and have it delivered direct from our online shop.

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