A ‘guest post’ by Hannah Haines of the Library’s Entrance Hall staff.
On Saturday 30th October, as part of the University’s Festival of Ideas, the UL hosted Robina Hodgson of the Imperial War Museum, who led a hands-on workshop, ‘Bombshells and Bedbugs’. Using a collection of objects from the museum to illustrate her lively discussion about life in the trenches during the Great War, Robina demonstrated how to cut barbed wire, how to improvise trench weapons, and how to keep warm on a bitter night in northern France (with the assistance of a goat-skin jerkin and a tot of rum). Although she spoke about some of the worst aspects of trench life – the smell created by decomposing bodies, trench toilets and petroleum tea – she wryly promised to ‘watch what she said about Officer poets’, and was keen to show that life for the British Tommy in the Great War wasn’t always the badly-managed, unrelenting hell described in the most famous of the war poems. She emphasised that humour was ever present in the direst of conditions, showing a rum jar stamped with S.R.D. — an abbreviated form of ‘Service Reserve Depot’ according to the army, but popularly interpreted as ‘Seldom Reaches Destination’ — and considering the horrors of having a teetotal Commanding Officer who would withhold rum rations from his men.
After the talk, encouraged by the selection of recruitment posters from the Library’s collection calling for them to ‘join in and do their bit’, visitors enthusiastically took the opportunity to examine the artefacts first hand. The Pickelhaube was particularly sought after, although those trying to squeeze into the jacket of the British uniform were disappointed to discover that shoulder width has increased substantially over the past century…. A very successful morning, and great to see library staff bringing their children along to join the activities and get involved in an event inspired by the Sassoon archive.