On Saturday April 7th, a Living Legacies supported lecture took place at the Ulster Museum about leading aviation pioneer Lilian Bland. 2018 marks an important year in aviation with the centenary of the RAF on April 1st. It is also the centenary of the Representation of the People Act in which some women received the right to vote in political elections. To highlight these centenaries, the incredible work of Lilian Bland was revealed through an informative and fascinating lecture by local aviation historian Guy Warner. Guy has written a book about Lilian’s exploits, of which there were many notable ones. From her achievement as the first woman in the world to design, build and fly her own aeroplane in 1910 to her determination to be considered an equal amongst the male pilots of the era. All of this was accomplished around Carnmoney Hill close to the family home and a local park has been named in her honour as a tribute to these successes.
To mark the centenary of the Royal Air Force, National Museums NI, in partnership with Living Legacies, will be displaying a number of items in the Welcome Area of the Ulster Museum. From a World War II flying jacket and goggles to a World War I aeroplane propeller recently restored by the Ulster Aviation Society. These items will be on show until June 10th.
The East Belfast & the Great War project started in 2014 after being awarded £10,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Led by Jason Burke and Dr Jonathan Evershed the project compiled a database of First World War servicemen from the East Belfast constituency using Professor Richard Grayson's 'military history from the street' methodology. As a result of this research c.6,000 individuals were identified from a range of sources and recorded in a data sheet. The East Belfast project also priorities community engagement as part of its aims and objectives. Consequently, a series of First World War 'Antiques Roadshow' style events were held across East Belfast, the artefacts and objects which came forward during this process formed an online archive which was created by the Centre for Data Digitisation and Analysis, supporting the Living Legacies 1914-18 research project at Queen's University, Belfast. As well as the roadshow events the project worked closely with a range of local community groups by providing 'skills sharing workshops' in order to assist them in researching local individuals who served in the war. The result of the community workshops was a small exhibition containing biographies of East Belfast servicemen which subsequently toured libraries in the area. The project will now be hosted through the Living Legacies 1914-18 web site.
Diverse Perspectives on a Global Conflict: Migrant Voices and Living Legacies of WWI
In 2016, I was fortunate enough to engage in a conversation with Lilian Seenoi, Director of the North West Migrants Forum in Derry~Londonderry. Lilian noted, “Understanding a place and its history is vital for any migrant but we also need to look closely at the difference and, most importantly, the similarities in our experiences”. This interaction led to a joint project between Ulster University and the North West Migrants Forum funded under the Living Legacies 1914-1918 Engagement Centre to explore this very perspective through the story of World War One.
The resulting project, “Diverse Perspectives on a Global Conflict: Migrant Voices and Living Legacies of World War One”, sought to provide a platform for the wider storytelling of WW1 from the perspective of migrants living in Northern Ireland. At the same time the project aimed to provide a means through which to broaden the debate on WW1 in this region, a story which has often been framed amidst competing narratives of Britishness and Irishness – thus hiding global elements of the story.
Through the North West Migrant Forum’s membership participants from Poland, Romania, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Italy, Guyana, Cameroon, Congo, China and South Africa approached the project in order to prepare a panel exhibition telling their countries’ experiences of the conflict. Individuals attended a number of workshops and, with the help of a history/heritage facilitator, drafted a short text about the story of WW1 in their country, whilst reflecting on its contemporary legacy.
Whilst some participants were acutely aware of the impact of WWI on their own country, others were surprised when they uncovered how deeply their region had been involved. Whilst some places actively ‘remembered’ others consciously ‘forgot’ – as later stories of independence had become the most prominent acts of commemoration.
In Summer and Autumn 2017 the participants continued to work with the project team to acquire images for the exhibition which will tour Northern Ireland in 2018. The first launch event was held at the Millennium Forum in Derry~Londonderry as part of the intercultural festival and attracted more than 400 participants. Following this, the exhibition will be on display at Ulster University before touring locations in Northern Ireland.
In reflecting on the memory of WWI one participant noted the resonance of the project for a post-conflict region like Northern Ireland. She said:
“We must remember the events that helped shape today’s world. How can we understand the present if we do not know the past? Especially in a place like Northern Ireland. If we remember our shared past our children can learn about the price for division.”
Commenting on the project Lilian Seenoi noted “through this project our members have in some instances revisited histories they were aware of, whilst others have engaged with these sad stories for the first time. Projects like this are important in so many ways in that they show community organisations like ours how subjects like history and social science can help us in our own aims of promoting positive dialogue between migrants and the wider population”.
Dr Philip McDermott
Photos of Millennium Forum Showcase Event are attributed to Gerry Temple