Braintree District Museum helps keep the memory of the Second World War alive
It won’t be too long before the Second World War slips forever from living memory, writes James Marston.
But today some of those who do recall the conflict have recorded their memories and recollections for posterity’s sake.
World War II the People’s Story, an exhibition at Braintree District Museum, has brought together those memories and that oral history alongside other artefacts and images to mark the 70th anniversary of VE day and VJ Day which is today.
Claire Willetts is the museum’s collections manager and curator of the exhibition.
She said: “People have come forward with their memories of life during the Second World War and it has been a privilege for me to talk to and interview people from the Braintree area about what they remember. Some of these have been very emotive and emotional.”
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Claire said that often men remembered the war as an exciting time for teenagers and young boys while the women often reflected on how they missed their fathers and recalled anxious times.
She added: “We have also interviewed some German prisoners of war who ended up in the area as well as people evacuated from London to the Braintree area.”
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The exhibition, which lasts until September 12, includes artefacts such as a baby’s gas mask, parachute lining wedding dresses, a Morrison shelter, an air raid siren, personal letters, uniforms and even wreckage of a Flying Fortress aeroplane that crashed on May 10 1945 just after the war ended. Claire added: “We wanted to do something different this year. Last year we had an exhibition on the First World War and this year’s exhibition focuses on what life was like for people in this area during the Second World War. For example I hadn’t realised what an impact the arrival of the American GIs had on the town and villages or the fact that women were called up to work in Braintree’s factories as part of the war effort.”
The exhibition touches on a number of themes, childhood, rationing, the home guard, roof spotters, the role of a number of local airfields, as well as the work of war artists Edward Bawden and Eric Ravilious who both lived in the Braintree district. Claire added: “I have loved pulling the exhibition together, we have used the opportunity to extend our collection and it has been fascinating to discover more about this period of Braintree’s and the district’s history.”
The exhibition is open at Braintree District Museum in Manor Street, Braintree until September 12.