The Yorkshire Air Museum, as you would expect, is staffed by people with a love of history. Our team of volunteers and permanent staff all have a passionate interest in preserving history as a vital mechanism for teaching and informing younger minds of the valuable lessons to be learned from the world’s history of previous conflicts in the hope that we might one day prevent the same mistakes from being made.
While our spectacular Cold War Jets may be visually stimulating for our visitors, many people at the Museum have passions for history that stretch back further in time. We talk to Museum Director Ian Reed about a period of conflict more than a century ago now and a little red book which has been with his family for generations that tells a story of a corner of North Yorkshire in World War One and a lady who helped young men returning injured from the battlefields.
How did you interest in history come about?
“With a father whose wartime was spent with 6th Airborne in gliders, I grew up, like many of my generation, in a world surrounded by adults continually trying to get to grips with what they had experienced during the War. As kids, we learned all the detail that they had known and seen as if we had been there and it was eventually through my father that I became involved with the Museum. The research relating to the Allied Air Forces Memorial and the history of aviation is also my great passion and I research the stories and prepare most of the exhibition texts and audio descriptions throughout the Museum.”
You have a particular passion for earlier periods of military history, why is that?
“Having started my working career in archeology, the research and discovery of history throughout the ages has been a main part of my life. As an archeological site surveyor, draughtsman and “finds artist” back in the early 70’s I drew literally thousands of drawings and plans of prehistoric, Roman and medieval settlements and artefacts. I was even surprised recently to see some of my work still on display in the British Museum. It is therefore no surprise that “history” generally has been, and still is, a great passion, especially the Napoleonic period up to and including the two world wars. I spent the 18th June 2015 on the battlefield of Waterloo reporting for BBC Radio for the bi-centenary and it was a little bizarre, and certainly raised some eyebrows in the military, to see my photos in the official Waterloo Journal under the heading “Director, Yorkshire Air Museum”, but hey!
Researching personal stories is like treasure hunting and we have had some exceptional successes over the past 20 years which makes it all worthwhile.”
So, tell us about this Little Red Book and what it represents?
“One of the first things you learn in the museum ‘business’ is that people rarely throw anything away and it has been similar in my family.
Being the youngest son of the youngest son I ended up being the respository of all the family history dating back to the late 18th century. Some responsibility, but “amongst my souvenirs”, is this small red leather bound book, handed down from my late father, Des Reed, which has been in the family for many years.
The book contains original rhymes, drawings and messages to a young nurse, Miss F. Stephenson of Malton, from the British soldiers in her care at Welham Hall, Norton, Malton, North Yorkshire during WW1. The soldiers were recuperating from their injuries sustained in the trenches in Northern France during 1916/17. Like many Yorkshire stately homes, the Hall was used as a hospital and convalescent home for troops returning from the horrors of the Somme battlefields, where they were cared for.”
We noticed when visiting Thiepval last year that people seemed to have renewed interest in the First World War. Why do you think that is?
“As a young child in the 60’s there were still many people around who had fought in World War I and a few would tell this young kid their stories of the trenches. Even my grandfather had been there although like so many, he rarely spoke of it. I think that for many, their experiences were so extremely disconnected to the lives of people at home that they simply couldn’t relate it to civilians who had not experienced it.
I can imagine that many simply blocked it from their minds as a way of retaining their peace of mind. No post conflict “counselling” in those days. Even so, when we began the World War One Centenary projects at the Museum, it was again re-living some of the memories and stories I had been told almost 50 years ago and it was almost an honour to be able to relate the stories through our exhibitions to the thousands of people at our events at Thiepval on the Somme battlefield and the exhibitions back in UK.”
It seems that this type of notebook was quite a popular thing at the time?
“There is nothing too remarkable about these messages except to re-tell the actual words of these ordinary soldiers of 100 years ago and to try to imagine what horrors lay behind their kind words and the good natured humour to the pretty young nurses who brought some order and care to their hitherto disrupted lives. If you “read between the lines”, their words and sentiments echo down the ages.”
Here are some of the comments written in Miss Stephenson’s notebook 100 years ago. The comments, messages and style of English language at the time are a snapshot of what life must have been like for young men living in a time when public communication was through newspapers and postal letters were routinely censored, with few ways of talking about the experiences they had endured.
“F. Stephenson is your name, single is your station, Happy will be the boy, Who makes the alteration”,
Private S Durridge, C.S.R’s 16 Feb 1916.
“The owner of this book is a dear little Miss, and I would think it an honour if she gave me a kiss!”
Private N. Hall, 2nd Battalion, Leicesters BEF. Feb 16/16
“Not by great deeds – but good alone, Our truest, noblest friends are known”
Private G.F. Cook, 6th Gloucester Regt., 16/2/1916
“The girl who, when she first got kissed, ran home and told her mother, Deserves to become an old maid, and never get another”
Private J. Clulow, 2nd East Yorkshire Regt. 1917.
“Passed by the Censor” Jack Steele was “no good” but he died at the Front! And his letters (I’ve saved two or three). Here “Passed by the Censor” for Jack told no tales, And his language was simple – though free. Now, methinks if he waits at the Pearl & Gold Gates, where perchance for admission pleads he, That with all his shortcomings Jack won’t be kept long, But soon passed by The Censor, will be”.
With Very Best Wishes,
Private Tom Lamb 14016, 2nd Duke of Wellington Regt., Feb. 9th 1916
.Love Cake: One shady tree, one small seat, two smiling faces, two loving hearts, four lips well pressed, two waists well squeezed. Mix well together and serve in the ?
Sonny Jim. April 2nd 1917
“There is a word, a little word, In ever language clear, In English ’tis “Forget Me Not” , In French ’tis “souvenier”.
P. Robinson. Eng. 21.8.16
“My stay is but a short one, But still new friends it brings, And I shall think of Swinton, When doing other things.
Marching away to Flanders Marching to meet the foe, Bugles blowing, Hurrah and away we go, Marching away to Flanders, Sons of the Empire free, We speed along, with a cheery song, To Death or to Victory”.
Trooper A. Hoult, 1st Queens Own Yeomanry Dragoons.
“Home is the place we grumble the most, And are treated the best.
“No more the Kaiser makes his voice, with his own praises ring, T’would break his heart to think of it, if he did own such a thing? Meanwhile his punishment is dire, he is a nervous wreck – well “Bill” has asked for trouble and he’s got it in the neck!”,
Private B. L—-, 8th Lancashire Fusiliers
A beautiful thing is a woman & love, and to think that day by day. Some men are killing a woman & love, no two in the self same way. With thoughtlessness as a wound, neglect and spite and scorn, ’til aching souls are cast in Gloom, and bleeding hearts are torn.
Private B Irwin, 8th Lancashire Fusiliers
Some people talk of the weather, “Gud” what the New Year will bring. But if you sit down on a thistle, ’tis the sign of an Early Spring”.
Fred Gun 4/2/17
“Improve time in time, whilst time doth last. For all time is no time, when once time is past”.Feb 15th 1917
“Cum Sarah put thee bonnet on, An tak a walk wi me. An al whisper doon thee lug-ole,who much I dea love thee!”
“Here’s luck to the dove that flies above, And never loses a feather, If I can’t have the boy I love, I will do without forever”
“Good Girls love their brothers, but I, so good, have grown, that I love other girl’s brothers, better than my own!
Miss N Kitchen (Nurse) February 22nd 1917