Motherwell connection in Lanarkshire’s War exhibition

Pull up a pew...at the cinema with Michael and Barrie and discover how life continued in Lanarkshire during the war and was later commemorated by locals. (Pic Alan Watson)
Pull up a pew...at the cinema with Michael and Barrie and discover how life continued in Lanarkshire during the war and was later commemorated by locals. (Pic Alan Watson)

The trenches, the battles and the massive loss of life – the theatre of war that was World War One is already very well documented.

What is perhaps less well known is how people at home coped as war was waged on distant shores.

Moving letter...was sent from his platoon leader to Mrs Milller in Motherwell on the event of her son, Sergeant John Miller's death, just a few weeks before the war ended. (Pic Alan Watson)

Moving letter...was sent from his platoon leader to Mrs Milller in Motherwell on the event of her son, Sergeant John Miller's death, just a few weeks before the war ended. (Pic Alan Watson)

But how life continued in Lanarkshire is precisely the subject of a fascinating new exhibition which has just opened its doors.

Lanarkshire’s War is the first joint collaboration by North and South Lanarkshire Councils for the World War One centenary commemorations.

It is the culmination of 18 months of work by South Lanarkshire Leisure and Culture (SLLC) museum service and Culture NL museums and heritage.

And this week, we were able to take a closer at the exhibition at Low Parks Museum in Hamilton.

Personal touch...Motherwell men who were former prisoners of war were invited to this Burns Supper and signed the event programme. (Pic Alan Watson)

Personal touch...Motherwell men who were former prisoners of war were invited to this Burns Supper and signed the event programme. (Pic Alan Watson)

Showing me around was Barrie Duncan, SLLC assistant museums officer and Michael Allan, Culture NL assistant curator.

Taking a seat in the exhibition’s very own cinema room, they explained the importance it played in the lives of locals.

Barrie said: “The reason we included the cinema was two-fold – people still went to the theatre and cinema and carried on their normal lives here, despite the war.

“But, more importantly perhaps, it was also a source of information about the war and its casualties for loved ones waiting for news.

Joint collaboration...North and South Lanarkshire Councils have joined forces to commemorate World War One centenary. (Pic Alan Watson)

Joint collaboration...North and South Lanarkshire Councils have joined forces to commemorate World War One centenary. (Pic Alan Watson)

“Arguably, the most striking example of this is a documentary which was screened showing the Battle of the Somme.

“Within a couple of months of its release, 20 million people in the UK had been to see it – the population at that time was around 43 million so it was a huge draw.

“It was the first full length documentary of the war ever recorded which was shown to the public.

“Many millions of people went to see it, no doubt in the hopes of catching a glimpse of family members or friends.”

While the exhibition cinema is not screening the documentary, it does display interesting footage shot in Lanarkshire during the war.

Visitors can also listen to voice actors on telephones, reading out letters sent home to loved ones from soldiers or commanding officers in the event of their death.

A letter concerning Motherwell man John Miller is among those voiced.

Barrie said: “John, who was a labourer in the Dalziel Steelworks before the war, was killed in France on October 23, 1918.

“His commanding officer wrote a letter to John’s mother, giving her the brief circumstances of his death and praising his efforts.

“It was a tragic story as he came through the whole war, only to be killed a few weeks before it ended.”

John’s war medals are also on display, as is his memorial plaque – commonly known as a death penny – which was sent to families of the fallen.

Some 25 death pennies are exhibited at Low Parks.

Another artefact of local interest is a programme for a Burns Supper organised by Motherwell Burgh Council for returning prisoners of war in January 1919.

Michael said: “Local men who had been held in captivity were invited to attend by the town council.

“The fact the programme has been signed by the men for posterity adds a real personal touch.”

A plaque given to Dalzell House by the Red Cross in April 1919 also features.

Michael said: “Many of the country’s stately homes were used as hospitals during the war and the Hamiltons were only too happy for their home to be used. The plaque was a way for the Red Cross to show its gratitude.”

But there are many more artefacts to discover too.

Michael added: “Most of the objects have been in families for generations before being donated to the museums service.

“Some of the items have never been on display before – we were amazed at just how much material we had.

“We couldn’t display it all, unfortunately, but we’ve chosen a selection from across Lanarkshire.”

One room has been staged to show what a home would have looked like – it even features the family dog! But it’s not quite finished yet.

Barrie explained: “When someone walks in, we want sound effects to be triggered.

“We’re also considering using a background track of music from that era.”

As it stands, though, the exhibition is already both moving and fascinating.

Souvenirs of war, letters from commanding officers paying tribute to soldiers, death pennies, war medals and steel work memorials – it’s all waiting to be explored.

Lottery funded exhibition

Lanarkshire’s War opened at Low Parks Museum in Hamilton on April 3.

The Heritage Lottery and Museum Galleries Scotland funded project is part of a four-year UK programme, commemorating the centenary of World War One.

Using social, industrial, military and archive items from the collections of both North and South Lanarkshire Councils, it includes personal stories giving an insight into the impact of war on all aspects of Lanarkshire’s social and industrial life, as well as from those on the frontline.

Gerry Campbell, SLLC general manager, said: “Working with Culture NL on this project has been a tremendous example of sharing our heritage collections to best advantage in this national initiative.

“We are delighted to have worked in partnership with our colleagues in North Lanarkshire to bring to the people of our county such a thought-provoking social and historical exhibition.”

Jillian Ferrie, chief executive of CultureNL, agreed, saying: “We are delighted to be working in partnership with South Lanarkshire Leisure and Culture on this exhibition which aims to tell the story of the First World War from the perspective of the people who lived through it.

“We are sure the exhibition will be a success at Low Parks and we look forward to its appeal continuing when it comes to Summerlee.”

Lanarkshire’s War will be on display until the end of November at Low Parks Museum. Next year, it will take up residence at Summerlee Museum in Coatbridge from August to November.

Low Parks Museum in Hamilton’s Muir Street is open seven days a week and general admission and entry to the exhibition area is free.