Jul 03 2013
Museums Sheffield’s Children and Young People Co-ordinator, Graham Moore on our recent research trip for our forthcoming exhibition, Sheffield and the First World War.
On a chilly spring morning we boarded a coach and headed off for Continental Europe; three members of Museums Sheffield Curatorial and Learning teams had been lucky enough to join a group of local enthusiasts, experts and other professionals on a First World War research tour of battlefields and memorials across Belgium and France.
Once through the Channel Tunnel we headed east towards Ypres, the destination for our first night’s stay. Passing through Northern France and seamlessly into Belgium on a beautiful, bright afternoon, it seemed hard to reconcile this peaceful rural countryside with the bloodiest war in history.
We arrived at our accommodation on the outskirts of Ypres, parking the coach by the remarkable Cloth Hall. Badly damaged by artillery fire during the war, the Hall was painstakingly reconstructed and now houses the impressive In Flanders Fields Museum.
The little free time we had in the town was just enough to sample some Belgium chocolate and investigate the outer walls of the impressive Menin Gate. A testament to the devastating toll of the First World War, the gate displays the names of more than 54,000 soldiers missing in the Ypres Salient between the outbreak of the war and 15 August 1917.
That evening, like every other, the road through the Menin Gate was closed for the Last Post ceremony. We joined the several hundred visitors who had massed inside the gate to hear the bugle call and lay wreaths for those that had been lost.
The next morning it was time to say goodbye to Belgium and head for Northern France. Our first port of call was the village of Bapaume in the Somme valley. The village has strong links to Sheffield; following the First World War the people of Sheffield financed the building of twelve houses in the village, along with a new school, to replace those which had been destroyed during the conflict.
The school building (l’école Lawrence) is named after Mr George Lawrence, a razor manufacturer from Sheffield, who had helped fund its construction. A plaque on the wall commemorates the school opening on 9 July 1939; a second plaque near the door recognises the generosity of Mr Lawrence and the citizens of Sheffield. The building is no longer a school, but houses a small museum on the first floor. As part of a very warm welcome by the volunteer team from the museum, we were presented with a commemorative plate for Sheffield’s collection, a touching reminder of the kinship the people of Bapaume still feel with the city.
Sheffield’s connection with Bapaume is just one of the many stories we are looking forward to telling in our Sheffield and the First World War exhibition when it opens at Weston Park next year. If you have any family memories or mementos from the First World War which you’d like to share with us, we would be delighted to hear from you – contact our Curator of Social History, Clara Morgan at email@example.com
Our blog on our First World War research trip continues here
Top: The Menin Gate, Ypres
Right: The Sheffield Roll of Honour in a specially designed casket, held in Bapaume Museum.