North-east pupils re­live trench war or­deal

● Re­cre­ation at Gor­don High­landers Mu­seum

The Press and Journal (Moray) - - FRONT PAGE - BY NEIL DRYS­DALE

There was a haunt­ing at­mos­phere at the Gor­don High­landers Mu­seum in Aberdeen this week. A group of chil­dren from schools across the north-east walked round the site where a large-scale re­cre­ation of a First World War trench has just been con­structed at the View­field Road fa­cil­ity.

An ac­tor, Jack Elvey, dressed as a pri­vate on the Western Front, read let­ters from some of those who ac­tu­ally fought in the con­flict.

He was young, in­ex­pe­ri­enced, tremu­lous – just as so many thou­sands of his pre­de­ces­sors would have been 100 years ago.

And ev­ery­one present, from the youngest school pupil to more se­nior mu­seum vol­un­teers, seemed to ap­pre­ci­ate the pathos and poignancy of the oc­ca­sion on the eve of the cen­te­nary com­mem­o­ra­tions mark­ing the end of the Great War.

Work on the Mof­fat Trench project be­gan in Au­gust and the builders have en­sured it was com­pleted on sched­ule.

And al­though it won’t be open to the pub­lic un­til Fe­bru­ary, the Press and Jour­nal was of­fered the chance to ex­plore this flash­back to the past.

The con­cept might have moved from the plan­ning stage to ex­e­cu­tion in a few months. Yet mu­seum chief ex­ec­u­tive Bryan Snelling, and cu­ra­tor Ruth Dun­can, ex­plained it had taken much longer to make sure all the de­tails were his­tor­i­cally ac­cu­rate.

Mr Snelling said: “Ruth and I went on a tour of other mu­se­ums around three years ago, among them the Stafford­shire Reg­i­men­tal Mu­seum in Litch­field.

“They have had a trench, al­beit not as au­then­tic as ours, but big­ger, at the mu­seum for many years and the cu­ra­tor was telling us that this is a huge draw and al­lows them to bet­ter tell the story around the First World War.

“We felt that this would be an ex­cel­lent idea for the Gor­don High­landers Mu­seum to be able to tell the story, but do so in a more im­pres­sive and in­ter­ac­tive ex­pe­ri­ence, and so the project was born.

“Now that it has been com­pleted, I think the fi­nal build is won­der­ful. It has ex­ceeded all of my ex­pec­ta­tions and it will be a su­perb ad­di­tion to the mu­seum.

“We have at­tempted to make it as re­al­is­tic and au­then­tic as we pos­si­bly can and the con­trac­tors and ar­chi­tects in­volved have done a won­der­ful job, in tan­dem with the mu­seum, to recre­ate an ex­hibit which we be­lieve will be both a le­gacy and a re­mem­brance piece.

“It’s a fo­cal point to re­mem­ber the sol­diers who served in the trenches and wit­ness the con­di­tions they would have gone through.

“And I hope it also of­fers a re­minder of the past to en­sure we don’t make the same mis­takes in the fu­ture.”

His words were echoed by Ms Dun­can, who has metic­u­lously re­searched the life and death of so many Gor­don High­landers be­tween 1914-18.

She said: “I’m re­ally pleased with the fan­tas­tic de­sign the ar­chi­tects have put to­gether and the con­struc­tion com­pany have re­ally pushed the boat out to make th­ese de­signs a re­al­ity.

“I think the trench brings the his­tory of the First World War to life in a way that may pro­mote a greater un­der­stand­ing of what it would have been like for a sol­dier of this pe­riod, which is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant on this sig­nif­i­cant week­end.

“I would like to see it play an in­te­gral part in our schools work­shop pro­gramme and I hope that, in the years ahead, we can add to the trench, so it can re­main a thought-pro­vok­ing and en­gag­ing ex­hi­bi­tion for many years to come.”

There was a dis­play of art­work and po­etry pro­duced by stu­dents at New­ton­hill Pri­mary School, Tur­riff Acad­emy and West­park School and it high­lighted the lessons they had ab­sorbed from their classes about the con­flict.

Mr Snelling said he had been very im­pressed by the dili­gence and imag­i­na­tion which the pupils had shown in bring­ing their cre­ations to the trench walls.

“A few of the po­ems brought a lump to my throat and the young­sters have been re­ally fas­ci­nated by the whole ven­ture,” he said. “That is one of the most im­por­tant rea­sons for do­ing this – to en­sure that those from 2018 learn about the sac­ri­fices which were made a cen­tury ago.”

