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Forging national remembrance through individual reflection: Veteran contributions to shaping the Imperial War Museum

Imperial War Museums

I have worked at IWM London since April 2016. My role as Public Engagement Officer is split between Lives of the First World War and the War Memorials Register. I have a BA in History from Swansea University, and an MA in British First World War Studies from the University of Birmingham. The title of my MA dissertation was ‘Memory of the First World War: The Dichotomy of Individual Reflection and National Remembrance.’ This was particularly focused on IWMs’ Bond of Sacrifice collection. Interests of mine include trends of memorialisation, the language of remembrance/memory and public contribution to national rhetoric.

2017 marks 100 years since the establishment of Imperial War Museums (IWMs). The alignment of this conference with IWMs’ own centenary provides an appropriate opportunity to reflect on veteran involvement in the early years of IWM. I intend to examine the contribution of veteran activity to the establishment of national rhetoric during and immediately after the First World War. I propose to do so primarily by researching the career of Charles Ffoulkes, and by using the Bond of Sacrifice collection letters. Ffoulkes was the first secretary and curator of the museum, and a veteran of the First World War. The Bond of Sacrifice is IWMs’ first collection – from September 1917 IWM published articles in a variety of newspapers prompting civilians to contribute biographies and portraits of men who served in the war. Donors ranged from soldiers sending their own portraits, to loved ones remembering those who had died. These efforts culminated in a collection of portraits and accompanying letters from donors, amassing 3,000 correspondence. The letters of response from IWM staff provide a fascinating insight into reflection and perceptions of the war, along with varying responsive tones from IWM.

These letters will be used to demonstrate how veterans and their families contributed to the language of memory through direct correspondence with IWMs. I intend to strike a balance between examining the way the museum was shaped by its own Committee, and through public contribution. The theme of veteran contributions to remembrance and IWMs’ establishment will be focused upon throughout.