A brand new exhibition opens at Peterborough Museum on Saturday showcasing firsthand stories of soldiers and servicemen from World War One.
At its centre are two visitors’ books from Peterborough’s East Station in 1916-17 which contain comments, thoughts, poems and drawings written by servicemen while they waited for their connecting train to take
them to the front lines. This exhibition will be the first time that these books themselves will have been put on display to the general public, and will also be brought to life through film and audio.
The books were main-tained by the Women’s United Total Abstinence Council (WUTAC) who ran a railway station tea room in an effort to keep servicemen away from the pub as they waited for their trains to and from the battlefield. The visitor books have been painstakingly transcribed through hundreds of hours of volunteer work since 2014 and put on virtual display at PeterboroughWW1.co.uk. These original documents remain intact and legible to this day thanks to
the work of Vivacity’s Archives Service, housed at Peterborough Central Library.
With only scraps of information to work with, the use of appeals via social media and even an appearance on BBC’s Bargain Hunt, a good number of servicemen’s families have since been
discovered across the United Kingdom and round the world. This has allowed the Vivacity Archives Service to build a more accurate picture of these individuals by hearing stories or seeing
photographs from the servicemen’s descendants firsthand stories which now will be brought to life in this audiovisual exhibition at the museum.
Joan Lacey and Freda Crew are the daughters of Gunner Joseph Drewery, who was from Lincolnshire and served with the Tank Corps in Egypt. Being reconnected with the original handwriting of her
father from over 100 years ago Joan said: “It was wonderful to see what my father wrote. I knew nothing about his time at Peterborough East Station and it is comforting to know that someone was
looking after the servicemen on their way to and from the front.”
Vivacity’s World War One Project Officer Beverley Jones says: “This project is more than just an exhibition. It has been a chance to reunite families with some of the long lost stories of their ancestors. There are over 500 servicemen referenced in this book and, thanks to three years of research by volunteers who have donated their time and goodwill to Vivacity, we have collected information on over 350 of them.
“Vivacity are indebted to the Heritage Lottery Fund who made this project possible. The Peterborough WW1 website will remain live after the project finishes, but this will be the only opportunity for people to really experience these stories in such an immersive way.”
The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Rest: Stories from a wartime tea room runs from January 20 to April 15 and is open 10am - 5pm. Admission to the Museum is free except on advertised special event days.