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Object of the month – April 2011

Hidden stories – Blitz handbag

Sometimes a museum object stands alone as an engaging painting or a beautiful dress, other times you need to know its story to bring it to life. So when I was offered this little blue handbag, with dried, cracked leather and signs of rust I wasn’t sure what to make of it – until I heard its story.

The donor told me about a night in Coventry during the 1940 Blitz: ‘the sirens went and I got into my siren suit, climbed over the next door neighbour’s fence and into the Anderson shelter. When the bombs dropped I remember the candle going out and my mother screaming ‘that’s our house’. When the raid was over we got out and all our windows had been blown in. But to my horror my friend’s house which was at the bottom of our garden was razed to the ground, this being in Ashington Grove [in Whitley]. I remember seeing one of the dolls in the rubble. My friends were Enid and Andrew Moffat and along with their mother they were all killed; their father lived. It was said that the children and their mother went under the stairs and their father stayed in bed. He gave me Enid’s handbag out of the rubble which I have cherished all these years.’

While the Herbert can not collect every item relating to Coventry during the Second World War, this handbag tells a tale that connects us to the donor’s survival and the loss of her friends. Stories of the Blitz and Coventry’s experience of peace and reconciliation are an important part of the city’s history.

To find out more about our peace collecting project see Natalie’s blog:

You can also add share your stories of Coventry on the Coventry Memories website.

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Paul Thompson, Keeper of Collections (By day anyway….)

Lisa and Paul (in ARP uniform) taking cover in the Herbert's Anderson Shelter

Today’s guest blog is from Paul Thompson, Keeper of Collections.

The telephone rang and I gingerly picked it up expecting trouble – however, it was an enquiry from the front desk. Someone had brought in an object for identification and, as I had a hot cup of tea in front of me cooling, I thought I would go and see what it was! It turned out to be a 14th century medieval tile with a pattern, so I gave as much information as I could and then returned to my desk. I sat there with my tea and thought back over the last few weeks of my curatorial life here at the Herbert.

Secret Egypt has taken up a good deal of my attention. I’ve been searching for suitable images and thinking about how they will be displayed in the final exhibition next year.

I gave a paper on recent archaeological work undertaken in Coventry at the Society of Museum Archaeologists conference which the Herbert hosted in mid-November. I wrote a new talk about Iron Age and Roman remains never before encountered within the city as well as the expected medieval remains. It was well received by all. On the final conference day, I took a group around the city to show them our three cathedrals, St. Mary’s Guildhall, Golden Cross, Stone House and Whitefriars. These events are always networking opportunities and a chance to catch up on current archaeological academic gossip. Read the rest of this entry

Coventry Blitz 70th Anniversary

Noreen Dalglish (top right)

To commemorate the 70th anniversary since the Coventry Blitz the Herbert has all sorts of events and projects happening… in fact the whole of Coventry has lots of things going on. We’ll be hosting a Blitz family day in conjunction with the Coventry Transport Museum and one of the History Learning Officers is running a project called ‘We Will Remember Them’ where people can send in photographs of themselves, family members or friends who were a part of WW2 along with some information about who they were and what they did.

As a part of this project I have been delivering WW2 assemblies for local primary schools where we have been testing out an air raid siren, trying on a gas mask and helmet and most importantly learning about the lives of some of Coventry’s citizen’s who contributed towards the War Effort.

One of the people we have been looking at is Noreen Dalglish, an Ambulance driver for the Civil Defence. Noreen was only 20 years old when she joined the Civil Defence in 1938, a year before war was declared on Germany. She said that everyone knew the war was going to happen and rather than be forced into a job she wanted to choose what to do. At the time of joining the Ambulance service, Noreen did not possess a driving licence and instead had to learn as part of her training. When it came to taking her test she drove up a road and straight into a tree, but the Civil Defence needed as many Ambulance drivers as possible so they passed her as she hadn’t caused any damage to the car!

When describing what it was like to be driving out during a blackout with a full uniform on she said, “You’re driving in the dark with your gas mask on, you couldn’t see or hear anything – or breathe! It was horrible. And you had your gas outfit on. All the trousers and the jackets and everything. And driving in that… it was awful. It was like driving down a dark tunnel with a blanket over your head. It was really awful.”

Read the rest of this entry

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