Four weeks left to see WWI Exhibition at Braintree
05-Aug-14 to 19-Dec-14
It is just four weeks until the WWI Centenary exhibition at Braintree District Museum closes its door. ’Braintree District at War’ has welcomed 2000 visitors so far and has received very positive feedback. Some key items on display include a fragment from the bomb that fell in Braintree on 31 March 1916 killing 4 people and letters relating to a soldier from Rayne and his family. The exhibition also has a special ‘trench display’ which looks at how the uniform and equipment of British, French and German soldiers changed during the war. This is based on a private collection and is a unique display in Essex.
Jennifer Brown, Collections and Interpretation Officer at the museum says, ‘Visitors have been amazed to learn just how much of a contribution to the war effort local factories made (Crittalls made 2 million of the 5 million shells made across East Anglia), whilst seeing a fragment from the bomb that killed civilians in Braintree really brings home that this was the first war to threaten families back home in England. The power of artefacts to convey these messages is irreplaceable.’
The museum also has a collection of documents relating to Thomas Underwood of Great Saling on display. Thomas worked at Lake & Elliot during the war and the museum uses these documents to illustrate one man’s journey through the conscription legislation of WWI. At the time of the 1911 census Thomas was still living at home with his parents and 11 siblings, all sharing a house with just 5 rooms. When war broke out Thomas was 22 or 23 years old and working as a fitter at Lake & Elliot. A year later on 15th July 1915 The National Registration Act was passed requiring all men and women of working age to register and Thomas’ card is on display. The next document is Thomas’ attestation card from February 1916. As an attempt to avoid introducing conscription the government launched the Derby scheme in October 1915, encouraging all eligible men to ‘attest’ their willingness to fight if needed. However this scheme failed and conscription was finally passed in January 1916 but did not come into force until March 1916. Thomas therefore attested after the Conscription Act had been passed but before Military Service was enforced. He must have been considered for active service as the next item is his army medical classification certificate from 7th February 1917. Thomas was classified as ‘A – Fit for General Service’. This must have been an anxious time for his family. He could be sent off to the front line.
However, in the end Thomas was not called up for active service because he was carrying out important munitions work setting the machines at the Lake & Elliot factory. On 17th May 1917 he was given a certificate confirming that he worked in a scheduled occupation and was exempt from active service. Thomas also received an official certificate giving him permission to wear a War Service Badge. These were given to men so that they would not be harassed on the street as cowards. All of these documents and a photograph of Thomas are on display in the WWI exhibition.
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The museum is also running a twitter feed in remembrance of the local men listed on the Braintree and Bocking War Memorial who fell in WWI. Information about each man is posted on the date of his death. You can follow the feed on the museum’s twitter account @museumbraintree
The centenary exhibition is open during normal museum opening hours, Tuesday – Saturday 10am – 4pm until 19th December. Normal admission charges apply (£3 adults, £1.50 concessions, children free). For more information please visit our website.
Venue: Exhibition Gallery, Braintree District Museum, Manor Street, Braintree, CM7 3HW
Admission: £3 Adults, £1.50 Concessions, Children Free