First World War: Shellshock and Disability Exhibition December 2014

A guest post from Manchester City Council Disabled Staff Group about their current display First World War: Shellshock and Disability

IMG_9680We’re members of Manchester City Council Disabled Staff Group and this year we all felt that we would like to make a contribution to UK Disability History Month (UKDHM).

UK Disability History Month was established in 2011 to highlight and celebrate disabled people’s history annually in December. This year UKDHM examines the links and social consequences between war and disability.

We chose the First World War as our subject partly because an unprecedented number of people became disabled through it and partly because it’s the 100th anniversary of the conflict.

We decided to pull together a series of exhibitions and a learning event, in collaboration with People’s History Museum, Central Library and University of Manchester. Our aim was to show the impact of the war on the two million men disabled in combat and what happened on their return.

IMG_9674The display at PHM illustrates the dramatic effect the First World War had on those who became disabled through taking part in it.

Manchester City Council fully endorsed our aims and supported us via the Councils Equality Team and Communication Team.

What we did – Organising and choosing our subjects

We established a small project group of all disabled employees and decided on an approach: To research 2 subjects, shellshock and physical/sensory disability on soldiers during and after First World War.

What we did – Research

We researched our subject via sourcing images, documents and facts  mainly from National Archive, Imperial War Museum, BBC,  local archives in Rusholme, Tameside, Manchester Guardian Newspaper,  Manchester Library, People’s History Museum and Oxford Press.

IMG_9675Once we’d gathered a lot of images we organised them by subject and gradually the stories we wanted to tell emerged. e.g. that of Lieutenant Eric Poole, one of  the 1st British Officers to be shot for desertion, despite medical evidence, provided at his trial that he suffered with shellshock. We decided between us which images we wanted to use and then had to track down and obtain copyright permissions for all of them. This proved quite tricky in some cases but we persevered and were able to use the majority of our choices and at no charge.

We then decided how best to display the images and wrote the text to accompany the pictures and help the audience understand the context and background to them. We focused on telling our story of the social justice elements e.g. political, employment legislation, civil rights in keeping with the ethos of the People’s History Museum.

What we did – Mounting our Display

IMG_9677PHM gave us an area by the PHM café which comprised of 3 glass panels, a display cabinet and a wall area. We used the glass panels to divide our display up into three sections; 1) Introduction, 2) About Shellshock and 3) About physical disability

We then put a powerpoint slideshow together using a different set of related images and projected this onto the adjacent wall. Finally, using documents and papers from PHM own archive we created a display in a cabinet in front of the glass panels decorated with poppies donated by British Legion.

PHM printed off all our images and mounted them onto foam boards. We then put these up ourselves with a few tweaks on the day as needed!

We enjoyed using our creative sides to plan how to mount the images we found and write text to describe them and tell a story. We would like to acknowledge the great help and advice provided by PHM staff to us.

What’s next

IMG_9679This is the first time any of us had curated or researched an exhibition. We plan to move on to similar but more ambitious projects in future years so this was a valuable exercise for our group. We’ve learnt quite a bit about planning, research, copyright and editing text for publication.

Don’t miss our other display on the image virtual Wall at Manchester Central Library – ground floor, near the café. First World War, Soldiers, Shellshock and Disability. A Manchester Story running throughout December.

On 17th December 5-7pm at Central Library, we’ve organised a lecture with Dr Ana Carden-Coyne, a Senior Lecturer in War and Conflict  at Manchester University.  Dr Ana is a leading disability historian and will deliver a talk as part of this year’s Manchester UKDHM programme.


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