From Flags to Flanders FIelds

Cover of 2014 Guidebook

Cover of 2014 Guidebook


World War I was a war of ambition, political posturing, pride, vanity, greed and stubbornness, with combatants coming from places as far apart as Northern Russia and New Zealand; the United States and Japan.  It really was warfare on a global scale, which for the first time ever, involved – and caused the death of – millions of innocent civilians….

In the Foyer, visitors were confronted with what is probably the most successful poster of all time – ‘Kitchener Wants You’… there was no escape from his steely eyes or accusing finger! The impact of this poster was so enormous that hundreds of thousands of young men enlisted almost immediately – after all, it would “all be over by Christmas…..”

The stairwell was dominated by a model Zeppelin. These monsters were at least 175 metres long. Their gas-bags (usually leaking), contained about one million cubic feet of hydrogen. They were unreliable and cumbersome, but could carry a huge payload of bombs.

A diorama portrayed the vitally important role played by VAD nurses, in field hospitals close to the Front Line, and paid tribute to the pioneering work of Marie Curie and her daughter, who brought X-ray technology to the field hospitals of the Western Front. During the war, saline drips, blood transfusions, splints and X-rays all came into regular use and plastic surgery and prosthetic limbs were developed.

Inside the Exhibition Hall, the first bay on the left described the run-up to war – a war that no-one wanted, but equally, no-one could stop. Old treaties had to be honoured…

The two model aircraft in the War in the Air case were to the same scale as the Zeppelin (1:32). The Zeppelin’s gondolas were larger than the aeroplanes’ fuselages!

Our War on Land section aimed to give visitors an idea of how the troops coped, year in, year out, with life in the trenches (ours was far too dry, clean, quiet, unsmelly and vermin free!) For safety, the dug-out would have been several metres below the surface.

Displayed in the War at Sea section, was one of the Museum’s greatest treasures – the Grosser Kurfurst Morse Key. This is the only Morse key ever to be recovered from the German High Seas Fleet, scuttled in Scapa Flow in 1919, and was presented to our founder, Harry Matthews, in 1986.

The school scene displayed in the Home Front section was on loan from Burntisland Primary School.

As a result of naval blockades, fresh vegetables were in short supply across Europe. (Germany introduced rationing in 1915 – but here in the UK, we managed to hold out until 1918). This shortage led directly to the development of the allotment culture.

The final, Later Technology bay, described the advances that have resulted from earlier aspirations, thoughts and experiments carried out in WW1.  By WW2, prolonged trench warfare, the clash of battle fleets and use of airships had all receded into history – only to be replaced by more potent and lethal horrors.   Let us hope there will never be a WW3…..

What else? Visitors could meet the Photophone  and the Fullerphone – amazing technology, developed a century ago! …..   There was lots of Hands-On….. signalling lamps, Morse keys, semaphore flags, speaking tubes, optical telegraph…..our amateur radio station – and visitors could finish off their visit by browsing over our books, papers and watching the WW1 films with their refreshments upstairs!