Alan Crosby takes a look at an in­no­va­tive way that a part­ner­ship in Corn­wall is mark­ing the Great War

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The in­no­va­tive 100 Faces 100 Sto­ries Cor­nish First World War pro­ject

We’re now very fa­mil­iar with projects un­der­taken by fam­ily and lo­cal his­tory or­gan­i­sa­tions built around a First World War theme. As the cen­te­nary drew near, we be­gan to see some re­ally in­no­va­tive ap­proaches to the dif­fi­cult ques­tion of how to com­mem­o­rate the con­flict and its hu­man story, in­clud­ing quite a few that wanted to in­volve the Home Front as well as the mil­i­tary aspects and the ex­pe­ri­ences of sol­diers.

One such pro­ject is 100 Faces 100 Sto­ries, which re­sults from a part­ner­ship be­tween the Cor­nish Ar­chives Net­work, Corn­wall Mu­se­ums Group and Pen­ryn Mu­seum. It was funded by the Her­itage Lot­tery Fund’s First World War: Then and Now pro­gramme, Cor­nish Min­ing World Her­itage, and the part­ners them­selves.

Shared ex­pe­ri­ence

The idea came from Jo Mat­tingly, one of Corn­wall’s Mu­seum De­vel­op­ment Of­fi­cers (I de­clare an in­ter­est – she’s a friend of mine) and it stemmed from an ear­lier pro­ject en­ti­tled A His­tory of Corn­wall in 100 Ob­jects. The aim was to high­light the Cor­nish ex­pe­ri­ence in the First World War, and the sto­ries of Cor­nish peo­ple and those con­nected with the county, bring­ing to­gether mu­se­ums and ar­chives in a pro­ject that would help to pub­li­cise their col­lec­tions and knowl­edge in a shared way.

So, 100 sub­jects were cho­sen – and not just peo­ple, as some fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ries of an­i­mals are also in­cluded, too.

Jo told me that their phi­los­o­phy was to en­hance the un­der­stand­ing of the First World War and cap­ture the widest pos­si­ble range of ex­pe­ri­ences. She said that each story had to have some sort of Cor­nish di­men­sion, even if the link came af­ter the end of the war. They asked for ideas from ar­chives and mu­se­ums and about two-thirds of the sto­ries were vol­un­teered, while the rest came in af­ter dis­cus­sion. The sto­ries, all of them with pho­to­graphs or other il­lus­tra­tions, are now on the pro­ject web­site, and they give a re­ally fas­ci­nat­ing cross-sec­tion of peo­ple, an­i­mals, places and above all ex­pe­ri­ences. Their sto­ries are not all tragic or sor­row­ful – some are amus­ing, and some have twists in the tail, while the text is lively and in­ter­est­ing.

One of my favourites is Bil­lie Teague. The brief in­tro­duc­tion to his story tells us that: “Re­turn­ing wounded in Fe­bru­ary 1919 with a sil­ver dis­charge badge, the last thing Bil­lie Teague had in mind was mar­riage. His fi­ancée Lily Gay had other ideas and threat­ened to bring a breach of prom­ise case against him. The mar­riage took place, two sons were born, and they lived un­hap­pily ever af­ter.” I love the irony there!

Then we have Al­bert and Cap­tain, two horses who didn’t ac­tu­ally go to war. In­stead, “at the be­gin­ning of the war, th­ese two fa­mous St Agnes heavy horses were hid­den in a [mine] adit and cave close to Chapel Porth to pre­vent them be­ing req­ui­si­tioned by the army. Al­bert was the prized lead horse of a team that hauled ma­chin­ery to and from Cor­nish mines, while Cap­tain was a farm horse.” That gives us a quite dif­fer­ent view of how the out­break of war was re­ceived!

Of course, many of the tales are about the war it­self – the young men who fought; the peo­ple whose paths crossed in the con­flict, or were di­verted by it; and the women who didn’t only stay at home but were also ac­tive in the war it­self. This is an in­spir­ing web­site, one that re­minds us of the im­mense com­plex­ity of those har­row­ing times 100 years ago. It’s full of ideas, ex­am­ples and in­sights into hu­man life. I can rec­om­mend it to any­one.

The pro­ject takes in ev­ery­thing from Cor­nish sol­diers on the front to horses who were hid­den from the army

Bil­lie Teague Teague, top left left, got mar­ried af­ter the war, but only af­ter his fi­ancée threat­ened him

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