“I’ve han­dled thou­sands of medals, and you know that be­hind each one there’s a story”

Rod Cooper helps to bring Bri­tain’s mil­i­tary past to life for school­child­ren.

The People's Friend Special - - REAL LIFE -

My day is quite var­ied; some of it can be deskbound which means you’re search­ing the mu­seum’s data­base, re­search­ing items from the col­lec­tion that might be use­ful for learn­ing pur­poses. Once we’ve made a list we go up to the mu­seum’s stor­age fa­cil­ity in Steve­nage and search out the ob­jects.

You can really lose time in there – there are so many fas­ci­nat­ing things. I’ve han­dled thou­sands of medals, and you just know that be­hind each one there’s a story.

The best part of this job is that you’re al­ways look­ing for some­thing new. You’re sit­ting in front of the com­puter screen and you just don’t know what’s go­ing to come up next. There’s al­ways some­thing around the cor­ner that will lead you off in an­other di­rec­tion.

This is the Na­tional Army Mu­seum – some of the things are not go­ing to be pleas­ant – and you do come across some un­usual things.

There was a print from the 19th cen­tury that was pretty aw­ful and you have the moral dilemma of what do we make of that. So you have th­ese dif­fi­cult mo­ments, con­fronting things that we did in the past with the best of in­ten­tions.

One thing we’re do­ing at the mo­ment is rules of en­gage­ment, the rules of war and how you ap­ply those in the heat of bat­tle and so on. It’s some­thing I put to­gether for a learn­ing mod­ule.

I’ve al­ways en­joyed go­ing to the schools. An­other area I’ve been work­ing on is sourc­ing let­ters and tran­scrib­ing cor­re­spon­dence from com­bat­ants on the Western Front in 1914 and 1915. In the learn­ing ses­sion for the chil­dren I can in­cor­po­rate cer­tain as­pects I’ve learned from those let­ters.

For ex­am­ple, there was a sec­ond lieu­tenant who was fre­quently writ­ing home for food and cloth­ing – jam fig­ured a lot. One of his re­quests was, Please send me my gramo­phone and col­lec­tion of records. So there he was in a trench and he had his gramo­phone! I com­pared it with to­day’s com­pul­sion to carry our mu­sic around with us on iPods.

I love vol­un­teer­ing. It’s al­ways some­thing to do in later life when re­tire­ment fi­nally beck­ons!

The Na­tional Army Mu­seum is closed un­til later this year, but you can find plenty of in­for­ma­tion about the col­lec­tions and the vol­un­teer pro­gramme on its web­site www.nam.ac.uk in the mean­time.

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