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Wartime experiences in focus at major exhibition

By Burton Mail  |  Posted: July 22, 2014

By Nigel Powlson

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AFTER two years in the making, a new exhibition will open this week at Swadlincote Town Hall to mark the centenary of the start of the First World War.

The exhibition has been organised by volunteers at the Magic Attic local history archive and will highlight the sacrifices made by servicemen from the Burton and South Derbyshire area, as well as looking at the hardships of those left behind at home.

Graham Nutt, from the Magic Attic, said: "It's not a flag-waving exhibition. It's telling people what it was like.

"All different communities had a slightly different experience of the war. Round here we needed miners to keep the pits operating. So there would be arguments in pubs at night, with people asking why these men weren't at the front doing their bit.

"The recruiting side was evil – there's no doubt about that. The pressures they put on people to sign up were great. A circus came to Burton in 1915 and, during the interval, a recruiting sergeant asked the audience to look at who was sitting next to them, and if it was a man between 18 and 45 to ask him why he was there."

The exhibition features dozens of painstakingly researched display boards.

Mr Nutt said: "We haven't gone for the great and the good but have tried to look at what happened on the ground.

"We look at women at home and what jobs they were doing. We have the invoices from local companies for when they had the peace celebrations. We have display boards on how animals were used – the horses at Bass but also dogs, pigeons and even elephants. They used elephants for ploughing as all the horses had gone."

The exhibition also looks at the many sacrifices made, including the 3,000 local men who died in July 1916 going 'over the top' at the Somme.

Mr Nutt said: "The population was nothing like it is now, so that many people being wiped out was terrible."

The exhibition is open from July 25 to 28, from 10am to 4pm, with free admission.

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