New old things

This year saw an amazing number of objects donated to the museum.

Despite an extensive period of closure, we must have been in people’s minds, as 2021 resulted in donations of objects from 39 different sources. They included seven medal groups, stained glass, a unique piece of facial reconstruction and hundreds of items of personal correspondence. One donations contained 61 individual items, whilst another donor brought us a piece of newly conserved artwork.

The museum collection never stands still. We’ve had an average of more than one donation per week for the constricted 32 weeks the museum has been open to visitors this year.

Our Collections Manager, Zoe Utley accessions all of the objects which have been accepted into the museum collection so they can be made available for future displays, exhibitions or research. Here she shares some of her highlights from the past 12 months…

“The strangest item has to be the metal dental prosthesis. It belonged to Thomas Howarth who was wounded at Fricourt, during the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Thomas was hit in the face by the nose cone of a shell exploding in the doorway of his dugout, “which converted my face into a penny in the slot arrangement.”

He then endured years of operations at a time when the pioneering work of individuals such as Sir Harold Gillies were helping create new methods of facial reconstruction for injured servicemen.

We have nothing like it in the collection. It’s a small but utterly compelling piece of history.

I’ve been in touch with several organisations to try to find out more about the procedures Thomas might have endured. Perhaps one day we will unearth his case notes and find the original paperwork detailing Thomas’ treatment and recovery.

The donation with the largest number of items relates to another First World War soldier, Albert Drury and contains 61 items given to the museum by his daughter. Albert was wounded in 1917 but volunteered to return to the Western Front after the war had finished to help clear the battlefields and bomb sites.

Collections Manager, Zoe Utley, with one of the items donated to the museum relating to soldier, Albert Drury.

He brought back souvenirs; including the sign from Cash trench; where he’d been wounded two years previously. It is now part of the museum collection along with other objects and archive which help tell the story of Albert’s service, like this piece of stained glass window from the destroyed church in Framerville, which he brought back in April 1919.

A lovely oil painting entered the collection when we were approached by a lady who had just completed a course in art conservation in Surrey. She’d become intrigued by the man in the portrait she was restoring, researched his history, and decided to bring Colonel John Lodge back to the Yorkshire Dales where he belongs. The care that the restorer took in looking after her subject was incredibly touching, but it doesn’t surprise us; in the course of our work the museum team regularly become attached to individuals they can never meet, but feel they know.

You can learn more about the return of Colonel Lodge here.

The seven medal groups donated by different people over the course of the year, span the period from the 1890s to the 1950s. The most recent set donated include the oldest medal, from the Tirah campaign of 1897.

The most unexpected item donated was transferred to us from the donor via York Army Museum. In this fragile letter, written in pencil to his uncle, Yorkshire Regiment soldier Joseph talks about the quality of the cake he’s received and asks after the health of his granny. Then a casual,

“Well dear Uncle you will think it funny but I have shook hands and had a cigar from the enemy. At our part of the line we have had an armistice, we met the Germans half way between our trenches and theirs, shook hands and talked to them, they seem alright.”

Having that letter in your hands and reading those words is special. Tantalisingly, it’s undated, but could Joseph perhaps be referring to one of the many truces struck up on the front line at Christmas 1914?”

So there’s just a flavour of some of the objects that have made their way into the collection over the past 12 months. Who knows what the future will bring…

  • The museum ONLY collects items directly relating to soldiers who served with the regiment. If you have something that you are considering donating to the museum, please get in touch with us in advance of any visit to the museum to discuss it further as we would not want you to be disappointed if it turns out we cannot take the item you are offering.

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