Uncovering some of Calderdale’s stories of wartime life

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Bankfield Museum in Halifax has been uncovering local war stories ahead of an exhibition later this summer. Chris Bond reports.

WITH the centenary of the start of the First World War less than three months away, galleries and museums across Yorkshire are gearing up to commemorate this poignant anniversary.

Bankfield Museum, in Halifax, is among those planning to mark the occasion with its For King and Country exhibition, which is due to open at the start of August.

The exhibition aims to commemorate Calderdale’s wartime contribution and experiences through a wide range of objects, photographs and archive material.

The project, supported by Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), revolves around stories and artefacts that have been passed down through the generations.

Angela Clare, who is leading the project, has been working on the exhibition since last summer. “Places like Leeds and York are planning big projects to commemorate the Great War and we wanted to do something that tells the story of Calderdale, because each town and village has a story to tell,” she says.

Clare has delved into the history of the area meeting scores of local people who have yielded more than 60 stories that form the basis of the exhibition.

She has also collected more than 200 objects along with archived information and images from the First World War, and has found it a humbling experience listening to the experiences of people in Calderdale from a century ago.

“It’s touching that families want to share their stories to remember people 100 years on – both those who were sadly killed and those who survived. We’ve had a range of stories including soldiers, sailors, nurses, munitions workers and conscientious objectors,” she says.

“We want to encourage people to come and find out about their family history. We’ll have a kind of A to Z database that people can add their stories to and by 2018 we hope to have several hundred that we’ll have recorded for the future.”

Working on the exhibition has inspired Clare to look into her own family history and their involvement in the First World War. “I started by gathering what information I could from family members, including a selection of photographs and a Christmas card sent from my great-grandfather to his wife and daughter in 1918.

“I searched the 1911 Census to locate family members and found out which regiments they joined and when.”

She discovered that her great-grandfather ,Thomas Henry Blythe, was one of four brothers. “They had moved down from Leeds to Peterborough by 1911 to work on the railways. They all went to war and survived, but tragedy struck in 1919 when Thomas’s wife and daughter died of Spanish flu.

“Thomas later remarried in 1922. This was to my great-grandmother, Hilda Macmann, who was also originally from Leeds. She had served in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps during the war. The couple had six children and the eldest was my grandad,” she says.

“It’s strange to think that if his first wife had lived then I wouldn’t be here, and it shows what a huge impact the war had on people’s lives.

“Some soldiers were killed who were perhaps an only child but they died before they had the chance to have a family and a hundred years later there isn’t anybody left to remember them.”

Which is why she believes exhibitions like this are important. “There’s nobody left alive now who fought in the war so this centenary is a chance to gather some of these stories while we still can.

“There are still some people alive whose fathers fought in the war but many of them are in their 90s now 
and this might be the last chance we get to record these stories before they’re lost.”