By Rosie Shackleton, Digital Intern for Industrial Museums Scotland, as part of the Second World War and Holocaust Partnership Programme
Landscapes of War is a project about how the Second World War impacted the landscape of Scotland and its people. It was part of the wider Second World War and Holocaust Partnership Programme funded by the Imperial War Museum and the National Lottery Heritage Fund. As part of this, we opened two exhibitions on this theme; one at The Devil’s Porridge Museum and the other at the Scottish Fisheries Museum. These two ‘sister’ exhibitions helped us tell a national history of WW2 in Scotland and its ubiquitous effect on the landscape, but also allowed us to celebrate the local stories related to this theme at each museum. While at the Fisheries Museum we focussed on how the seas were changed by the War using oral testimony of fishermen who were commandeered to Minesweeping vessels, at the Devil’s Porridge we used a Gretna cinema ticket to tell the story of Helen Graham who was killed during the Gretna bombing of April 1941. Ostensibly, these stories appear unrelated, but our theme of landscape allowed us to link these stories to a wider national narrative.
This project was also personally really valuable for me. Thanks to the team at both museums and at Industrial Museums Scotland, I was able to play an active role in each part of the process. I was able to research at both museum’s archives, select objects for the exhibitions, curate the spaces and run the social media to advertise them. All this means I gained fantastic experience at all levels of exhibition making. This will continue when we make the online version of both exhibitions which will go live on the Go Industrial website in the next months. In-person and practical exhibition-making means I now have useful tools when we begin uploading content and curating that online space. We’re really excited to show this exhibition on a new platform!
Lots of unexpected things have come out of this project as well, especially when we’ve been able to unite personal stories with objects on display. At the Fisheries Museum, we put the letters of James Gillies on display. He was a local man from Largo, Fife who served in both World Wars. Next to it, we planned on displaying a Christmas card from Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. The card was sent by a women called ‘Minnie’ but there is no more information on her in the archives. By chance, we saw that James references a ‘Minnie’ several times in his letters to his mother. Then we found a letter from Minnie to James in the archive! We had uncovered a friendship that had been hidden in the museum and were unite them by displaying them together. At the Devil’s Porridge, we displayed the cinema ticket from Gretna that I had mentioned before. At the bottom of the ticket are instructions on what to in an air raid alongside the film listings. While researching the Gretna bombing, we found a statement that said Helen Graham, the youngest victim of the raid, was at the cinema when she heard the sirens. She left the building to check on her family but was tragically killed by a bomb. In both of these cases, we were able to enhance a story through objects not previously on display at both museums.
As the Landscapes of War exhibition finishes at the Devil’s Porridge, it’s been great to reflect on the process of researching and installing. It’s been really valuable to find those previously hidden stories and give a fresh perspective on how the Second World War affected Scotland. Working across two museums has been extremely rewarding, not only for me personally, but also for Go Industrial as a partnership. We strengthened the relationship between the Devil’s Porridge and Scottish Fisheries Museum and created a coherent project celebrating regional nuances while representing a national story. I’m really proud of what we achieved as a team!
Landscapes of War is still open at the Fisheries Museum until December 12th.