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‘What’s your connection to 1944?’ ask the National Memorial Arboretum

Call out for stories, photos and artefacts for new commemorative exhibition at the National Memorial Arboretum to tell stories from home and away

This year marks the 80th anniversaries of many landmark moments of the Second World War, including the D-Day landings of 6th June 1944 – the largest seaborne invasion in history – which heralded the beginning of the liberation of western Europe. As the Nation’s year-round place to Remember those who served and sacrificed for their country, the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire is inviting individuals, organisations, and businesses to share their own personal, or associated experiences of life in 1944. Their stories, photos, and artefacts will help with the development of a commemorative exhibition that will debut at the Arboretum later this year.

“1944 was a year of seismic change, with significant developments on the home front in addition to being a turning point of the Second World War,” explains Rachel Smith, Head of Learning and Participation at the National Memorial Arboretum. “Back at home, the war was having a huge impact on daily life, with continued food rationing and more than a million children being evacuated from cities due to the new and terrifying threat of missile attacks.”

“This all came as families worried about the fates of or received tragic news about fathers, sons, and brothers fighting overseas,” continues Rachel. “D-Day, the Battle of Monte Cassino and Operation Market Garden in Europe, and the Battles of Kohima and Imphal in India, were among the many engagements that were turning the tide in favour of the Allied forces, and are being acknowledged as part of the Arboretum’s activity programme throughout 2024.”

“Our new exhibition will take visitors on an interactive and sensory journey back to 1944, telling real people’s stories of what life was like at home and away during that momentous year, through photos, artefacts, music, and video,” continues Rachel. “We need people, organisations and businesses, to help us inform and curate the exhibition by sharing experiences or memories passed down through generations, with a selection of stories, photos, and objects eventually being chosen to feature in the exhibition itself.”

Mike Goldstein, a volunteer at the National Memorial Arboretum, has several vivid memories of his life in 1944. “It was doodlebug time and I found myself, just five years old, holding my mother’s hand in Stoke Newington High Street, North London, when a friend of my mother’s came by and told her they were signing children up to be evacuated – whatever that meant,” remembers Mike. “The next thing I remember was being dressed up in my raincoat with a luggage label bearing my name attached to the lapel, and a ‘Mickey Mouse’ gas mask round my neck. We were waiting to get on the train, bound for Blackpool. It seems impossible now to comprehend that process. A young loving mother, separated from her husband by war, putting her two young children on a train to an unfamiliar town hundreds of miles away, not knowing who was going to look after them. I know that this experience was repeated thousands of times across the country, but that doesn’t in any way lessen its deep impact on me.”

To spark stories, memories, and conversations within families, connections to 1944 could include:

  • Old photos of schools, buildings, and high streets – allowing for comparisons with how they look today
  • Copies of letters from loved ones serving overseas, particularly if they fought in one of the 1944 battles
  • Memories from the school or working day, social events attended, music listened to, food eaten, or reaction to specific news reports
  • Childhood memories of favourite toys, games, or other household items

Does your company have a connection to 1944?

Many businesses and organisations all over the country contributed to the war effort and many more would have been affected by or had a major influence over aspects of daily life in Britain in 1944.

“From food marketing posters to design sketches of new products, delivery vehicles and uniforms, to new technologies or newspaper headlines, we’d love businesses to dig into their archives to discover their own connections to 1944,” explains Rachel. “Many organisations have a long and proud history, and we would love to talk to them about relevant stories and artefacts in their archives and discuss ways in which they could contribute to this interactive programme for visitors during this hugely significant anniversary year.”

People can share details of their memories, alongside period images and photos of artefacts via a form on the National Memorial Arboretum’s website by 20 March 2024. All contributions will be reviewed by the team curating the exhibition who will contact artefact contributors to discuss the process of donating their item if it is selected for the exhibition. https://thenma.org.uk/1944

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