Exhibition tells story of railway’s role in conflict

This Is Wiltshire: David Moore and James visit the  Railway At War exhibition at the Steam Museum David Moore and James visit the Railway At War exhibition at the Steam Museum

ARCHIVES have been sifted, lists have been typed and the Steam museum has finally launched its exhibition to mark the centenary of the start of World War One.

A Railway At War was launched by the museum’s assistant curators Elaine Arthurs and Felicity Jones yesterday, with much publicity surrounding a roll of honour listing Great Western Railway employees who died in the war.

Elaine and Felicity pulled the exhibition together on their own, with a thorough look through the museum’s archives and, in Felicity’s case, hours at a keyboard digitising records of GWR employees in the war.

“We have known about the commemoration of the war for a couple of years, and this was a work in progress for about a year before we really cracked on six months ago,” said Elaine.

“Something we had in the collection for years, was the GWR roll of honour, a list of names for those who died in the war. We did all the research and got access to the archive, picking through and choosing the objects we wanted to pull out for the exhibition.”

The exhibition looks at the GWR and its involvement in the war, as well as its employees. Among the stories documented in the exhibition, there is attention on the Swindon Works, which were commissioned by the Government to undertake a range of activities.

The works were making ammunition shells, bombs, horse wagons and gun carriages as a part of the war effort. Alongside these specialist roles, GWR was carrying out its day-to-day duties and sustaining its network for regular passengers, as well as transporting troops around the country.

“It’s looking better than we expected,” said Felicity. “We are really pleased with it.”

Elaine said: “It’s a difficult, sensitive subject to put together an exhibition on. In the past we have done exhibitions in quite a light-hearted way, but this was obviously different.

“There were 25,000 GWR employees involved in the war, and 10 per cent of those never returned.”

The exhibition will run until December 2015, allowing as many people as possible to catch a glimpse of the Elaine and Felicity’s hard work.

The decision to open the exhibition to the public tomorrow, more than two weeks after the centenary of the start of the Great War, was to give it breathing space from the hundreds of events taking place on August 4.

The curatorial team is also releasing a book, called Wartime GWR. It will be available from September 18.

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