Ipswich and the Armistice: unlocking the hidden history of the town
28 June 2018
The Community Project
Over the last few months I have been working with Ipswich Museum to create a project proposal to commemorate the centenary of The Great War. Ipswich and the Armistice is a community project that explores how local people responded to the ending of the war in Ipswich at the time and how, today, local people feel about the First World War one hundred years later. The artist-led community project aims to work with local schools, community groups and care homes to re-tell this story in a unique creative way contrasting historical facts with contemporary viewpoints to produce a short collage animation.
The project includes a call out for hidden stories around Armistice Day and interviewing local people about their family stories and their knowledge of events around the period and recording this dialogue. The project engages people in learning about their heritage through interactive sound and visual workshops and given the voice to better explain what the heritage of the First World War means to them and their local community. The project focuses on the memories and cultural traditions of the First World War on the home front, looking at how local people responded emotionally to the ending of the war in Ipswich and surrounding areas in 1918.
What to do next?
Funding was gratefully received from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the project officially started on 11 June with 40 days planned for the artist to research, develop and deliver the short animation with other days planned for delivering the workshops, collaborating with sound artist Ranieri Spina.
The two and a half weeks have been busy. Firstly organising the workshops with primary and secondary schools and care homes. At this stage four visual workshops have been confirmed.
The next important step was to get a good overview of The Great War so I arranged a visit on the second day to the Imperial War Museum. This visit was invaluable not only for the providing information on the war but gave me lots of ideas for what to include and how I would present it. I wrote notes and took photos. There was a good display on the Armistice and also some great collage animations using archival materials.
I was draw to a collage animation of a street with appearing and disappearing vehicles. The film was in black and white apart from the posters. This led me to think about the workshops and what I was going to do. I thought that for the secondary school I would like them to create posters inspired by the war posters. What messages would they like to include about the ending of the war and how would they communicate the emotions felt? The posters would be displayed on buildings in the film as seen below.
I was also interested in the activities on the home front which could cease once the war ended. Such the Not at Home discs displayed the window could state Hero Returned. Women knitting the required balaclavas, scarves, gloves and socks would suddenly stop.
I was also interested in the designs of the war charity pins and stamps. This was another inspiration for a workshop. This time I would get the primary school children to design flags and bunting that was inspired by the charity flag pins and the emotions of returning home and war ending. What would their messages be now?
Other visits included Ipswich Museum and Suffolk Regiment Museum. At the Ipswich Museum I photographed the WWI collection and was drawn to the typewriter and telephone. These would be good objects in the film for relaying information. I also liked the ration books which have good textures to use for overlaying on the collages.
The visit to the Suffolk Regiment Museum was also important for local military history and memorabilia and the people there were very helpful. Again lots of photos taken and notes made. I was also interested in the aftermath of the war and that returning soldiers created mounted frames for deceased soldiers’ medals, photos etc to generate income. This maybe something that I could reference in the film.
I also visited Christchurch Park and took photos and videos of the war memorial, interiors and exteriors of St Mary-le-Tower Church, interiors of the Town Hall including the mayor’s chambers and Christchurch Mansion looking at the Edwardian collection including toy soldiers.
I also wanted to gain more knowledge of Ipswich and the Armistice. First I visited the Suffolk Records Office and reviewed the newspapers around the period. I looked at the commentary on the Armistice Day in Ipswich. See an example below.
Extract from Suffolk Chronicle and Mercury re Armistice Day in Ipswich Friday November 15th 1918
The scenes in Ipswich were unprecedented. Shortly after the news was received practically all business ceased and crowds ever increasing, thronged the streets, singing waving flags, discharging fireworks and generally letting their long pent-up feelings loose. At noon the Cornhill was packed from end to end when the Mayor (Mr E. C. Ransome), in full state, accompanied by members of the Corporation and other public bodies in the town, appeared to officially announce the joyful news. The scene and the magnificent sound of the National Anthem, which followed will be remembered for a long time by those who were present. Towards dusk the relaxing of the lighting restrictions was taken advantage of as fully as was possible and the streets, in many of the churches and chapels large congregations assembled to return their thanks for the many blessings which had been vouchsafed during the terrible time now happily past. At Mary-le-Tower Church the Mayor attended with members of the Corporation, and the Bishop of the Diocese delivered an earnest and appropriate address. Arrangements had been made for a joint parade of the Volunteers units in the town, but at the last minutes this was vetoed, and the crowd had to be content with listening to the strains of the Volunteer Band, bravely trying to make itself heard above the continuous cheering and discharge of fireworks.
This extract was very useful and gave me ideas for outlining my film. It would be based on the Armistice Day referring to all the points written but would also refer to the frontline and home front, as well as future events such as the unveiling of the war memorial and World Peace Day.
I also visited Ipswich library and made notes of the town’s history looking at late Victorian, Edwardian and 1910’s eras. I also visited the Tourist Office and looked at leaflets on other museums that I could visit and acquired some maps and literature.
It’s good to talk
I also wanted to interview people that were knowledgable on WWI and record their dialogue. I interviewed Andrew Beal from Ipswich War Memorial Project, John Burn from SSAFA, Eric Mouser from Ipswich Transport Museum and Ian Molloy from St Mary-le-Tower. Other interviews have been arranged. I am hoping to take relevant sentences and add it to the film.
The museum has also received responses from call outs and I asked some people to record their stories. One example includes ‘My grandfather was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal but he never told his family. Returning soldiers didn’t seem to talk about their experiences or their awards given’. This should be good for the returning soldiers section. I also liked the quote from the late Stanley Chambers who said ‘So many men gave up our lives for our freedom… Please don’t give your freedom away’. I would like to ask an elderly man to record this and use it for the ending of the film.
In my next blog I would like to talk about the development of the film and taking inspiration from the Dada movement. I will also be covering the school workshops and plans for sound workshops.