Sunday, 2 September 2012

Once Upon A Wartime

On the way into Imperial War Museum North

It's a bit after the fact now, but I'd like to say what a fabulous exhibition Once Upon A Wartime was at the Imperial War Museum North at Salford Quays.

A fabulous exhibition
 It's been on since February and finished on September 2, so I'm a bit late to the party. I took my family on the penultimate day and we were all completely swept up by it all.

It was an exhibition about war as explored by children's literature, using five different books to examine a different face of the subject.

Different rooms looked at a book at a time, with recreations of scenes, complemented by personal effects of the associated writers.

I'd read four of the five books - Michael Morpurgo's War Horse, Nina Bawden's Carrie's War, Robert Westall's The Machine Gunners and Ian Serraillier's The Silver Sword, but was not familiar with the final book, Bernard Ashley's Little Soldier.

Not a great picture - the original
handwritten opening of Michael Morpurgo's
War Horse and first page of the typescript
 The show covered the First World War (War Horse), Second World War (Carrie's War, The Machine Gunners and The Silver Sword)  and a fictional African war of the 1990s (Little Soldier). The themes represented were 'loyalty', 'separation', 'excitement', 'survival' and 'identity'.

Fabulous to be able to see first-hand the original manuscript pages of the opening to War Horse, notes scrawled by Serraillier on the backs of envelopes, Ashley's chapter notes and a paperweight belonging to Bawden.

There was the original painting of a horse called Topthorn that inspired Morpurgo to create the character of the same name which is Joey's closest friend in War Horse.

School exercise book in which Westall wrote The Machine Gunners
 Of particular interest to me was the school exercise book in which Westall wrote The Machine Gunners for his son, Christopher. Westall wrote on the inside cover '£1 reward for anyone returning this book to Westall, 20, Winnington Lane, Northwich'. Also fascinating to see his typewriter and his first Carnegie Medal, for The Machine Gunners.

Coincidentally, the day before our visit I'd spent the day in Northwich with work and took a picture of 20 Winnington Lane, the house where Westall wrote The Machine Gunners. (Surely worthy of a plaque, eh?)

Robert Westall's typewriter with picture on top of him and
a cat at home in Lymm, Cheshire
 What was particularly great about the exhibition was that children could really get involved. For The Machine Gunners, they'd recreated an Anderson shelter and decked it out as Chas and his pals did in the book. My daughter and son loved crawling through a tunnel to get to the shelter.

Once Upon A Wartime was on at the Imperial War Museum in London in 2011 prior to its relocation to Salford. Not sure that it's going on anywhere else now, which is a pity.

If you are passing, it's definitely worth popping into the Imperial War Museum North - they have an excellent shop stocked with all the children's books from the exhibition.
Robert Westall's first Carnegie Medal, for The Machine Gunners, 1975

The original painting of Topthorn, which usually hangs in Michael Morpurgo's kitchen

Nina Bawden's teddy bear
20 Winnington Lane, Northwich, the house where Robert Westall wrote The Machine Gunners

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