The outbreak of World War One - work begins on our centenary exhibition

Aug 20 2012

2014 is the centenary of the beginning of the First World War, or the Great War as it was known at the time. Here at Museums Sheffield, we will be marking the centenary with a new temporary exhibition at Weston Park Museum. The exhibition will open in February 2014, and will explore the impact of the war on Sheffield and its people.

Although 2014 may seem like a long time away, there is a great deal of research and planning to be done for the exhibition. For over a year now, I have been working behind the scenes on our collections, to investigate what the city has relating to the Great War and the stories that these objects can help to tell. Volunteers Louise Finney and Adam Hyman have done a fantastic job working on the collections with me by adding the records to our collections database and undertaking further research - the project would have taken much longer if not for their enthusiasm, knowledge and commitment.

Some of the stories we have researched are personal and very moving, others relate to the war more generally. We never know when we start looking at the records for an individual whether they survived the war, or were killed, and the latter always makes us remember the terrible loss of life. Here are some examples of objects in the collections that we to include in the exhibition in 2014.

Badge from Wharncliffe War Hospital, 1915
In the early years of the war, companies and institutions often made badges for their workers, so that people could show that they were contributing to the war effort at home. As the war progressed, and metal was prioritised for armaments, production of badges was stopped, and from 1916 they start to be donated into the museum collections.

This badge, with its Sheffield coat of arms, was donated by Lieutenant Colonel Vincent of the Royal Army Medical Corps, who was the Administrator at the Wharncliffe War Hospital. The hospital was converted from an asylum to a war hospital in 1915. Hundreds of doctors and nurses worked in Sheffield at various different hospitals treating injured servicemen.

Photograph frame, 1918
This photograph frame was made by Percy Phillipson, during his navy service on HMS Cleopatra. There is another similar photograph frame in the collections showing Percy in his navy uniform. He used spare pieces of mahogany wood to make “Lovely Deed” boxes and photograph frames for his fellow seamen as souvenirs. The photograph in this frame is of Percy’s sister Dora, who worked as a conductress on Sheffield trams during the war. A wider variety of jobs were open to women at this time as men left their normal occupations for their war service.

Percy was born in 1896, and worked as an apprentice joiner at Waleswood Colliery, attending night school at The University of Sheffield to learn high-class woodwork and polishing. He survived the war, ran a successful business, and was later awarded an MBE.

These are just some of the types of objects that we have in the collections to help tell the story of Sheffield and its people during the Great War. If you have any Sheffield family memories you would like to share with us, or objects that you would be happy for us to borrow for the exhibition, please do get in touch at We’ll be picking up our research in September and will respond to your emails then.

Main photo shows Officers from No 3 Special Company Royal Engineers, March 1918.




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