Designed by Hartlepool Cultural Services, A Soldiers Life and The Home Front resource boxes provide a wealth of objects connected to the First World War inspiring curiosity and discussion for young people at Throston Youth Centre.
The group are the first to access the boxes and have been taking part in a Mail Art Project using Trench Art and local WWl heritage research, such as visiting the Heugh Gun Battery at the Headland and Beamish Museum.
Supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery fund and with hands on support from Youth Support Services, the group of young people met a local Trench Art collector, Judy Sunter during their visit to Beamish.
Judy, also a ‘Friend of Beamish’ provided a wealth of information about each object, recounting the international stories connected with the making of each piece. Michelle Ball, from the Learning and Community Participation Team at Beamish provided a behind the scenes tour of the stores, detailing how the objects are collected, recorded and stored. Michelle was able to provide hands on heritage experience using objects from the life of Lt Reginald Elphinstone Baty, who served in the Northumberland Fusiliers.
A week later and a tour around the Heugh Gun Battery by experienced volunteer Wendy, offered young people the opportunity to reflect on the bombardment of Hartlepool as well as consider the women who made the munitions. Wendy provided a detailed account of how the munitions were made by the women, using an inventive model involving spaghetti!
Back at Throston Youth Centre, young people have been designing Mail art that encompasses a number of areas of interest and focus, including the bombardment, women’s contribution to the war, life and death situations, trench art and propaganda. Remembering Our War resource boxes, provided young people with the opportunity to reflect on their research visits and identify personal areas for Mail art production.
The Princess Mary Tin was passed around the group and discussed with questions such as what was inside? who would it have been given to? what else could the tin have contained? Connections were made with some of the Mail Art sent from a group of Australian young people. These young people had recognised the importance of staying in touch, writing letters and corresponding during the First World War. The geographical difference between the UK and Australia would have meant an enormous time delay in receiving mail on the other side of the world. One participant said about today’s Mail Art aspect of the project ‘It has helped me understand how close people around the world can get thanks to art’ and another participant unused to posting art ‘ the project has helped me understand sending art and how far it can go’.
The discussion around communication was picked up again when handling the embroidered postcards from the Home Front box. The group had previously come across these during discussions around the definition of Trench Art, which according to some historians includes post cards embroidered by soldiers recuperating in hospital
The Gas mask connected to the visit to Beamish and mail art by James Wilkinson highlighting the designs and variety of gas masks used. Many in the group were struck by the primitive design. A new comer to the group noted how James Wilkinson’s Mail Art contribution showed ‘creepy gas mask people’.
A hand written letter provided difficult to decipher, but offered the opportunity to collect snippets of information. It linked directly with mail art from young people in Australia.
The Mail Art Project using Trench Art and local WWl heritage research continues to take shape as the young people in the group begin to develop ideas for showcasing their work in the form of paper Christmas decorations at St Hilda’s Church and their contribution to 11th December event Hartlepool Remembered – Legacies of the Bombardment. The participants ‘enjoyed using different materials’, ‘learning new things about the wars’ and looked forward to seeing ‘what types of things can we make for the Christmas Tree’.