No longer faceless or nameless – write the story of your First World War soldier
A long, long alphabetical list of 174,000 Allied soldiers who died on Belgian soil in the First World War; this is the new and emotive exhibit on display in Dublin City Library and Archive on Pearse Street until the end of March. The Assembly exhibit has been created by artist Val Carmen, for the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres. Consisting of a giant memorial book of the war dead and five old chairs from Passchaendaele Church, the exhibit is travelling around Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales to gather stories and mementoes of these dead soldiers.
It is a very moving, tactile and sad exhibit. Unlike many museum exhibits which are locked behind glass cases, you can peruse this book; turn the well-thumbed pages (carefully!) to look at the names of the soldiers and also read the stories written by their relatives. Like the story of the three Doyle brothers from Ringsend who joined up to fight in Scottish regiments; they had emigrated from Dublin to Glasgow to work in the shipyards. These are my great-grand uncles and I stumbled across their story, handwritten in the Assembly book by someone, another relative, when the book was on tour in Scotland and England. This is the powerful resonance of this book - collectively remembering our dead relatives.
The book is like a giant, sad scrapbook and in this way it mirrors wartime mourning rituals of 100 years ago. We know that many families who lost soldiers in the First World War used scrapbooks to memorialise them - collecting photos, newspaper obituaries, poems, letters, condolence messages from friends and army colleagues – so that their loved one would not be forgotten. The very act of collecting and creating the scrapbook helped the bereaved in their grief.
The five old chairs from the destroyed and rebuilt Passchaendaele Church in Flanders represent each year of the war with the number of deaths in Belgium in each year etched on the chair. By far the greatest death toll is for 1917, the year of the Third Battle of Ypres, with a staggering 88,126 deaths. Many Irishmen died in Belgium in 1917 including the poet Francis Ledwidge and the MP Willie Redmond, brother of John Redmond. Val Carmen included the chairs in the exhibit to represent the emptiness that was present in so many homes after the war; the empty chair, which once was occupied, a simple and stark memorial to the loss of the soldier.
Come along and browse through the Assembly book, write a note, bring a copy of a photograph of your soldier or a copy of a letter relating to him and we will put it in the book for you. Assembly will continue to tour in Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England and your soldier’s story will add to this archive of remembering. Returning to the In Flanders Fields museum in Ypres in 2018, the book will be stored there forever….. imagine a researcher reading it in 100 years time on the 200th anniversary of the war…….
If you would like to read more about the First World War and bereavement read Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth. The collected essays in Our War are a good introduction to the First World War in Ireland.
The exhibit will be in on view in Dublin over the next three months at three different locations:
Dublin City Library and Archive, 138-144 Pearse Street from 4th to 30th March
City Hall, Dame Street from 1st to 29th April
Richmond Barracks, Inchicore from 13th to 26th May
Tara Doyle, Senior Librarian, Dublin City Public Libraries.
Just one sad note:
“Henry Vincent, Essex Regiment. Shot and wounded, to be sent home but killed in hospital awaiting transportation. Telegram sent home to say he was safe and on his way. Days later another sent to say he had been killed.”