A RARE collection of cards sent from the trenches will go on display at a County Durham museum on Good Friday (April 18). Duncan Leatherdale got a sneak peak at the silk postcards.
THE scrawled but perfectly legible messages, written by William Whitfield Peardon in fading pencil, are really rather mundane notes to his friends and family in Weardale.
They say nothing of the horror of the trenches, provide no detail of life on the front line and contain a distinct lack of anything military related.
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Yet for historians like David Heatherington, curator of the Weardale Museum, they are a fascinating glimpse into a time of turmoil and conflict.
The 24 postcards feature pictures embroidered in silk on the front of thick white card, some of the backings embossed with patterned edges.
They were made by Belgian and French refugees who sold them to the British soldiers to send home.
One features a bi-plane sporting Union Flag wings, another a picturesque village scene above a message wishing the reader a merry Christmas.
Others also have messages, including “greetings from the trenches”, “be with you day by day” and “to my dear sweetheart” in delicately crafted lettering.
They also feature the flags of the Triple Entente and floral motifs woven in pastel shades of silk thread.
They are in essence distinctly dainty, almost doily-like, a far cry from the brutality of a soldier’s life during the First World War.
Mr Heatherington said: “They are fascinating and show a great deal of skill and delicacy.
“It is amazing they have lasted so long and they just give a different flavour of war life.
“They were made by French and Belgian refugees and sold to the soldiers to make some sort of income.
“They don’t have any detail about what William was actually doing in the trenches but they are nonetheless very interesting.”
William Peadon sent the cards from the front to his friends and family, including ones addressed to his father and others to a Miss Jackson, who worked at the King’s Head Inn.
As well as the silk collection, William also sent numerous painted picture postcards home which will be on display along with photographs of Weardale taken at around the time of the conflict.
They have all been given to the museum in Ireshopeburn by William Peadon’s daughter Marion Martin who lives in nearby St John’s Chapel and will be on display when the museum opens its doors for the season on Good Friday (April 18).
The museum boasts an eclectic mix of artefacts and information depicting the industrial heritage and homely history of Weardale.
And to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, they will be putting on a special display dedicated to the dalesfolk who went off to fight in the conflict.
Mr Heatherington said: “We already have some information on those who were killed but we want to gather even more stories.
“We are especially keen to get some artefacts, such as medals and the like, to put on display.
“We would be happy if people just wanted to loan us the items because I understand these can be very precious memories and mementoes for the families.”
Several dozen men from Weardale went to fight in the First World War but never returned, and they are remembered in a variety of ways throughout the dale as well as on the 10 official memorial statues.
Eighteen of the fallen had been pupils at Wolsingham Grammar School, now Wolsingham School and Community College, and in March, 1918, 18 oak trees were planted along the playing field.
The memorial oaks have been officially recognised as probably the first memorial to the First World War by the Imperial War Museum, with the principle monument, the cenotaph at Whitehall in London not installed until 1919.
Residents of Westgate have also rallied around in memory of 13 villagers killed during the war between 1914 and 1918.
Earlier this year they raised £15,700 to repair the memorial clock that has protruded from the town hall since 1920.
The Weardale Museum opens to the public for the Easter Weekend, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday from 2pm to 5pm and then from May 1 to October 31.
It can also be opened for organised trips and groups.
For more information or to speak to Mr Heatherington about donating or loaning exhibits, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01388-517433.