Commemorating World War One

In this week’s blog Curatorial Assistant Laura tells us about putting together the first year of a four year commemorative World War One exhibit. The exhibit can be seen in the King’s College Ante-Chapel and will explore a different theme every year for the 4 years of commemoration.

Myself and Curatorial Assistant Louise have been working for the past few months on the University Museum’s WW1 display. There were a number of factors we had to think about when organising this display. First, and foremost, location; we wanted this small display to be situated on the University’s Old Aberdeen Campus, and could think of no better place than the King’s College ante-chapel. Situated in the ante-chapel is the University of Aberdeen’s memorial wall, which was unveiled on Armistice Day 1928. The oak panels inscribed with the names of the 341 University alumni, staff and students who were killed in the Great War, were designed by William Kelly, and the memorial window, designed by Douglas Strachan, symbolises ‘man’s spiritual effort against aggression’. You can find out more about the memorial and ante chapel here.

King's College ante-chapel

King’s College ante chapel

Secondly we had to think of a title. When Louise came across the official memorial scroll, which was sent to the families of men who fell during the First World War, a quote instantly jumped out: ‘Let those who come after see to it that his name be not forgotten.’ These words act as a striking reminder to us today to continue to remember the soldiers who fought in the First World War and all wars that have followed.

After the title we had to decide on what theme should be explored in the first year of this exhibit, and what should be said in the permanent back panel. As it is exactly 100 years since the start of the war we decided to look at the effect of the outbreak of war on the people of the University, both those who went to fight, and those who stayed at home. The temporary panel specifically looks at the University men who volunteered to fight for God, King and Country.

©Dumfries and Galloway Council. Licensor

©Dumfries and Galloway Council. Licensor

So we had the location, title and theme, all that was left to decide upon was the objects.  As it is a small case we decided to display two objects this year. The first and probably most striking is the PH Helmet, or gas mask. From 1916 onwards these were standard British Army issue for any men signing up to the army. This specific one was dipped in a Phenate – Hexamine (PH) solution to neutralise poison gases.

PH Helmet, British Army Issue, 1916-1919 ABDUA:37716

PH Helmet, British Army Issue, 1916-1919

The second object reflects the moral motives of many who went to fight. It is a New Testament bible created by the National Bible Society of Scotland and was presented to each soldier in their standard kit issue. Both objects are from the University of Aberdeen Museums, Human Culture Collection.

 New Testament, 1916 ABDUA:37679

New Testament, 1916

The exhibit all finally came together on Friday 31st October, and opened to the public on the 3rd November. King’s College Chapel is open to visitors Monday-Friday, 10am-3.30pm.

Now this commemorative year is complete we are working on the next three years!


About uoamuseums

The University of Aberdeen's Museums include King’s Museum and the University's Zoology Museum. The museums can claim to be Scotland's oldest, with records of museums and collections as far back as the late 17th century. Thanks to their status as a Recognised Collection of national significance, the Zoology Museum’s displays are currently being improved, while King's Museum hosts changing exhibitions drawn from across the collections, particularly those formerly in Marischal Museum. Visitors are warmly welcomed to the museums, and there are no charges for admission. Marischal College now houses the Museums Collections Centre, caring for and conserving many of the collections.
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