Given the look on their faces and the way they re­sponded to Mr Elvey’s dra­matic mono­logue, it was ob­vi­ous they had got the mes­sage. The trench will open to the pub­lic on Fe­bru­ary 5. Fur­ther in­for­ma­tion is avail­able from www.gor­don­high­

“It’s a fo­cal point to re­mem­ber the sol­diers who served in the trenches and wit­ness the con­di­tions”

An in­ter­viewer asked if in­ter­est in World War One would fade af­ter the mo­men­tous 100th an­niver­sary this week­end of the Ar­mistice in 1918. It seems hardly likely in the fore­see­able fu­ture, given that vir­tu­ally ev­ery fam­ily in the UK has been touched by the Great War in some way. With an es­ti­mated 230 Bri­tish sol­diers killed ev­ery hour in the fight­ing, and 700,000 in to­tal, it is easy to see why. What is even more ex­tra­or­di­nary is that a war-weary Bri­tain was dragged into an­other world war around 20 years later. Have we learned any­thing and could it hap­pen again? Many of us grew up un­der con­stant threat of nu­clear war in the 60s and 70s, and wit­nessed countless re­gional con­flicts from the Balkans to Iraq. In re­cent BBC Reith Lec­tures, one of our most em­i­nent his­to­ri­ans, Mar­garet MacMil­lan, posed this ques­tion: are we con­di­tioned by our bi­ol­ogy to fight wars? In other words, is war an es­sen­tial part of be­ing hu­man? Be­ing ter­ri­to­rial, en­vi­ous and greedy is part of our DNA, which is a fer­tile place for the seeds of fu­ture con­flict to grow. When we think of the Great War, cer­tain im­ages are em­bed­ded in our psy­che: land­scapes laid bare with­out a sin­gle tree or build­ing re­main­ing, tens of thou­sands of sol­diers whose re­mains were never found, en­e­mies play­ing foot­ball at Christ­mas in No Man’s Land, piti­ful pic­tures of blinded and gassed sol­diers. This was the epit­ome of the hu­man spirit try­ing to adapt to its sur­round­ings amid ut­ter hor­ror. The in­dus­trial revo­lu­tion caught up with war, so that even al­though they lined up like me­dieval armies, bod­ies were be­ing torn apart by modern in­ven­tions such as tanks, air­craft and heav­ier ar­tillery shells. A grue­some trench-bound stale­mate en­sued. Some­thing sim­i­lar was hap­pen­ing to Bri­tish and Aus­tralian sol­diers on the other side of the world in Gal­lipoli. It is ironic that some of the roots of the Great War could be traced back to this very re­gion through at­tempts by great pow­ers to seek in­flu­ence in the Ot­toman Empire. The Treaty of Vi­enna af­ter the Napoleonic Wars kept things rea­son­ably safe for decades un­til dis­in­te­grat­ing into the Crimean War. Fes­ter­ing dis­con­tent af­ter that was a fac­tor lead­ing up to 1914. All that would have been ir­rel­e­vant to the sol­diers at the front whose minds and bod­ies were be­ing bro­ken ev­ery day. It shows, how­ever, how his­tory has a nasty habit of re­peat­ing it­self and why we should re­mem­ber their sac­ri­fice long af­ter this his­toric com­mem­o­ra­tion.

“Be­ing ter­ri­to­rial, en­vi­ous and greedy is part of our DNA, a fer­tile place for the seeds of con­flict”

“Es­ti­mated 230 Bri­tish sol­diers killed ev­ery hour in the fight­ing, and 700,000 in to­tal”

HARSH RE­AL­ITY: Ac­tor Jack Elvey per­forms at the Gor­don High­landers Mu­seum’s replica trench in­ter­ac­tive ex­pe­ri­ence.

One of the most evoca­tive works on dis­play at the new Trench in Aberdeen this week was a poem writ­ten by New­ton­hill Pri­mary 6/7 pupils, Gre­gor Tait and Zan­der Ew­ing.“I could see the yel­low gas in the dis­tance, “Drift­ing closer and closer like a lemon cloud, “The sergeant scream­ing like a baby that needs “feed­ing, ‘GET YER GAS MASKS ON!’“I saw men fol­low­ing be­hind the yel­low cloud, “with no pro­tec­tion on no-mans-land,“I was fum­bling with my gas mask, see­ing all of “the peo­ple fall­ing to the ground,“The colours drain­ing from their faces,“I knew there was gas in my lungs and I wel­comed it. “I knew there was not go­ing to be a to­mor­row, “Well at least, not for me.”

From left, pupils El­lie Wil­lox, Charley Hen­derso and Dar­ius Turcu-Ge­orgescu

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