On 28 September 2014, Gateways to the First World War held a public open day at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. This event brought together representatives from a wide range of organisations working on the First World War, and gave members of the public the opportunity to find out about a number of different projects being organised to commemorate the centenary. Local organisations such as Chatham Historic Dockyard and Greenwich Heritage Centre provided tasters of their First World War research and exhibitions. Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) projects supported by the Gateways team, such as Superact’s ‘The Last Post’ and the National Children’s Football Alliance, showcased some of their work. Representatives from the British Association for Local History, HLF, the War Memorials Trust, The Western Front Association and many others were also present, offering advice on how to get involved in centenary projects and events.
Given its location, there was certainly a maritime feel to this event. Quintin Colville (National Maritime Museum) led a tour of the ‘Forgotten Fighters of the First World War’ gallery, an exhibition documenting the naval dimension of the First World War. On this tour, he outlined how the exhibition was constructed, and how individual items were chosen for display. Chris Bellamy (University of Greenwich) gave an evocative lecture on the First World War at sea, and how developments at sea often affected the land battles that are imprinted on public awareness of this conflict. These sessions highlighted a dimension that is often forgotten in the wider public remembrance of the conflict.
Alongside these sessions, there were opportunities for members of the public to think about how they could study the First World War, and how they could use source material to chart their family’s involvement in the conflict. Chris Ware (University of Greenwich) ran a public session outlining how to ‘fish’ for your ancestors, using archival resources present at the National Maritime Museum and at the National Archives. He used examples from his own family history to illustrate the sort of projects that could be conducted, and how these resources could be used in a practical manner. Tracey Weller (National Maritime Museum) ran a ‘Show and Tell’ session, using an array of primary source materials from the museum.
Kate Morgan, a third year undergraduate student in the School of History, University of Kent, found the day ‘extremely informative with a particular highlight being the talk given by the exhibition curator. I am in the process of researching the First World War for my dissertation, and found the information available, particularly concerning primary sources, very useful.’
The open day was the first of an extensive series of events planned and supported by Gateways. Events coming up in 2014 include:
31 October: ‘Discover Portsmouth in the First World War’, free discovery day, Portsmouth City Museum
11 November: Well-Remembered Voices, a one-day public event exploring how theatre responded to the events of 1914-1918 at The Marlowe, Canterbury
20 November: ‘Whose Remembrance?’ A film presentation, panel discussion and Q&A session at the University of Leeds, organised in partnership with Legacies of War and the Imperial War Museum
12 December: ‘Representations of the Christmas Truce’, a one-day public symposium at the University of Kent