Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

A Tribute to Families Blighted by Conflict; the First World War Experiences of People in East Durham Lie Behind a Moving Exhibition Opening Today, as DAVID WHETSTONE Reports

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

A Tribute to Families Blighted by Conflict; the First World War Experiences of People in East Durham Lie Behind a Moving Exhibition Opening Today, as DAVID WHETSTONE Reports

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID WHETSTONE

THE First World War broke out 100 years ago today but it is still possible to feel the ripples of sadness it unleashed.

You will see what I mean if you visit The Pity of War, an exhibition opening today at the Art Block in Seaham where members of East Durham Artists' Network (Edan) display their work.

Edan members were invited to produce work inspired by real-life stories of the 1914-18 conflict which claimed so many lives.

The work, as became clear when I talked to member artists Jean Lowes, Jean Spence and Jac Howard, has revealed many aspects of life in uniform and on the home front.

"We've been thinking about this for a long time and we've done a lot of research," said Jean Lowes, who lives in nearby Murton.

"We had a historian in to give us a talk about World War One and we have constructed this exhibition around families.

"We tried to make it specific rather than general, focusing on particular stories, and people have been very interested because the First World War is still alive in so many families.

"So many people still have memorabilia in their homes, stuff that belonged to their parents or grandparents.

"The exhibition is about how the war affected people's lives and some people used their own family as the starting point.

"We've all got these stories but making art is a way of sharing them rather than have them stay in a shoebox in the garden shed."

Jean took as her inspiration the letters and documents left to her by her grandmother, Jane.

"She had three children and she lost her husband in the First World War - and she kept everything. It was all kept in a tin, stuff like the notice she got from the pension people saying she was allowed to have PS5. "Everyone who was killed, the family got PS5. She had to send her identity card otherwise she couldn't have the money.

"I've handled these things since I was a small child and she used to talk about it. She was very sad and, I think, very angry about it.

"She couldn't go near the sea because she associated it with him. If you've had something like that happen to you, it's hard to deal with." Jane got married again, to another soldier, George Bell, and had two more children, including Jean's mother.

Jean said: "My grandfather had been in a prisoner-of-war camp in France. He had worked at the pit and he lived in a cottage with his sister. When he came home, he found they had chucked his sister out."

Jean says there are photos and letters relating to her grandmother's first husband, Robert Jackson, but none to her grandfather. She wonders why. "I think doing this has made us ask questions."

Jean has made a series of collages based on photocopies of her grandmother's mementoes, including a fragment of a letter sent home by her first husband: "But we are in the trenches and we can't get letters away as we'd like..."

Among the papers Jean inherited is another letter sent to her grandmother after her husband's death by a soldier who had known him.

"He said he had seen them together at Durham station. He wrote to say how brave he was and what a lovely chap he was."

Lance Sergeant Robert Jackson, of the 8th Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment, was mentioned in despatches and is "remembered with honour" on the Tyne Cot Memorial in Belgium.

He is remembered back home in Seaham, nearly a century after his death, in this exhibition. …

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