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Thousands turn out for Boston Spa WWI exhibition

Friends Mavis Nettleton and Angela Coleman find something of interest. (1408032AM2)

Friends Mavis Nettleton and Angela Coleman find something of interest. (1408032AM2)

 

As the Wetherby district continues to commemorate the First World War in the centenary year of its outbreak, reporter JAMES METCALF speaks to organisers behind the comprehensive exhibition in Boston Spa.

Starting its life as a roadshow where people shared their stories and memorabilia, the great exhibition at Boston Spa grew to an unexpected size as thousands of people descended on the village hall.

With more artefacts and historical material than they ever could have hoped for, the organisers made sure it was as much a celebration of the era as it was a service of remembrance.

This was achieved not only by the residents and visitors to the town who entered the hall on the day, but also the many performers scheduled to make an appearance.

These included Wetherby Theatre Company, with members all dressed up in period gear, as did those of Tadcaster Chorale, a founder member of Opera North brought some of her pupils along, and there was a piano to accompany a sing-a-long of the morale boosting songs that won the war.

Organiser Steve Morritt said: “It was the fact the it was the centenary of the outbreak and we thought we would do something special for it.

“The idea was that we would ask people to bring in any memorabilia they had, like armaments, letters, postcards, and pictures, and we had an event in May called the Great War Roadshow to see whether there were people with much memorabilia and that was a big success.

“That spurred us on to say we will organise something for August, so the whole event developed from there.

“We thought as well as memorabilia we would make it into a larger event where we involved local performers.”

Aside from the musical offerings, local historians also made contributions, after researching some of the soldiers whose names appear on the memorial at Boston Spa and Thorp Arch

and did an in depth look at them, including their background, when they were called up or volunteered, and the action they

saw.

And there were several speakers on various subjects from Leeds City Museums and Galleries like the Leeds Pals and the war hospitals.

There was even something for the children, with an exhibition lay out of trench warfare, allowing people to see the trench plans in the Battle of the Somme.

All of this made for an event enjoyed by everyone in attendance.

Mr Morritt said: “We had WiSE Cafe come along and serve and they were at it from 10am to 4.30pm with endless cups of tea and coffee and cakes and bacon sandwiches.

“They were absolutely overwhelmed by the groups of people. Though we didn’t count there is an estimate of between 1,500 and 2,000 people who came. It was very much a success.

“We also did a collection for Help for Heroes and that raised £300. The event itself was free, and it was a colossal amount of work.

“We displayed the memorabilia and there were some precious things, like a certificate signed by George V, so we were aware of the need to keep it all secure and a chap called Ken Walker produced 15 cabinets with Perspex lids that he made himself. The man hours he put in were absolutely colossal, not to mention the cost.”

There is now a website in development to display some of the outstanding stories and pictures that emerged during the day.

Boston Spa parish councillor Tim Baker was in attendance, and at this month’s monthly meeting of the council he described how much of a success the day was.

“Until we opened the doors we weren’t sure how many people were going to come and I have to say that Wise Cafe on the day did a booming trade,” he said.

“There was some talk of up to 3,000 people. It was busy all day and I have no doubt there were hundreds of people coming to the day,

“The day itself was a huge success and there is some legacy work going on from it with a website being put together.

“A lot of positive comments we had from people were that it was a fantastic community event.”

 

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