The Great War - a story about people

I have just finished catching up with The Great War: The People's Story, ITV's moving series based on letters and diaries from people who lived and died during this conflict. (

For me that's the power of us remembering this world changing event - the stories of the people behind the facts and figures.

When I first joined Bishop's Stortford Museum as a volunteer we held an exhibition telling the stories of the experiences of WW1 of a number of local men. It was a powerful and moving exhibition in a large part because of the memorabilia and personal effects that many local people loaned for the exhibition.

Two objects and their stories stood out for me - a wallet of family photographs and some pressed flowers.

A year or so later I had the chance to photograph these objects for another exhibition, Beautiful, Vulnerable and Inaccessible (gallery here)

The photo wallet made it into the final images for the exhibition. This homemade object is so poignant. It contains photos of the wife and children of Private William Sanford. Pushed behind the photos were cuttings and a letter. The damage that is clearly visible was caused by the bullet that killed William in 1917. The object needs to be conserved as it is rather than repaired as the damage is part of what makes it so interesting.

The flowers did not make it into the exhibition but are featured in the museum's book Stortford Histories (available to buy from the Museum)

The story of these flowers is less clear. They came to the museum in an envelope marked 'Went to France 1916' but it is not known whether they were taken by Herbert Champness from a garden here or acquired whilst at the front. What is amazing is how they have survived for nearly 100 years and are still so yellow!

More recently I had some involvement in the early stages of the current exhibition:

On the Beat: Stories from 1914-1918.

Rather than focus on life at the front the exhibition looks at the conflict through the eye of the local police. We are very fortunate to have a rare collection of police records from the Bishop's Stortford Police Station. The stories recorded in them show the impact on the town of the conflict as well as the types of issues that the police had to deal with.

Students from Middlesex University's Illustration Department created graphic novels inspired by stories about spies, escaped POW's and scrumping among others. I really enjoyed seeing the early submissions and seeing a raft of different approaches - good for a creative like me to see how inspiration can take many forms.

It is a powerful and interesting exhibition and well worth a visit!

More details are on the Rhodes website

#bishopsstortford #museums #worldwarone #rhodes #sarahstephensphotography #blog

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All images © Sarah Holmes 2021 No reproduction without prior permission.