This morning I spent a couple of hours at the Shropshire Regimental Museum interviewing, chatting, watching and photographing staff and objects. I was there to interview two members of staff about artefacts in the collection. I also watched the staff go about their work of cleaning and preparing the exhibits for the museum’s opening in a couple of weeks time (it shuts every winter in December until February for maintenance).
Today I learnt a lot about what it is like to work at the museum. The two people I interviewed told me about the sorts of visitors they get (and from where – all over the world), the sorts of questions they get asked, the type of feedback they get and the range of objects that get donated.
There is a lot of love in that place. The staff absolutely adore working there, it isn’t a job to them. It is their life. They all feel passionate about the museum and about its contents. I was very moved by the intensity of their feelings and it reminded me very much of how the staff at Powis Castle felt. In many ways, the passion at the SRM was more intense.
I heard some amazing stories today about the objects in the museum and I learnt a lot about military history. As well as hearing again about the jacket which was kept as a bee warmer, I was told about the precious Victoria Cross and how it was stolen from Lloyd’s Bank by the bank manager’s nephew. The story goes that he was caught out when he tried to sell it and the shop keeper was suspicious of how he had ‘acquired’ this very rare item. I also heard about the American veteran who asked to hold the Victoria Cross in his hand next to his medal, which turned out to be an equally rare Congressional Medal. I was told also about the nickname (coal scuttle) that British soldiers in the First World War gave to the German helmet, as it reminded them of that object from home. And I heard about the Brigadier who had missed out on getting a Victoria Cross for his achievements because Kitchener turned the request for the honour down, stating that he should have been behind the scenes guiding his men, not leading them into battle.
What is more important, the monetary value or the narrative value?
The object that affected me the most today was the very rare, and very valuable Victoria Cross (the one that was stolen). I admit that before today I would have walked past this object without much of a passing thought. But knowing about its history, its importance to the family (one of which is making murmurs now that he wants it back), and its brush with crime, I would now stop and examine it. I love it. I feel a connection with it. What an adventurous life this metal and ribbon has had!
My lasting memory of today, as I am going to bed and when I shut my eyes, is a field of medals. All I can see is the colours of the ribbons, and the sameness of the shapes of the medals. The museum has thousands of medals. Most of them stored in drawers. But what do those medals mean and to whom? Are they as ubiquitous as the red poppy as a symbol of war? I think they might be. I shut my eyes now and I see a field of medals.
The colour of war