Over four months of preparation… and now the day has finally arrived – my first photography exhibition at Newcastle Library – entitled “Distant Voices”.
The images and words of local North East people recounting stories of what life was like living through WW2 and it’s immediate aftermath – culminating with an image of my Grand daughter Lola May holding a red poppy and who was rather aptly born on Remembrance Day 2011.
Lola’s mother, Kate would dispute that Lola is actually ‘unheard’ – she can be pretty loud at times!
One of my aims for the exhibition is to bring out the stark contrasts of how life was during WW2 and it’s immediate aftermath compared to now …. how things that appeared ‘ordinary’ to my ‘voices’ were in fact really quite the opposite – they were actually ‘extraordinary’.
Many of the ‘voices’ in this exhibition are in their 80’s and 90’s – their stories need to be told…. reading about the war and what life was like in history books is all well and good, but it really brings it to life if you hear it first hand from the people themselves. It was also very moving hearing the voices at the Distant Voices Exhibition whilst viewing the images…. Brings it to life….
It’s been quite scary on the run up to it if I’m honest – on the one hand my thoughts were ‘What if nobody turns up to see it?’ and these thoughts quickly turned to Oh My God, what if people do turn up and say “..yeah… and… so what Alison …..”
But I shouldn’t have worried – as they say in the film ‘Field of Dreams’…. ‘If you build it they will come’ – and indeed they did!!
Lots of people came to see it and listen to the ‘voices’ including some of the ‘voices’ themselves.
Jack Watson – the 91 year WW2 Veteran who in his own words ‘Went to war a boy, and came back a man’ was there on the opening day.
Jack has turned into a bit of a local celebrity in the North East – he’s been on TV and radio shows in the last few weeks, The Daily Mail, Telegraph and Times newspapers plus several local newspapers and twitter…. And I’m not surprised….
When I met him and sat next to him with my tape recorder, in his front room on a sunny April afternoon as he recounted his stories of war and what it was like for him when he came back from the war – it really moved me.
There were several times when both of us were in tears…. He had to pause many times during the hours that I spent with him to compose himself before continuing with his stories.
I cannot imagine how a boy of 16 or 17 years old who had barely left the town he lived in – got on a ship, sailed from Glasgow to Durban in Africa, through to Egypt and on to fight in Italy – and then came home and worked at the local Co-op supermarket. It is unimaginable really.
I have a huge amount of respect for Jack and the many other men and women who serve their country – I just really wish they didn’t have to do it.
For the ‘voices’ in the exhibition that didn’t actually go to war – some like ‘Eileen’ who did their ‘bit’ and others who were just children at the time and lived through it their stories were also eye-opening, some funny and again ‘extraordinary’.
This is ‘Eileen’ – her husband Bill was a tail gunner in Lancaster bombers. She met Bill whilst both of them were training in the air force. Before and after the war Bill was an Accountant.
She told me that from the moment they met…. “We were … ONE!”
Sadly Bill is not alive now and Eileen lives in a local Care Home – she has a photo of him by her bedside and still misses him terribly.
Then there was Marjorie – she made me laugh – if she knew that the local fruit shop had bananas – she would queue for an hour to buy one!
Trans-Atlantic deliveries of fruit obviously stopped during the war – so the return of bananas to the shops was seen as a good sign. The Government even decreed a National Banana Day in 1946 where every child was given a banana!
I can’t imagine the kids of today queuing for an hour to buy a banana, can you?
My other aim for the exhibition …. I would be really happy if some Distant Voices were re-awakened by children/young adults asking their Grandmas, Grandads, Aunts and Uncles to tell them about what life was like ‘in the olden days’.
I think they might be totally amazed by some of the stories they would hear …. in a world before TV, Mobile phones, I-pad’s and Buy-One-Get-One Free offers!
You might be surprised by what you hear…..
Have a look at the images and quotes from the voices on my Pinterest Page